Art is highly appreciated globally but somewhat downplayed in Kenyan. Still, some artists are painting on undeterred.
One of them is Stanley Cheche, a talented visual artist based in Nairobi who earns a living through intimate and interactive artwork. His gift has also enabled him to venture into interior design to further project his creativity.
Cheche’s works are mostly inspired by political, social and economic events from his environment.
“A piece I do in Kenya will be different from a piece I will work on in Uganda. That is how my work stands out,” he tells Hustle.
The mood to draw an particular piece comes in glimpses of anything that draws attention to societal activities. An example is the piece titled, ‘Gateway to Hell’.
Presented on canvas, the work has a message that advocates for the abolishing of female genital mutilation.
“This piece (portrays) how girls are being denied sexual satisfaction through such uncouth practices,” says Cheche.
The artist got his breakthrough when he was among a few artistes who won an art competition sponsored by Safaricom in November 2018.
His paintings were used on the company’s products such as calendars, which gave him the platform to showcase his art every month.
Through his work, he has hit significant milestones by participating in a number of group exhibitions organised by the Godown Art Centre under the Manjano programme by the National Museum of Kenya.
On the international scene, Cheche participated in a competition held in Turkey in October 2013 where the theme was based on art that touches the society.
“The art piece I did was titled ‘Greed’ and it highlighted deforestation and poaching that are prevalent in Africa,” he says.
How does he commercialise his talent?
“This ability was nurtured at an early age, it provided me with bread since I was in Form Two where I drew calligraphy designs on my fellow students’ certificates,” says Cheche.
“I was not a sport enthusiast and my introvert nature got me drawing for money while everyone was out for sports.”
As a business, artwork is a game of patience, he advises. For instance, hosting exhibitions may involve prepayment of the rent despite no guarantee that their work will be bought.
“The reality is that profits do not always come flowing. Some clients push us to commission for artwork with a fixed price and it is difficult to repeat the same artwork for another client who will want it at a different price,” says Cheche.
He says the bargaining on prices limits the growth of artists who uphold value for their work.
“It is better to not draw something that is not in harmony with the heart, especially if it is not specifically ordered by a client.”
Another challenge is the high prices of art pieces.
“Artwork can be worth over Sh100,000 and some clients may want a commission off, which is okay, but this lowers its value. Why don’t people bargain on a brand new Mercedes, for instance?”
Cheche says people should uphold the same values they rely on when purchasing things such as classy vehicles.
For clients who might not afford to buy the art, he is open to hiring out the paintings to promote his business.
“In cases where pieces can be deemed too expensive, I can hire them out for an event with the aim of creating a specific theme,” he says.