By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 29 October 2019)
Mercy Kagia takes us around the world, not in 80 days as Jules Verne aimed to do. It’s more like four years (with stops in between).
But it was well worth waiting for the global reportage of this amazing visual artist whose watercolor paintings, sketchbooks and illustrations are currently at One Off Gallery through November 24th.
Kagia is one of those rare painters who humbly calls herself an illustrator, in part because she got her doctorate in Illustration at Kingston University in UK.
What makes her rarer still is that she’s an artist who visually documents virtually everywhere she goes, be it to a tea shop, a sea port or a temple, cathedral or grand old opera house.
Ever equipped with her portable box of paints, brushes, pens, ink and tiny container filled with water, Kagia can also rarely miss carrying at least two of her sketchbooks at a time.
The one other item (apart from a minimal stash of clothes) she’s needed during her four-year trek around the world was a backpack that left her hands free to paint and draw whenever she was moved to do so.
The ‘Travel Drawings’ that she’s displayed at One Off are only a fraction of all that she drew during her trips around Europe, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Nonetheless, they confirm Kagia’s genius and genuine joy in capturing both the mundane and magnificent moments that she sees. Hers is a fervor and freshness of perspective that she shares with the students she’s currently teaching in Augsburg, Germany.
It was back in 2015 that she went to Myanmar, a country that clearly captured her imagination. Yet this show won’t allow us to see all her artistic impressions of the terrain since the majority of illustrations included in this show were originally drawn in one of her precious sketchbooks.
“I chose just a few from each sketchbook to scan and include here,” says Dr Kagia who has been keeping all her sketchbooks since 2002. Admitting she now has hundreds of books which are not for sale, it’s still worth coming to see those few illustrations from her books since her travels take us all the way from the ‘Giraffe-Necked woman’ in Bagan, Myanmar to sights in Japan and South Korea back to Germany, Austria, Spain and Ferrara, Italy where she attended a Sketchbook Festival that brought together artists with similar habits as hers.
Because she is also teaching, Mercy didn’t take her extensive trek around Latin America until late in 2018 through mid-January this year.
”Because I was traveling for three months, I could only carry one sketchbook so I had to limit my drawing to one a day,” says Mercy who went all the way from Columbia, Peru and Chile to Argentina. “We even went by cargo boat up the Amazon [River] from Columbia to Peru,” she adds, clearly having relished the adventure.
“I was sorry I wasn’t able to get to Brazil,” she tells the Brazilian ambassador and his wife who is also an artist having an exhibition December 1st at the National Museum. “But I hope to get there next time,” she adds.
One can hardly doubt that Kagia is likely to get to Latin America again although there will be many more drawings that she’ll do before she gets back there.
Included in her ‘Travel Drawings’ is reportage of time she spent in Kenya, although watercolors like ‘Kisumu Municipal Market’ are only affordable postcards. But that means even art-lovers with a minimal budget will be able to afford one of Mercy’s masterpieces, albeit in a minimal form.