BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 10 February 2020)
Every Brush Tu Open House that I have attended has been a high-energy affair. The one that opened last Sunday was no exception.
The Artists’ Collective based in Buru Buru Phase 1 has had an allure for ambitious young Kenyan artists ever since the group first launched themselves as a trio in 2013. David Thuku, Boniface Maina and Michael Musyoka were and still are dynamic young artists who were fresh from either Buru Buru Institute of Fine Art or the YMCA Training Centre at the time. They were all serious about painting, hence the name ‘Brush tu’ meaning Only brush, only painting.
It didn’t take long for others to join them, artists like Waweru Gichuhi and Elias Mung’ora. And ever since, a myriad of young painters have passed through their studio, some sculptors like Boniface Kimani, others aspiring artists prepared to experiment with assorted media and artistic techniques.
The three-day open house presented works by four out of the first five early workers, not including David Thuku who is currently contracted with One Off Gallery. But what’s wonderful about the Artists’ Collective is that it continues to attract young Kenyans who want to work with them, either as interns or artists in residence who aspire to one day become one of them.
During the Open House there were no less than 14 artists who are based there and displaying their work. The one thing they all have in common is that all are adventurous enough to be experimenting, either with new ideas, new media or new methodologies.
For instance, when Abdul Kiprop first came to Brush tu, he saw himself as a painter. But after attending print workshops at the collective’s studio, he got serious about woodcut printing, which led to his learning enough about welding to create a ‘jua kali’ printing press using recycled materials.
“I learned [how to do it] by observation,” says Abdul who had worked on presses at Kuona Artists Collective and Wildebeest workshops. After that, he decided Brush tu needed one of its own, so he built it. His first prints coming off the new press are on display at Brush tu.
But Abdul is not the only one experimenting either with found objects or new media. Sebawali Sio is still a painter, but she’s recently discovered she loves working with glass. Her cut glass busts are first molded in plaster by hand. The cut glass and color come after that. The dazzling results suggest that Seba’s experiments with sculpture are a track she’ll be on for some time.
Others who are experimenting and evolving artistically are Boniface Maina who’s paying more attention to the chiaroscuro effects of lighting in his art; Lincoln Mwangi who’s experimenting with color in contrast to his early works which he drew only in hues of black and white; and both Moira Bushkimani and Silas Kwale who prefer creating art using what other people consider ‘junk’.
Bush collects everything from dead tree stumps to crushed beer cans while Silas goes for old butchers’ knives and cutting boards. Thereafter, they transform their ‘found objects’ (aka junk) into ingenious sculptures. At the open house, Bush’s works were more conceptual, her sculptures symbolic of either ‘Wind’ or ‘Rain’ or ‘Fire’. In contrast, Silas’s sculptures were more naturalistic.
“I come from a people who are notorious for being meat-eaters and hunters,” he says, suggesting that butcheries have been an essential feature in his life.
The other painters in the Collective, namely Musyoka, Mong’ora and Waweru are essentially the only ones who didn’t bring new work to the Open House, unlike Peteros Ndunde who continues doing new and highly detailed drawings of disembodied body parts.
The threesome all had good reasons for not bringing their newest works to the Open House. But whatever those reasons were, what they showed were still some of their finest and most representative works which many people hadn’t seen before in any case.
The point is their Open House confirmed the fact that nobody at Brush tu is standing still. Not even the studio’s former intern, Joseph Mbiyu whose style of painting has matured significantly since he first came to B2 a year ago. Even the current Intern, Keyo Okwayo Is doing well, blending painting and poetry under the mentorship of Bush.
Finally, Emmaus Kimani is the only photographer at the Collective and his images of Lamu suggest the place had a profound impact on his work.