THE GIFT OF COLOUR BY Margaretta wa Gacheru Published October 2012, Business Daily Nairobi Catching up on stories i hadnt put on this blog After Simon Muriithi and Peterson Kamwathi attended their first printmaking workshop in the UK in 2006, their British instructor Mandy Bonnell gave a glowing assessment of their stay and study tour. “They came and gave us the gift of color,” she said, noting that the two were the only African artists in attendance at the art residency held in Bath. It’s that same “gift of color” that Muriithi reveals in his current exhibition of paintings at the OneOff Gallery which opened last Sunday in Rosslyn and runs through the month of October. ‘I use strong, warm colors in my art,” says Muriithi who admits he knows his careful blending of beautiful colors has a powerfully engaging effect on his audience. “Then once I’ve got their attention, I pass them my message,” he adds. Pointing to the stunning pastel painting just at the entrance of the ground floor gallery called “The Forest Guard,” the artist explains that his message in this case is environmental. The colorful butterflies and bright red lady bugs seem to be serving as sentinels, guarding the forest, their habitat, from total destruction. “People have to wake up and realize we have to save our forests or else they will all go,” he says, clearly empassioned and disturbed by the carelessness of his fellow man. “We had WangariMaathai among us, fighting for the life of the forest, but she was practically fighting that battle alone, and now she’s gone.” Yet his art reflects his enduring love for the beauty of nature in various forms. His exhibition includes one series on birds in various forms, another on a variety of flowers, and at the other entrance of the gallery, a regal womanly monarch butterfly claims the pride of place, as if she presides over the whole show. Muriithi might be faulted for painting ‘pretty’ pictures since every one of his canvases—filled with mixed media, oils and acrylic paints accessorized with delicate cotton twine designs—is attractive, even beautiful. But his art also tells stories. For instance, his ‘Romantic Cycle’ suggestively shows off a young man and his girlfriend riding a bicycle in a lush and colourfully green garden. It’s a painting one could write a whole novel about. The same goes for “Sweet Memories” which is also set in a radiant green garden filled with leafy banana trees and a couple seated in the grass, back to back and lost in thought. They might be remembering how their young love used to be or they might just be pondering their lives. Either way, both are wearing intense colors which are almost as powerful as the green banana leaves Muriithi painted using acrylics. Using a new technique that he devised while experimenting with acrylic paints, he says he discovered that he could “bend” the paints to blend in such a way that the greens veritably glowed with uncanny light and reds could automatically arouse passion! But some of his sweetest paintings have a dog—probably a Spaniel–in them: The Mushroom Pickers, The Forest Guard and the Musician. “I don’t have a dog myself, but what I have seen is that dogs are great listeners and loyal friends,” said Muriithi whose dogs all have long ears. Unlike past exhibitions which I have seen Muriithi hold over the years, everywhere from the Nairobi and RaMoMa Museums to Gallery Watatu and the Talisman, his current show has less surrealistic work and slightly more realism, as is evident in his Derby Day which reveals what learned about horses while visiting theNgong Racecourse to sketch and seem them racing round the track. He still indulges in whimsy and surrealism as when a work like ‘Gossiping Mates’ shows off a crested crane dressed in black and gold stripes chatting with his friend, the green chameleon. His work still has a slightly illustrative edge that would be perfect for illustrating certain children’s story books. But Muriithi’s art has also grown in focus, depth and social significanceas for instance in his other series of five miniature paintings entitled ‘Unity Face 1-5’. His diverse faces were all inspired by what he’s seen on Facebook, the online space on which he surfs for inspiration, which is something new for him. But then, he says he gets new thoughts every day and those are the ones he wants to work with in his art, not tired old issues out of the past. He’s got his sights clearly set on a positive present and future, and prefers not dwelling on or in the past.