Fr Franco Crabu has never been to any art school, but you wouldn’t know this by looking at his paintings. And if you take a closer look, you will discover that he is not just another artiste who dabbles in art and music.
“I have been using my artistic talent to serve the Lord through preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Images and music are my instruments of preaching,” says the priest who was born in Italy but serves in Nanyuki, the town that gained notoriety as the end of the railway line that was meant to stretch all the way to Meru.
At the entrance to the art exhibition centre at the Christ the King Catholic Church, where Fr Crabu serves, are the words: “Beauty and tenderness, the colour of God”.
True to the words, the artist’s works have a rare beauty and tenderness permeates the works, be it the child snuggling next to a lamb or the little boy reaching out to catch a frog that is jumping out of his reach.
One of the works depicts a scene from the New Testament where a woman of questionable morals anoints the feet of Jesus with oil, and uses her long hair to clean the feet of Christ.
No matter his choice of colours, it is not too hard to find the colour of God in Fr Crabu’s works, and this is one of the attributes that make them stand out.
The other is that the priest has been using locally-available materials to immortalise the fruit of his imagination, be it the grains of sand in his mixed media artworks or the sculptures made from spoons and forks that combine to depict a drummer, violist, footballer, a pugilist facing an opponent in a boxing ring and soldier in a parade.
Besides the artworks, Fr Crabu also has 24 music albums to his credit.
“I started drawing at the age of seven,” he said in an interview with Saturday Nation. “Through the encouragement of my late father, an architect known as Mr Constantino Crabu, I have improved my skills over the years.”
Although born in a family of four — two girls and two boys — he is the only one who inherited the talent to draw images from his father. Now he is using it to help the destitute, the neglected and those who have no friends to call their own. He has christened his project Emmaus, a name derived from the Biblical town to which two of Jesus’ disciples were travelling when they had a revelation about the Christ.
“I intend to raise at least Sh2 million from selling my drawings and sculptures to have the Emmaus Home completed by the end of this year. Unlike the hospice, this will be a temporary home where those who reform through a rehabilitation programme will rejoin their families,” he said.
All the money that Fr Crabu has spent on his latest project — and the three others he has done in the past — has been raised through the sale of his paintings both here in Kenya and in Italy, where he was born. He has also staged live performances of his music in Paris and in Brussels to raise more.
Sometimes he works till midnight.
He has converted one section of his sitting room into an art workshop and when the Nation team visited him this week, he had just completed work on 20 framed images.
“I imagine what makes human life; happiness, loneliness, grief, ageing and first put such images on paper using a pencil before transferring the same images on canvas,” he said of his working style.
A normal day for him begins at 5am with prayers, before attending mass at 7am at the nearby church. In the course of the day, he visits schools and hospital wards to offer prayers.
And when he has some free time before sundown, he heads to his workshop to work on his metal sculptures or wood frames for his paintings.