By Margaretta wa Gacheru (submitted 29 November 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 several stops in between).
But it was well worth waiting for the global reportage of this amazing visual artist whose watercolor paintings, sketchbooks and illustrations were recently on display at One Off Gallery.
Kagia is one of those rare painters who humbly calls herself an illustrator, in part because she got her doctorate in Illustration from Kingston University in the 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 also can’t 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 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 as well as the 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 interest as well as her imagination. Unfortunately, this show at One Off couldn’t enable us to see all her artistic impressions of the terrain since most of them, which she captured as vivid water-color illustrations were originally drawn in one or more of her precious sketchbooks.
“I chose just a few from each sketchbook to scan and include here,” says Dr Kagia who has been keeping every one of her sketchbooks since 2002. Admitting she now has hundreds of books in safe keeping and which she says are not for sale, it was still worth making the effort in November to head to Rosslyn to see those few illustrations from her books. The images what she shared from her travels took us all the way from Bagan, Myanmar where she met and sketched an amazing ‘Giraffe-Necked woman’ to sights in Japan and South Korea back to Germany, Austria, Spain and Ferrara, Italy. It was in Ferrara that she attended an international Sketchbook Festival which brought together artists with similar artistic inclinations to her own.
Because she has been teaching, Mercy didn’t take her extensive trek around Latin America until late 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, Amb Fernando and Leonice Coimbra who attended her exhibition. “But I hope to get there next time,” she adds.
Leonice is also a professional artist in her own right and is currently having her first exhibition in Kenya entitled ‘In Vitro’ which opened December 1st at the Nairobi National Museum.
One can hardly doubt that Kagia is likely to get back to Latin America again although there will be many more drawings that she’ll do before she returns.
Included in her ‘Travel Drawings’ is reportage of the recent days she spent in Kenya. These two are lovely and available to buy although Mercy’s watercolors, such as the ‘Kisumu Municipal Market’ are most affordable as postcards and book marks. But even these are also lovely samplings of Mercy’s amazing paintings and mean that even art-lovers with a minimal budget will be able to afford one of Mercy’s masterpieces, albeit in a minimal form. They are still available at One Off’s gift shop although they were almost gone the last time I looked.