By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 1 October 2019
Talk about turning a tragedy into a triumph.
Kenya-based artist-educator Geraldine Robarts was on her way to meet her family to celebrate her 80th birthday when she got word her house was on fire.
With her children scattered from Canada to China and the US, they all planned to rendezvous in London. But news of the fire posed a dilemma: to stay and celebrate or to run back home.
Fortunately, the fire started in the wood shed and, by something resembling a miracle, only licked the edges of the bamboo fence that separated the shed from the brick and wood-framed house.
What was destroyed, apart from the wood, was the two plastic dustbins that sat between the wood and the fence. But as Robarts has a history of creating art out of ‘found’ objects or junk, once she set her eyes on the ashes and debris buried beneath it, she found those two melted plastic bins.
How someone can see beauty in a melted dustbin is only for an artist to explain. It’s what happened with Robarts who’s created an entire exhibition out of melted plastic sculptures and called it ‘The Death of Plastic: the Environment and Culture’.
The sculptures started with just the two that had ‘died’ in the fire. These were the first to be resurrected by the artist who added only a bit of color to enhance the fascinating form of the melted bins.
“But then, I was so inspired by what fire did to the plastic that I made a bonfire and melted several more, molding and shaping the plastic with my hands which were covered in fire-proof gloves,” says Robarts who, having been a painter the past 78 years, now enjoys shifting gears and doing sculpture.
Taking the same purposeful approach as she does with her paints, she is ever-experimenting with new media and new methods of creating her art.
For instance, the fire also destroyed the mabati (corrugated iron) roofing that had served to protect the wood from rain. So Robarts created several mixed media pieces, stapling bits of the burnt and rusted metal to canvas which she had already covered with fiery-toned paint. The mixture of the two media worked well, creating an abstract expressionist piece that evoke multiple interpretations from the viewer.
This weekend, Robarts is inviting the public to her home studio and gallery from 10am to 6pm to see many more of her multimedia works of art. The fire inspired her to share the prolific works of her wildly inventive imagination.
All the works, which will run anywhere from Sh2000 to Sh300,000, are original pieces that the artist will display both inside and outside her home at 56 Kibo Lane in Karen.
“We’ll even hang it outside in the garden,” she says, promising to provide two days-worth of ‘treasure hunts’ for the children who accompany their parents.
“I’ll be encouraging the children to go outside and find something that they can imagine can be turned into art,” says Roberts. “Then I’ll provide them with pencils that they can use to draw whatever they see. After that, I’ll provide the clay and invite them to shape [or sculpt] whatever they want,” she adds.
Having taught fine art at both Makerere and Kenyatta Universities in the past, Robarts is well-versed in inciting young artists’ imagination. But she especially likes working with children, just as her grandmother had done for her when she was just a child.
“She got me drawing and creating dolls from the time I was two,” recalls Robarts who attributes her life-long love of art to her grandmother.