He has turned an otherwise posh suite in a Nairobi up-market apartment into an art studio. “He taught me how to write my name,” he says of the late David Cook who co-authored with David Rubadiri, the anthology titled Poems From East Africa, holding a painting he says took him a decade to complete. Cook used to hire my services as a taxi driver. After a couple of weeks, thieves stole all my tyres.
The concert is set for 13.00 hours East African Standard Time. But people, fearful of missing vantage places at the expansive Vatican City Restaurant, are already streaming into the venue three hours early. The star attraction is gospel music performer, Rose Mhando, who does not get on stage till 18.00 hours. But rather than dampen spirits, her delayed performance attracts even more people such that by the time she gets on stage the venue is a sea of humanity. The gates are closed and the ‘real show’ begins, with Mhando and her 10-member choir ‘all clad in black T-Shirts with KITIMU TIMU CHOIR emblazoned on their chests and white track bottom trousers with vertical black strips on each leg running from the waist to the white trainers on the ground’ singing and dancing as if their lives depended on it. Soon everyone–regardless of class, age, gender, height, weight–is on one’s feet, dancing and singing along to East Africa’s most popular gospel musician’s anthems: Mteule uwe macho, Yesu nakupenda, and Nakuuliza Shetani. Upon winding up the show almost two hours later, the dancing fans ask for more and Mhando obligingly goes back on stage with her team of six men and four women to sing and dance to Yerusalemu, and Namwambieni.
“People are lying together in the midday heat. The grazing cows imitate them. The animals thought they could not simply keep on grazing especially on Christmas day. The old bull identified by spectacles is sad and thinks back to his lost youth. Another cow has no partner and feels lonely,” Katarikawe says of the painting. It is from his mother who used to paint animal images as outer wall decorations for their house at Christmas that Katarikawe appears to have drawn his inspiration. He however says his greatest inspiration to art came from a visit to Rushoroza Catholic Cathedral in the company of Evarest Bugambilelio, his cousin.
“He told me that the Jesus portrait in the church was not a photograph but a painting and that brush placed in paint and applied across a surface can produce something as good as the portrait. I queried if that kind of brush is the one he used for hair combing and to my surprise Evarest said a big no. This made me fear God especially after realizing that he made people with such a talent. I left the church with two words, paint and brush on my heart.” His journey of exploration of the world of art therefore began in 1960 when the then vibrant potential artist left home for Kampala for better prospects. It is here that he met Cook
Unknown to Cook, Karatikawe used to draw privately whenever he, Cook, left him in the car as he delivered lectures or carried out research. “There were times when I could leave the car unattended and peep through the window of an art class at Makerere. I admired what the students did. One day, I was with Cook on the car when it developed a puncture. When I moved to open the boot, he saw the drawings I had been working on. This made me very uneasy for I thought I would lose my only source of daily bread. Surprisingly, Teacher as I used to call him, was amazed after he went through the drawings. I did not know what would follow,” says Katarikawe as he picks a portrait photograph from a small table.
Refugees by Katarikawe
Refugees by Katarikawe
“Teacher introduced me to this fellow country man, Sam Ntiro, who taught art at Makerere.” Katarikawe was also able, through Cook, to meet Michael Adams whom he chose to work with. The two offered technical advise and the former allowed Katarikawe to use a small art studio he owned. The Christmas day of 1965 sticks onto the mind of this artist whose works are in collections of more than 60 galleries across the world. Cook gave him a package of water colours and a brush. Katarikawe confesses that this was to transform his life. Cook later gave him a studio to work from. “It was in 1968 that I first realised that I could earn a living from paintings. After becoming a member of the East African Artists” Association, we held an exhibition in Kampala in which my painting titled Beetles in honour of the British music group, came third overall and was sold for USh6000. I used this to put up a house for my mother.
” The same year, Cook introduced him to the former Makerere student Elimo Njau, the Tanzanian who had moved to Kenya and established the Paa ya Paa gallery in 1963. That saw Katarikawe hold his first exhibition in Kenya that was opened by Kenya’s first Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. New avenues later opened following this; he had three exhibitions in London and visited various art galleries. The artist known through his works as Professor Jak, participated in the 1970s in a number of exhibitions in Uganda and Tanzania, winning top awards in the process. The artist who tried batiks and quickly went back to oil paints as his medium. As the ArtMatters.Info team is taken round the balcony, a music instrument rests on a table chair. Katarikawe says he plays music not just for passing time but that music helps him to interpret his imaginations better. “It is this talent that led me into taking up a part time job at Makerere University as demonstrator of traditional music in 1975.” During the reign of dictator Idi Amin Dada in Uganda (1971-1979), life was difficult and no art exhibitions took place in the country, forcing Katarikawe to turn to farming in his rural home. The seven wives he had married and some of his children are scattered to the four corners of the earth.
Katarikawe’s “My dear wife, please don’t desert me” Katarikawe’s “My dear wife, please don’t desert me.”
He left Uganda in 1981 to work at Paa ya Paa gallery in Nairobi. It was while here that he held exhibitions at the French Cultural Centre and African Heritage. While exhibiting at this gallery, that Adama Diawara, the current director of Gallery Watatu, attended one of the exhibitions and was moved by the quality of his work. The next day Diawara brought his art-collecting wife, Ruth Schaffner to the exhibition. “The two later became my David Cook in Nairobi,” says Katarikawe On taking over Gallery Watatu in 1984, Schaffner signed an agreement with Katarikawe. The contemporary East African art gallery today remains the main shop for Katarikawe’s works. In fact, it was Schaffner who rented him his apartment in which he lives and paints after he had been robbed. Katarikawe says Schaffner’s death in March 1997, just like that of David Cook three years ago has adversely affected him.
“It is like grabbing gold in your palms and sadly seeing it melt away,” he says. To date Katarikawe, who began with chalk drawings on the ground before taking to oil on canvas as his main medium, has more than 108 paintings to his name. It was Schaffner who trained him on the oil techniques. He had earlier during his times with Michael Adams at Makerere learned graphic techniques such as linocuttings and wax printing. Katarikawe’s early life and imagery is similar to that of Giottodi Bondone (1267-1337).