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Nature and satire meet as Munene exhibits work

By By David Odongo | August 11th 2012
Michael Munene with the Standard Group outgoing Chief Operating Officer during the opening of the exhibition.  [Photo: Wilberforce Okwiri/Standard]

By David Odongo

The Standard cartoonist Michael Munene’s two-week art exhibition is on at the National Museums of Kenya. The exhibition, dubbed ‘Fame, Nature, and the Funny’ concludes on August 18. The cartoonist features his paintings and cartoons, which have not been published yet.

Crowning the art exhibits is a five-by-five feet watercolour painting of Dedan Kimathi. The artist captures the late freedom fighter shirtless, his arms across his chest with glinting handcuffs restraining both hands. The hard lines on his mouth perhaps signify the hard life the freedom fighter lived while fighting for independence in the jungle, although his eyes have an appearance of defiance.

The painting is framed with rough wood, only softened by a slight touch of varnish. Munene has rusted chain wound around and nailed on the frame of the picture.

“The chain signifies the shackled prisoner. A chain is a symbol of being in prison. Being under lock and key, and its totally in tandem with the picture of such a hero, a man who lost his life fighting for independence.”

Another work that easily captures your attention is a huge oil on canvas piece of elephant, its squinty yellow sharp eyes, its tusks gleaning, and skin folds upon skin folds rolling off the beast. A beverage company has bought the intricate piece of art for an undisclosed amount.

Characteristic with most of his work, the elephant painting is framed by a wooden frame, with raw tree barks still on. No varnish or any paint has been applied on the frame.

“The frame fits right in with the painting. An elephant is a rough clumsy beast and a smooth wooden frame wouldn’t do it justice. It needs something stronger, like the raw frame I have mounted it on,” says Munene.

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Munene’s visual arts often combine formidable technique with genuine empathy for the truly weird, but then he is certainly a kindred spirit with others in world of arts.

The use of art elements on Munene’s painting makes it a smooth and easy on the eye. In a portrait of Nelson Mandela how strokes, use of space, colour and value and texture, is simply brilliant to a keen art eye. This is the same art principle employed in yet another painting, this time of Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore – it is proportional, well balanced, with emphasis on the skin tone and almost looks like a studio photograph.

Munene, 25, is a figurative painter who has been painting since childhood and continues to address the intersections of portraits and wildlife with unfailing desire. “I did the elephant painting from 8pm to 3am. Once I start a painting I can’t stop until it is finished.”

Munene’s paintings bear the precise strokes of an obsessive, while his subject matter betrays the predilections of an unsettled mind.

“I prefer watercolours as it gives me a chance to play around with brushes and strokes, hence creating superb effects. Oil on canvas is a bit difficult to work with because it limits my creativity.”

Unlike most artists, Munene can draw cartoons, do illustrations and paint as well. He is one of the few artists whose illustrations appear on page one of a national newspaper frequently. “I even had one illustration appear on page one of The Times of India. It was a caricature of Ketan Somaia,” says Munene. The paper had picked the cartoon from The Standard online edition.


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