At a time when most children in Kenya are learning the bolts and nuts of arithmetic, writing and reading in school, writes OGOVA ONDEGO, Peter Simon Elungat–whose work resembles that of the Renaissance period in Europe–was already an accomplished artist.
Born in Teso District, Western Kenya, Elungat used to draw trains to relive how he and his mother used to travel to see his father in Naivasha on the floor of the Great Rift Valley that passes through Kenya on its way to Mozambique.
Later, a woman, birds, chameleons, traditional hut homesteads with women engaged in their daily chores of farming, firewood and water collection, and caring for children and livestock, started featuring in his fledgling work.
“As I developed my art I began to use black, blue and green hues to express my state and mood in life,” he says. “Blue and black symbolised difficulties while brown and white represented my rebirth or a coming from difficulties to a more comfortable life.” It was at this stage that Elungat began to draw the image of a woman on the vista of a distant horizon against the backdrop of a setting sun.
The woman kept on coming closer and closer until she filled the canvas. This was when I began to look for a life partner whom I named Angelina,” he says. As time passed, Angelina began making music with strange-looking instruments: a flute, keyboard, guitar, and drums. He gradually introduced a man playing a guitar on a rock as vegetation gave way to rocks and pots. Pots began to break while women grieved over them. He made a series of pots on this theme. As the work progressed Elungat began to portray the man and the woman crossing water masses together while smiling at each other. Later they began riding birds, chameleons, and donkeys while playing music. Apparently Elungat is a musician and poet who plays the flute and sings. He illustrates his own poetry and says he has some sentimental attachment to his paintings which, he says, he only parts with for lack of any other way of making money. “Otherwise I would never sell them.”
Waiting for her lover?
He says he prices his work according to how much time he has spent creating it. Dealing mainly in oil on canvas, 24-year-old Elungat is one of the best selling contemporary artists in Kenya. Art pundits say his work reminds them of the Renaissance Period in Europe. Elungat presents gifts to his Angelina using birds and the various paintings he makes have to be seen together to understand the message which, at times, calls for one’s appreciation of cartoons and caricature. The characters in the paintings have short and thin feet, long necks and large bodies.
Elungat usually paints birds and humans out of the world as we know it. His work, therefore, can be said to be built on philosophy and fantasy. He combines fine art with poetry. Elungat, who discovered his artistic talent while in standard three, was unable to continue with school in form two for lack of fees. That, however, has not stopped him from turning into a much sought-after painter and poet. Although he has no formal training in art–save for the workshops he has attended at the Kuona Art Trust–Elungat’s work resembles that of the Renaissance period in Europe.
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WEEPING IN THE MIST by Peter Elungat
I saw her, and she smiled,
She is a violin, and she sang,
I also saw it, covered in the mist,
O, I hate to be hatched,
And the bird wept
Humans communicating with nature: birds, insects,and environment
I saw red tears, the brilliant crimson,
It turned green, and then to white,
But the woman sang
A song of a loved one,
And the birds wept.
Hmmm, I heard a voice, It was sad, from the spiral bird,
The eyes were dull, trying to smile
I tried to smile, but all in vain
And again, the bird wept.