“Shags” is a Sheng term for what Black Americans call their “hood”, their home or rather their real home. Derived from the Kikuyu term for village, shags also refers to the three-man exhibition at Village Market, near Runda, attracting lots of attention.
The interest in shags lies first and foremost in the dazzling colors that strike you as you first walk into Village Market’s new art space. The most colorful of all the three is Fred Abuga’s paintings, infused as they are with brilliant equatorial colors — breathtaking yellows, oranges and many shades of green. Abuga’s leafy green palms are the most conspicuous feature of his art, but so are his bold and broad brush strokes.
The oldest artist of them all is Patrick Kinuthia, who to my mind is one of Kenya’s most important landscape painters. His last three shows (including this one) have been with James Njoroge, who, like Kinuthia’s, is from the same central region.
But one can hardly tell from what part of Kenya Kinuthia’s paintings derive. Wherever there is the sun shimmering on leafy trees, rambling rural roads and free-flowing streams, they can all be found in his pastoral paintings.
AMAZING AFRICAN BEAUTIES
But he’s also at his best when he paints portraits of amazing African beauties, most of whom come from Kenya but not all. What’s distinctive about Kinuthia’s portraits are his colors, which again are deftly blended to create a vibrant effect.
Njoroge is also a painter but his medium of art is very different from either Abuga’s or Kinuthia’s.
That’s because he works with paper, or rather paper scraps, mostly magazines that he shreds by hand and somehow situates in ways that make his art look like naturalistic paintings but which have a semi-abstract edge, given that his colour magazine scraps are never precisely aligned like a pen, pencil or paint brush could do.
But who cares! His art is stunning, whether it’s portraits of women members from his mother’s rural Christian Women’s Guild or landscapes designed during his recent two-week artist residency in Lamu.
In all, the three create a powerful painterly troika of Kenyan artists whose work has a special appeal to locals who may or may not see themselves as art collectors or connoisseurs but who identify with “shags” since so much of the art looks close to home.