By Japheth Ogila and Steve Biko Abuya
Published June 26, 2014
As you arrive at Nairobi National Museum, you are ushered into a large gallery on the second floor. Hanging on the four walls are large, medium and small oil on canvas paintings of people, birds and landscapes.
On one wall is a painting titled ‘Face to Face Animal Instinct’ showing two people mimicking animals kissing. Another equally eye-catching painting is titled ‘Tin-can Runway’; it shows two people standing in front of a makeshift house with a plane flying above them.
Moving on to the next wall, you come across a symbolic painting of a marabou stork on a garbage heap swallowing a child titled ‘The Bird that Ate the Kid’.
From a distance, you also notice a painting of what looks like a green field with a ship-like structure in the centre. As you get closer, you realise that the painting titled ‘Green Lake’ isn’t one of a soccer pitch but of a mass of water on which a weed called water hyacinth has grown and is almost suffocating it; it is Lake Victoria, the second largest fresh water lake in the world.
Welcome to the world of Irish Clinton Kirkpatrick, an artist who first came to Kenya in 2011 not as a painter but as an HIV/AIDS awareness youth worker before he fell in love with the diverse cultures and landscapes of Kenya.
The tall, slender, jovial and deep-voiced Kirkpatrick later returned to Kenya on his own in 2012 to deliver workshops in art and creative writing for two months in a children’s centre–Naivasha Children’s Shelter–in Naivasha, about 200 kilometres out of Nairobi City. It was during this time that Kirkpatrick attended a woodcut print workshop in Nairobi for four days, a technique he has since adopted.
While in Kenya, Kirkpatrick–holder of a Bachelor’s degree in Painting and Drawing–took photos whenever he toured places and made sketches of the country’s people and cultures which he painted for eight months upon his return to Europe. This was to later become the basis of the month-long exhibition of paintings, woodcut prints and drawings on the theme, ‘Where He Ran and Returned to’ in May 2014.
The theme is taken from the fact that Kirkpatrick had come to Kenya by ‘accident’; he had come to Kenya to find peace from what he describes as “a series of unfortunate events that I actively choose to move away from – investing my time in something that was different to what I already knew.”
“It happened that a group was planning to travel to Kenya for an HIV and Aids awareness campaign but they were short of staff and needed someone,” Daily Nation quoted him as having said though Kirkpatrick distances himself from the quote.
Kirkpatrick says he took the plunge and travelled to Kenya with International Volunteer HQ, the volunteer organisation.
“I was then placed further into a children’s charity–Kitendo Children’s Charity Slum Project in Naivasha–to work with HIV and Aids awareness,” he says.
Being a minority in a predominantly black country, the artist from Northern Ireland says he attracted attention from curious locals. He says that was what he set out to capture in ‘All Eyes on Me’ that shows an ogre-like creature with many eyes, and ‘Ghost in a Crowd’ where a white-human-like creature is engulfed in a sea of curious Africans that were part of the exhibition that ran May 3-31 at Nairobi National Museum.
“My work explores place, time, identity and journey. Kenya became a fundamental part of my development as an artist and it has greatly shaped the artist I am today,” Kirkpatrick told ArtMatters.Info just before his exhibition opened in Nairobi. “I hope this solo exhibition will be colourful, inspiring and start conversations. One of the most important aspects of this exhibition is that the people and place that the work is all about shall get to see it.”
Living in Naivasha provided him with the opportunity to observe how the community treats animals. He captured that in ‘Donkey Drip’. He also captured Kenya’s dusty roads in ‘Dust Face’.
As the 28-day exhibition came to a close, Kirkpatrick’s connection with Kenya seemed to be growing not weaker but stronger.
“I am thinking of starting a not-for-profit organisation that will teach artists further and help develop abilities, realise potential and engage in a critically stimulating environment,” he said as he prepared to jet out of Kenya. “I also plan to work on a collection of paintings on landmarks of Nairobi City.”