Are you looking to add a personal touch to your home or office, or to make your walls more exciting?
Then perhaps it’s time you considered adding original artwork to your décor.
Mr Benson Hinga, a freelance interior designer based in Nairobi, says that art in a home or office can transform the space into a more livable environment by adding character and warmth.
“It humanises the space,” Mr Hinga says, adding that people who own original works of art tend to be happier. “Original art goes a long way in enriching not only the life of its owner, but also visitors to the home,” says Mr Hinga, who regularly installs art in corporate offices.
He notes that while many Kenyans still buy mass-produced posters and the tourist art that is often hawked on the streets, focus is now shifting to original artwork bought from galleries.
“For a touch of sophistication, Kenyans are increasingly learning about modern and contemporary art. Buying art that is intrinsically hand-made gives more satisfaction than just settling for photoshopped prints,” he says.
The interior designer notes that having artwork means a lot more than just decorating one’s space. Art, he says, can inspire and transport its viewer to new realms. It evokes emotions and often makes for a good conversation starter for discussions on serious issues.
“Art always provides a great ice-breaker and intriguing original art is a wonderful conversation starter between the host and his or her guests,” Mr Hinga says.
Art also helps you express your beliefs and personality in a better way than words ever could, he adds.
“Just as people express themselves through their choice of clothing or the cars they drive, you can also find unique art for your home that serves as a means of self-expression,” he notes.
Besides, when you buy original art, you support local artists and encourage them to produce more works, thereby growing the Kenyan art scene.
While the benefits of having original artwork in your home are numerous, chances are that unless you are an artist or an art curator, buying art does not come naturally to you. So, how do you ensure that the art you buy is of high quality and will remain relevant for years thereafter?
Ms Danda Jaroljmek, the curator at Circle Art Gallery, has worked on the art scene for more than two decades. She opened the gallery in Lavington, Nairobi, in 2015 with the aim of building a local market for art.
“Besides our annual Modern and Contemporary East African Art Auction, we also hold regular exhibitions where people can walk in to enjoy and acquire art. We also offer arts advisory services to both individuals and the business community,” she offers.
Ms Jaroljmek’s first piece of advice to anyone looking to spruce up their home with original art is that they should try and enlist the help of professionals in the field.
“A person who intends to begin collecting art should always share their vision with a gallery owner or a curator who can offer them professional advice,” she says.
It also pays for one to do his/her own research before setting out to buy art. In this regard Mr Hinga advises potential buyers to read a lot about art and understand its different forms and styles before setting out to visit exhibitions at galleries or museums. Educating yourself about art, the interior designer says, will help you determine the type of art that appeals to you.
However, Ms Jaroljmek points out that there is not enough documentation of East African art, so visiting galleries and talking to experts is the way to learn about the local scene. She defines contemporary art as works created between 2000 and today. Meanwhile, modern art refers to works produced from the 1950s to the 1990s.
For those who might not have time to visit the gallery during its normal opening hours — from 10am to 5pm on weekdays and from noon to 5pm on Saturdays — then “First Thursdays” are events to look out for.
“We introduced ‘First Thursdays’, a tradition in many galleries worldwide, to enable busy professionals to view and purchase art. On the first Thursday of every month, we remain open until 8pm,” she explains.
Meanwhile, Mr Hinga urges those interested in buying art to be open to the different media.
“Why always pick a painting?” he asks, adding that buyers should embrace other types of art such as sculpture, artistic installations and mixed-media pieces. For instance, in a room where you might not be able to hang a painting on the wall, you can always enhance the space by placing wooden carvings on the shelves, or even tables or stools made from recycled bicycle parts.
“It all depends on what creates the maximum aesthetic impact in a given space,” he says.
When it comes to displaying art, one shouldn’t just consider the walls. “Floors, headboards, table tops and fireplaces should also be taken into consideration when deciding on a location to place artworks. Outdoor areas like patios, corridors and footpaths should also not be ignored,” Mr Hinga says.
He says it is important to have a budget before venturing to buy art to avoid overspending. The interior designer warns of buyer’s remorse, which can afflict a person who buys a piece of art that’s out of their financial reach.
“If you become extravagant when purchasing a piece of art on a whim, you might find yourself resenting the piece later on when you consider the money you spent on it. Set a budget and stick to it no matter what,” he advises.
Meanwhile, Ms Jaroljmek says that while art seems expensive to many Kenyans, it is possible to find affordable artworks.
“Artists often accept payments in instalments,” she says, adding that prices typically start at Sh15,000.
When it comes to the effect of a work of art on a room, the two hold different views.
