Like so many Kenyan artists, Eric ‘Stickky’ Muriiuki was ‘supposed’ to become something other than an artist. Maybe a doctor or an engineer, or it even a lawyer.
But from the look of his current one-man exhibition at the Nairobi National Museum’s Creativity Gallery, it appears that Stickky is stuck on the visual arts.
Last Saturday, he gave an ‘Artist Talk’ in the Gallery and shared a bit of his history, his style of painting and some of the reasons for him creating art as he does.
“I admit I have a fetish for shoes,” Stickky told a crowd who had gathering in the gallery specifically to listen to his views on art. “I grew up in the 1990s when shoes were very important,” he adds, recalling the way he wore shoes back then. But now he paints them.
“I started out by painting shoes,” said Stickky who literally painted plain white canvas tennis shoes with beautiful designs and colourful patterns. None of them were in the show, probably because he sold most of them, after his friends recognised that his shoes were works of art.
What he did have in the exhibition, which he entitled “Watu, Viatu na Mavazi” were paintings of shoes. One was an antique shoe (a leather boot actually) which he had retrieved from somewhere.
It had special significance to him such that it could have been called ‘Portrait of an Old Shoe’. Instead, he named it ‘Kiatu changu’.
But Stickky has branched out since that first phase of his artistic career. He attributes that growth to his working closely with Patrick Mukabi at the Dust Depo Art Studio, next to the Railway Museum.
Patrick has a way of mentoring and inspiring young artists, which compels them to grow. Plus, he puts his mentees (of which Stickky was one) to work, helping him teach children’s art at places like The Hub, Dusit D2 Hotel and any number of other venues.
In this show, Stickky has included paintings of other mitumba (second hand) items, such as sweaters and denim jackets and even a shawl reminiscent of his grandmother’s kanga which he says she used to drape around her legs to keep her warm in the evenings when he was growing up in Nyeri.
But it isn’t only the variety of found vestments that reveal Stickky’s artistic development. It is also the way he is able to create a three-dimensional effect out of a 2D jacket. At a distance, that baggy multi-coloured jacket looked like it was practically falling out of his painting.
But Stickky’s show also has a number of ‘watu’ (people) featured in it. He has painted several portraits of pretty women, women he suggests are dream sweethearts, not actual ones.
The one set of paintings by the artist that I find most appealing and most reflective of his ability to capture dynamic action is untitled. But it is a football match among boys who are clearly playing to win. The painting is primarily a charcoal drawing on a long sheet of brown paper.
The paper is so long that it nearly covers one whole gallery wall. And then it seems to spill over onto walls on either side of the central drawing. Mukabi’s influence is evident in this powerful work.
It is reminiscent of a long charcoal drawing that the mentor did called ‘The Journey,’ which I first saw at Alliance Francaise several years ago. Both paintings reveal people in motion. In Patrick’s case, they were migrants; in Stickky’s they are big boys have fun, striving to control a football and trying to kick it home for a goal.
Stickky’s exhibition will run until November 30.