Market day at Red Hill by Patrick Kinuthia
By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 24 September 2018)
Patrick Kinuthia may be best known for his colorful portraits of beautiful African women. His women are all distinctive for their elegance, youth and apparent poise, gentility and grace that derives no doubt from their assurance that Patrick has painted them with an African Mona Lisa in mind.
It could be that most of his women are figments of his fertile imagination. But even if they are, their imaginary vitality veritably pours forth from his portraits such that one can easily assume they actually have blood running through their veins.
Yet however popular Kinuthia’s portraits are among local art collectors, he’s chosen to focus on landscape painting in his latest one-man exhibition which just opened last weekend at Polka Dot Gallery in Karen and running through 16 October.
Either way, Kinuthia has a vibrant sense of organic Kenyan colours. His landscapes are especially fine reflections of his keen ability to capture nuances in shades of green, be they shaped as leafy trees, grassy fields, tea plantations or even heaps of deep green cabbages stacked high in some rural market place.
Kinuthia’s secret, he says, is his love of the light that’s exceptionally bright in equatorial Kenya (when it’s not rainy season and not the sort of Nairobi winter that we locals have had to endure in recent times). His is a love that enables him to capture the sheen of Karen stable horses (which appear in his current show) as well as the shimmering turquoise blue hues that ripple along the Lamu coast.
Kinuthia mainly paints with acrylics (since they dry much faster than oils). But he also uses charcoal to shade and outline and generate the chiaroscuro shadows that enhance the mood and feeling of his landscapes, including his trees, rocks, ridges and rivulets.
Kinuthia has few street scenes in this show, apart from the empty dirt roads he’s found in Malindi, Kagwe in Kiambu and even off the beaten path in Muthaiga. But there’s one that stands out; it’s in Shela where four little boys are on the road but standing strategically in the shadow of over-reaching tree boughs. The shadow serves as their refuge as the sun looks set at high noon and it seems to be a scorching hot day.
In the seminal book, ‘Visual Voices’ by Susan Wakhungu Githuku, Kinuthia explains that he loves to travel and loved learning photography at Kenya Polytechnic. That love of travel is most apparent in this show (which is obliquely entitled ‘Aspects’) since his semi-impressionist landscapes range all the way from Lamu and Shela village to Lake Nakuru and Crater Lake. He’s even taken time to paint Malinda (both in water colors and acrylics), Muthaiga and Mau Narok.
Yet Kinuthia’s visions of Kenya are ephemeral, given the rate of change taking place in the country currently. One hates to imagine that the pastoral-like scenes that he captures in broad sweeping brush strokes may soon by history. But that’s what happened to earlier landscape artists like Constable, Gainsborough and Turner, so one can assume that Kinuthia’s paintings could soon reflect a bygone time.
Nonetheless, the artist is happy to paint what he sees in his own way right now. The surprising thing about the man is that for all his popularity, the prices of his works are still relatively low, even affordable to middle class Kenyans.
Kinuthia says he likes to keep his prices low so that people can afford them. And if in future, the value of his art accrues, he says that’s all the better for his art-loving clients.