While Mr Hinga says that the grandiosity of a painting is directly proportional to its effect on a room’s décor, Ms Jaroljmek disagrees, saying that the size of a painting should have little bearing when one is considering which art piece to acquire.
However, the two professionals agree that you should buy only art that is appealing to you.
“Art should be something that brings pleasure. The ultimate decision to acquire a piece of art should be yours,” says Ms Jarolmek.
Her views are echoed by Ms Khalai Jimase, a Kenyan artist and photographer who runs a personal gallery in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, who says that good art is that which elicits emotional responses.
“You might look at a painting and just love it without really knowing why,” she told DN2.
“It might revive a long-lost memory of someone, something or an event, or it might even evoke a fantasy. Many people look at a painting for just about two seconds and decide whether they hate it or love it,” she adds.
While some people rely only on the aesthetics of a painting, galleries such as Circle Art post artists’ biographies and statements on the work of exhibiting artists on their websites and galleries.
If you have just brought a painting home from the gallery, you might take a while to decide where to place it. w Mr Hinga advises that artwork should placed at focal points, meaning areas that draw maximum attention in a room. Placing a painting above the television, for example, achieves this.
What if the artwork’s colours do not match your room’s theme colours?
The interior designer says that it is actually a good thing for artwork to contrast sharply with a room’s décor as this ensures that everyone easily notices it. And Ms Jaroljmek adds that art does not have to match your décor.
Ensure that you hang your art piece at eye-level, just like they do in galleries. The only exception to this rule, Hinga says, is if you have children in the house who might ruin an expensive piece. In such a case, you can consider hanging the artwork beyond the children’s reach.
You might consider adding extra bulbs above your artwork if your room is not sufficiently lit. Mr Hinga points out that dimly lit art pieces always lose their piquancy, while well-lit pieces make the room more vibrant.
While there is no limit to the number of art pieces you can have in the room, having too many pieces in a small room might make the place look cluttered.
“With art, sometimes less is more,” says Mr Hinga.
If you get hooked and make it a habit to buy art regularly, you could eventually turn the passion into a very lucrative hobby of art collecting, which can pay off handsomely should you decide to sell your art in future date.
When you buy the work(s) of a young emerging artist, it might be affordable to many people at the time. However, should you decide to sell the work in future, after the artist has made a name for himself or herself, you are likely to be in a position where you can ask for a price that is many times what you paid for it.
After buying a work of art, carefully store all accompanying documents such as the receipts and invoices. They might be used to prove the authenticity of the work in future and also determine its value.
How to go about acquiring art
Do some background reading on art to learn about the different forms and styles
Seek a professional dealer or curator for guidance
Draw up a budget and stick to it
After buying a piece, keep all the documentation safely
When transporting art, ensure that it is protected against light, moisture, abrasion and compression
Read up on the artist whose work you have bought to get a sense of their style
Kibera artists’ collective strives to make art affordable
Located in Kibera’s Bombolulu area, the Maasai Mbili Arts Centre boasts a huge collection of contemporary Kenyan urban art. The centre, also known as M2, takes pride in being a launching pad for several big names on the county’s art scene, and offers the public a chance to enjoy and acquire art works at affordable prices.
Since a good number of the artists live in Kibera, the works should be accessible not only to the many foreigners who visit Kibera, but also to those living in our immediate surrounding,” says Ms Rose Jepkorir, an administrator at the centre who works in collaboration of the artists.
Art work or merchandise made by artists range between Sh4,000 and Sh40,000.
“However, art buyers should not just focus on the price,” she advises, adding that those looking for art pieces to buy art should respect the artists and refrain from bargaining too much.
“Art is not mandazi; a bigger piece does not necessarily cost more than a smaller one,” adds Otieno Kennedy Rabala, an artist at the Maasai Mbili Arts Centre.
The artist, popularly known as OK Rabala, adds that art buyers shouldn’t limit their purchases to paintings on canvas.
“People who appreciate my work have invited me to their homes to paint murals on their walls. We also design artistic items such as ashtrays, mirror frames and custom-made doors. Even regular furniture like stools and coffee tables can be tasteful pieces of art,” he says.
Ms Jepkorir says that acquiring art can be more fulfilling if the buyer makes an effort to educate themselves about the artist who created the piece they are interested in or have bought.
“Read up on the particular artist to get a sense of their style and understand the context of the piece of work that you buy. You can always follow the artist on social media to catch a glimpse of their lives but if possible, try to meet them,” she suggests.
The administrator adds that one should go the extra mile in ensuring their art is properly transported and stored.
“When transporting art, ensure the piece is protected against light, moisture, abrasion and compression,” she says. “It is possible to buy an insurance policy for the art you collect as this will come in handy should the artwork be destroyed or stolen.”