Kisumu artist who drew his way into President Uhuru Kenyatta's heart

Artist Collins Okello’s portrait of President Uhuru Kenyatta. [Photo: Rushdie Oudia/Standard]

When Spanish painter Pablo Picasso said there are painters who with the help of their art and their intelligence transform a yellow spot into sun, he could as well have had Collins Omondi Okello in mind.

Armed with the right pencils, this 25-year-old artist and comedian drew a portrait of President Uhuru Kenyatta in his combat regalia. Jaduong’, as he is famously called in Kisumu, worked on the portrait for more than eight hours. And it was all worth it because the masterpiece that he produced would have given Leonardo da Vinci, the Mona Lisa artist, a run for his money.

“Some people are claiming that I used photoshop or a computer application to draw a sketch of the President. Well, if that app is downloaded in my hand, it is true but I am inspired by doubting Thomases, who exalt my work discreetly,” says Jaduong’.

Finer details

Okello has been trending in social media for the past three days after he captured the hearts of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Kenyans thanks to his stroke of genius.

Having spent ore than eight hours to capture the finer details, Okello is living proof being a genius in whatever field is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, Okello’s masterpiece on the right speaks for itself.

He captured every detail so well, it’s almost too good to be true. Okello started exhibiting this rare talent at an early age when he was a pupil at Arya Primary school. Like the way, a journalist carries a pen and a note book everywhere, Okello always carries a pencil and a paper.

With these, he would capture the wonderful moments he experienced.

His latest portrait of the President earned him praise from Kenyans on social media and from State House Digital Director Dennis Itumbi, who expressed interest in the portrait.

And just when he thought it could not get any better, he received a call from President Kenyatta. He started sweating and his heart was racing. He became instantly tongue-tied.

He could not hide his excitement as he told this writer about the phone call. He says this humbling experience marked the climax as his star showed no signs of going off any time soon.

“Kijana nimependezwa na kazi yako (Young man I like your work),” President Kenyatta told him.

While most would seize the opportunity and negotiate for the best price possible, Okello did the unthinkable. He gave President Kenyatta the portrait as a gift as the head of State celebrated his 53rd birthday.

Okello may be basking in glory right now but he is not done just yet. He is now working on a portrait of veteran journalist Jeff Koinange.

Every long journey starts with a single step, or so the old Chinese adage goes. Okello commercialised his talent when he was only eight years old when he sold a drawing for Sh20.

At Arya Primary, his talent was detected in the most unusual way.

Okello narrates how pupils used to be ordered to take an afternoon nap and he would stay up drawing the teacher who would be too busy marking classwork. The teacher may not have noticed him but it was not long before the class monitor did and Okello was in trouble.

Musical instruments

“The class monitor reported me to the teacher for making noise with a pencil,” said Okello then burst into laughter. The teacher summoned him to the staffroom and Okello thought he would be punished. Instead, the teacher directed him to a colleague who teaches Art and Craft called George Bunde.

Mr Bunde trained him and Okello soon became a darling to many teachers. He would draw maps on charts, paintings and musical instruments to aid teachers during lessons.

All was going according to the script until the Government scrapped Art and Craft from the curriculum. His talent development stalled as a result. He would later rediscover himself when he joined Kisumu Boys High School in 2004. Here, he took Art and Design but concentrated too much on the theoretical part of it.

Okello said this was because the school lacked a developed art system that would nurture his talent. He however benefited art teachers who pointed him in the right direction so that he could turn his talent into a career.

“They advised us on how to benefit commercially from arts besides doing well academically,” said Okello who attained an A- (minus) in Art and Design and a mean grade of A- (minus) in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams in 2007.

His art project comprising a painting and pottery topped in the entire Kisumu District and he later sold it for only Sh300. But to him this was a lot of money.

Okello suffered another setback when he joined Jomo Kenyatta University for Agricultural Technology (JKUAT). His parents convinced him to pursue a degree in Commerce with the promise of a better future.

He regrets giving in to his parents demands, saying that was the worst mistake he ever made. He says he took up the course to please his parents and the society who believe that careers such as medicine, engineering and law are lucrative. When Okello’s interest in art grew, his father George supported him financially.

“Collins has made the family and the village of Karachuonyo Kanyipir very proud,” said George.

Doors opened

After graduating, his breakthrough came when a friend, also an artist referred a client to him. After doing two portraits and selling each for Sh500, his doors opened and the orders kept coming his way.

Okello markets his products through social media using his three accounts, Collins Think-tank Okello (Jaduong’), How A Luo Would Have Said It and Jaduong Art works.