3 December 2012

Kenya: 'And Another Thing' Art Show

The inevitability of change is intimidating chiefly because it implies that we could lose someone or something we value. If life remains stagnant however, it becomes passive and lack-lustre. How then do we moderate change?

Nanyuki-based artist Timothy Brooke, adored for his old-country daydreams, shows us what happens when you softly liberate yourself from the tried and true to progress to the next stage of your evolution.

"I've done the other stuff these last thirty years, since I came back from the UK," he says at the opening of "And Another Thing," on Sunday November 18th. "I've created all the paintings from my childhood, the experiences I needed to get out. That's what people do first, and these days I'm tackling all other things."

Gazing at a painting of what looks like British royal guards escorting a stately figurehead, there seems to be a delicate change in his modus operandi. Has Brooke developed an interest in British military affairs? What's this all about?

Almost revered for his set of 27 paintings produced on the set of "Out of Africa," now a permanent exhibition at the Norfolk Hotel in town, Brooke is a distinguished expressionist who works primarily with oils on canvas.

Branded by a sunburnt palette of coffee, russet and beige, he is popular for his blurry apparitions from an earlier Kenya with its winding dirt roads, roadside cattle, carts, carriages, old automobiles and aeroplanes.

Now, after three decades of consistent and extraordinary subject matter, a discreet conversion is at play. In truth, it's a transformation that can only be detected by indulgent Brooke followers.

Exclusive to Brooke, he has always used broad, quick brushstrokes that grapple at the very essence of his subject. Rarely convoluted or fussy, his works are raw and instinctive yet somehow cultured and sophisticated. Knowing sways of his palette knife always form modest, intelligent compositions.

Out of my own struggles as an artist, I ask, "How do you know when to stop painting, when to let go and move on?" As if ready for the question, his response is swift. "It takes a lifetime to learn when a painting is finished. It's the difference between mediocrity and genius."

Back to the point, what's altered in Brooke's work is a slight variation in content. At his current at One Off Contemporary Art Gallery in Rosslyn, images range from brilliant buffalo, reminiscent of his old subject matter, to new ephemeral washes of colour in his breathtaking depiction of duck hunting at Lake Ol-Bollosat in the Abedares.

Although the subject matter has the same old-world Brooke feel, it's not confined to previous foci. We see scenes we might expect Brooke to relish but haven't yet witnessed him manifest in paint.

From a picture of the races in England, Brooke captures the movement of two horses, jocks on top, moving at high-speed. Thick, fleeting slashes of his brush create tangible motion and the canvas itself feels transient.

It might dissolve in to the ether as quickly as the horses dash by you at the races. Of his swab-effect, the ephemeral, airy feel of his work he explains, "I use oils and scrape them off with a palette knife." It's a basic process with a persuasive effect.

Always expressing the light, Brooke's painting "Last Light" depicts a well-treed road that leads to Mount Kenya. The burgundy foliage contrasted with an azure blue mountain makes for an intense palette.

The painting grabs your attention and holds it for some time. Brooke's familiar, brief strokes forge both whimsical clouds in a bright blue sky the faraway road, sated with mirages.

The work is simple and the sensation strong. As paintings do, in a vague bitter-sweet tongue, "Last Light" speaks to the subconscious mind, telling stories of long trips, peculiar places, and mountain gods.

Comforting to his devotees are Brooke's recurring wagon wheels, of which there are two works at the show. You also see an archetypal huntsman standing proud by a snazzy old-fashioned vehicle.

If you know Brooke's story, one look at the classic helmeted white-man leaning on his super auto will remind you of his return to Africa after 20 years in Europe, when he lived out of his Landover in Nanyuki and painted everything in sight; everything nostalgic of his childhood in Kenya.

From a family of four generations of architects, Brooke tells us that he has an innate sense of creativity. "I always knew how to paint; it's in my hands.

I had no doubt what I was going to do in life. It's like I always knew how to paint." Still, to harness his gift, Brooke studied the Fine Arts in England.

He laughs as he comments on his sole profession in life. "It's been a long apprenticeship, certainly longer than it takes to be a doctor or lawyer."

When asked whether he had a message to share with the public, he begins by humbly describing his enterprise. He then goes on to share the simplicity of his approach. "I guess I'm an expressionist who uses colour and form to communicate," he begins. "I'm more interested in the natural world over politics that's for sure and, if I do my best and please myself through my paintings, I might please someone else too." I guess this answers our question earlier about whether Brooke cares much for politics - absolutely not.

From a world renowned artist, it was surprising witness such modesty from Brooke. One would expect him to be arrogant or haughty but instead, he shied away from my camera nervously. He also took the time to have a down-to- earth conversation with me.

With an unassuming nature, Brooke is an example to all imaginative characters out there. He explains how it was hard for him to get access to natural brushes when he began to paint. "I'm not dependent of good tools. I started off using cheap brushes from the shops and doing my thing." He painted one element of nature after the other.

It turns out that many Timothy Brooke's opulent works, so refined by nature are a product of an ambition potent enough to overcome mediocre tools. It seems nothing will hinder sincere ingenuity.

For the romantics who slip in to a trance when they dwell on yesteryear, they will revel in Brooke's exaltation of the olden days.

"And Another Thing" will show at One Off Contemporary Art gallery until January 23rd 2013. Absolutely, it's worthwhile visit.

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