Monday, 4 March 2019


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (4 March 2019)

Florence Wangui has been out of the limelight for much of her artistic career.
But that’s all about to change, starting with her first solo art exhibition which recently opened at the influential One Off Gallery. ‘Remnants of an Experience’ is the first public display of her skills painting sensitive portraits in oils. It marks a breakthrough for the soft-spoken young woman, now 32, who’s been in several group shows since she quietly declared herself an aspiring artist when she walked into Patrick Mukabi’s studio at The GoDown Art Centre several years ago.
“The only artists I’d ever heard of as I was growing up were Patrick Mukabi and Richard Onyango since they both had featured in the media,” says Wangui who actually has a B.Sc in Zoology and Biochemistry from Kenyatta University.
But as first-born out of four, she often stayed home on weekends looking after her younger siblings while her parents were out working. “We lived in Eastleigh at the time, and my mother kept chicken in our compound, which I used to draw for fun,” says Wangui.
In fact, it’s her delicate charcoal drawings of cocks, hens and chicks that convinced Mukabi she was serious about becoming an artist. She studied under him for several years during which time a good friend brought her to meet Carol Lees at One Off, carrying a few of her drawings. “The rest is history!”
Carol quickly saw that Wangui captured ineffable expressions of life in all her drawings which made them exceptional. Her skills in draftsmanship were masterful; which is one reason why Carol recommended Wangui when the Scottish glass artist John Clark asked her to suggest a young Kenyan who could help him create drawings for his commissioned work at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Kericho.
To this day, Wangui is humble about having not only drawn the art for the bronze door panels of the church. She also drew all 14 “Stations of the Cross” and then learned to create the stations in fused glass.
“I loved the challenge of working in glass,” says Wangui who had never worked with fused glass before. She’d never even worked in sculpture or 3D relief before she learned it from scratch with Clark. Now they work together producing glass works at the Encompassart Studio at Karen Village. “John knew I was eager to learn how to do relief sculpture, so his invitation was like an answered prayer.”
Wangui spent almost three years working in Kericho before returning to Nairobi. “That’s why I was quiet for all that time,” she says. But shortly after her return, she met the Argentinian artist Dolores Gomez Bustillo who was exhibiting at One Off at the time. Dolores is a highly trained painter who’d studied for years both in Canada and the US as well as in Argentina.
 An artist who says she loves teaching as much as painting, she invited Wangui to attend one of her workshops. It proved to be another turning point in Wangui’s artistic development. For before she met Dolores, she mainly worked in charcoal and now glass. But the Latin American lady’s expertise was in oil painting. She easily shared that medium and the technique with Wangui who quickly came to love working in oils.
                                                                          Five Graces by Florence Wangui

Her current exhibition at One Off is all in oils and marks a beautiful transition for this progressive woman artist who Dolores describes as “going places.” Coming from this award-winning painter who’s keen to show Wangui international avenues to take in her artistic journey, there’s little doubt this open-minded Kenyan woman is indeed ‘going places’ artistically.
                                                                       Florence Wangui

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