Friday, May 11, 2012

British Artist creates sensitive portraits of Kenyans

 I wrote this story a month ago but when my editor Rhoda went on live, it got shifted to the back burner. now it's not current, but rhoda doesnt care. she will print it next week with images i will insert later
By Margaretta wa Gacheru May 11. 2012
British artist David Maiden, whose portraits came alive both on the walls and before your eyes as he painted live models, was the featured artist of the month in April at the Talisman restaurant in Karen.
Describing himself as a ‘self-taught’ artist, Maiden actually majored in film and photography at the University of South Hampton before he realized he was destined to be a painter.
Having been mentored from childhood by the renowned English painter Simon Bull, Maiden may not have had formal training in fine art, but Bull, a family friend, gave him his first brushes and paints as well as many fruitful months of mentoring in his early years.
“His son was my age so he used to take us out into the woods in the Lake District (in the north of England) where we would set up our easels outdoors and paint all day,” said Maiden who admitted he had learned a great deal about painting from his mentor and was very privileged to have had Bull as a source of inspiration as well as a family friend.
Claiming he could hardly remember a time in his life when he hadn't been painting, yet Maiden actually came to Kenya as a professional photographer, not a painter. That was four years ago and he was doing a photographic job for the United Nations. But his life turned around rather dramatically after he and his wife Joanna quickly were charmed by the country.
Currently, the couple commutes between the Kenyan coast and the UK. They have digs both at Diani Beach and in London. But the place their increasingly inclined to call home is Kenya, especially as Joanna runs a Fair Trade Fashion production unit where she employs 30 Kenyans; meanwhile, he paints full time.
Maiden's recent exhibition at Talisman was his first in Kenya, and it was filled with sensitive Kenyan faces, many of which were youthful and beautiful. But there was also an exceptional portrait of an old woman called Mama Mwakozi who he painted as she sat under a big baobab tree on Funzi Island.

The tiny island is situated just north of the border line between Kenya and Tanzania. Maiden had gone there with his friend Charlie to camp on the beach and paint local villagers.
“But the fishermen were not keen to pose for us.  They also wouldn't allow us to paint their young daughters, but they brought us Mama Mwakozi who patiently sat for me,” said Maiden who clearly took special care to capture the old mama’s sagely spirit through his delicate brushwork and oil paint.
 Maiden’s portraits come in all sizes and prices. Some of his oil paintings are four by four inches and quite affordable. Others, like his dazzling pink peonies which had hung over the fireplace at the Talisman, are more monumental with a price to match.
Maiden admits he picked the Talisman to showcase his art in part because the restaurant is ranked number one out of more than 100 eateries in Kenya at the often-consulted website,
What further convinced him that Talisman was a perfect space to hold his premier exhibition in Kenya was the layout of the place, which he felt was perfect for a proper representation of his work.
For instance, one whole room of the restaurant was filled with his lovely flowers (vaguely reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe’s) while the bar area was wall-to-wall nudes who in all modesty only revealed their backs to the artist.
But the best showcase of Maiden's artistry and talent was outdoors in the garden which, when he was present , became the open air ‘studio’ where the artist painted portraits of people who enjoyed seeing his talent come alive right before their eyes.
For instance, on the day his show opened (April 3rd), Maiden painted a wistful profile of a family friend named Emma, who with her husband Darren, works in the Maasai Mara where they manage the Kicheche Bush Camp.
He worked quickly in the open-air on Emma’s portrait, taking just a few hours to complete her elegant miniature portrait.
“When I'm given a commission, I take quite a bit more time with the finishing of the work,” he told Business Daily as he stood painting a set of sunflowers from the Talisman garden.
Maiden's work was up at the restaurant throughout April. His portraits ranged in price from KSh12,000 to KSh220,000.

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