By Edwin Omondi
Every time any artist decides to make a painting, they have their own source of inspiration for a given subject, whether it be a realistic inspiration from real life memory or abstract subjects that they represent solely from their imagination.
The world surrounding an artist influences what they paint. The mind of the artist is manifested through the paint and brush. Some look to paint abstractly on a political situation. Others paint realistically what they see in nature while even more try to visualize a feeling, a person or object. But all are inspired by what they see in their subjects. They then put down in art form the impression of whatever it is that is making a picture in their mind.
Take a contrast of Elisha Ongere and Wycliffe Ndwiga, two African Artists who paint abstractly and realistically, respectively.
Ongere, a Kenyan man in his 40’s, was frustrated about the recent political unrest in his country following the 2007 Presidential elections. His country was torn apart with killings and anarchy for a short, but terrible time. Tribes fought against each other and suspicion of once trusted friends became great due to the dividing prejudice of tribalism. In his painting, “Kenyans After Elections” Elisha Ongere portrays the reality he faced in his beloved country through four bald headed faces of different tribes that touch each other and glare at each other in blank, suspicious expressions. Ongere’s contrast comes in the fact that most of the time these faces would be smiling with each other in friendship rather than misgiving. He painted abstractly on a political theme. Thankfully, the situation was resolved partly by the help of the United Nations, but some say politics in the country is still fragile.
Ndwiga, on the other hand, chooses to paint the peace and beauty he finds in his homeland’s nature of wildlife. Also a Kenyan native, and one of its best wildlife painters, Wycliffe Ndwiga frequently retreats far outside the city and population of tribes to see animals in their tranquil and fragile habitat, raw and uncut. Instead of painting an interpretation of feeling or situation, Wycliffe Ndwiga chooses to be accurate in capturing animals in their instinctive behavior: eating, resting, watching, and hunting. Take a leopard walking softly through a creek on the pursuit of its prey. Ndwiga captures this moment beautifully in a realistic picture. Or the leopard resting lazily in a tree, perhaps right after a kill, relaxing with all its limbs dangling from the tree’s thick branches. And take for instance the pack of three elephants, wandering in the dry savanna with the backdrop of dust behind their footprints and Mt. Kilimanjaro even further behind. They are in search of a plentiful water hole that will quench their daily thirst. Wycliffe Ndwiga paints not only these environment and behavioral details, but also the minute details of an animal’s body, showing its color, wrinkles, and shape in their most accurate and true facet.
These examples of Kenya African artists get much inspiration for their African art paintings from the environment that surrounds them; whether it be nature or a political situation engulfing the cities.
But what separates one’s inspiration from another? True inspiration comes out in the best way when an artist has a passion for their art subject. The urge and drive to do a piece of art is influenced by the level of passion one has towards art. There are those whose art is a hobby and do it secondarily, yet still there are those people who primarily do art as a source of their livelihood and who pour their whole reason for being into their work.
There are a few online sources that are African paintings galleries, showcasing their contemporary African art for sale in a global medium, and giving correct credit to its hidden inspiration.
Being featured on such a global scale is a milestone for many contemporary African painters in Kenya who would have not been able to sell their Black African art or show their culture’s inspiration elsewhere. Now their subjects can be understood outside the culture of their own country. This presence outside of their own country is already a double source of inspiration for its African artists as they are now getting the urge to do more works for them, with their thoughts inclined towards an international perspective.
This impact will challenge and change the inspiration of the country’s artists. What will be the Black art they paint next in the atmosphere of a global audience? Their buyers will decide, interpreting for themselves the message behind the inspiration of Africa’s talented and undiscovered genre.