Long-lost artist returns to Kenya for a show

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Art

Long-lost artist returns to Kenya for a show


patricia Bifani sculpting at home in France, 2021

Patricia Bifani sculpting at home in France. PHOTO | COURTESY

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Summary

  • Patricia is a fine artist trained in Chile, Spain, and France, and a woman who held her first exhibition in Kenya in the late Seventies.
  • The Chilean artist had left her homeland in the early part of the decade after the democratically – elected leader Salvador Allende had been overthrown in a coup.

Patricia Bifani came to Kenya in 1974, the wife of an environmental economist, Paulo, who had come to work with UNEP, the United Nations Environment Program. Yet this mother of five was much more than a professional man’s wife. 

Patricia is a fine artist trained in Chile, Spain, and France, and a woman who held her first exhibition in Kenya in the late Seventies at the formerly named French Cultural Centre (now Alliance Francaise).

The Chilean artist had left her homeland in the early part of the decade after the democratically – elected leader Salvador Allende had been overthrown in a coup d’etat orchestrated by a General named Pinochet who’d been backed by Western forces.

Politics aside, I found Patricia’s style of painting magical at the time. One of the most serious and prolific artists I had ever met.

Her powers of artistic performance seemed to run on a non-stop basis. Her show presenting paintings, etchings, and even sculptures, all of which proved to be a fraction of what she had created and left behind in her home studio.

PatriciaBifani's ‘Green Moon' at Kioko Gallery, Lavington, 13.3.2021

PatriciaBifani’s ‘Green Moon’ at Kioko Gallery, Lavington. PHOTO | COURTESY

In the years since then, Patricia has continued creating nonstop and exhibiting wherever she, with her family, have lived. Currently resident in France not far from the Swiss border, Patricia has never lost touch with Kenya over the years.

Her oldest son Andres spent his teen years growing up here and eventually moved back to Nairobi. So his mother has frequently returned, coming to sketch and paint even when her crew has taken her on safari to the Mara or to Lewa. 

On March 13th, Patricia returned to the Nairobi gallery scene.

Her exhibition opened at Kioko’s Art Gallery in Lavington, and it filled the huge hall with paintings, drawings, etchings, and other multimedia designs that confirmed that the artist is just as prolific today, nearly half a century later, as she was when she as a young mother first arrived in Kenya.

I was stunned to hear that ‘Patricia Bifani’ was having at exhibition in Nairobi, not realizing that she had quietly been in and out of the country for years visiting her son and creating artworks, some of which are currently on display in Lavington.

In fact, out of the more than 40 works on paper, bark, and canvas, a fair number are part of her ‘Lewa Series’ created while seated under a tree equipped with her pens, pencils, crayons, and paints.

Patricia Bifani's oil painting ‘Série Rhône’ at Kioko Gallery, Lavington, 13 March 2021

Patricia Bifani’s oil painting ‘Série Rhône’ at Kioko Gallery, Lavington. PHOTO | COURTESY

What had always amazed me about this artist is that, irrespective of the commotion going on all around her in her home, she was never distracted from creating, generating new works of art.

According to Andres who coordinated his show with Kioko and his mother, she still operates with that same intensity of focus.

And while she still works in sculpture, collecting found objects to reassemble with chicken wire, cement, and ultimately bronze, none of that art form made it to this show. 

Understandably, this exhibition is mainly made up of paintings, etching, mixed media and prints on paper, simply framed by a local carpenter-friend of Patricia’s son.

And while the artist herself could not be in Kenya at this time, I had the good fortune to have a conversation with Patricia thanks to her son and an easy What’s App call.

Confirming that she continues to work nonstop on her sketches, paintings, and sculptures, Patricia agrees that she continues to be productive and moving at top speed.

Suggesting that she’s in a hurry for a good reason, when I ask her what she means, she laughs as if to suggest that she is in a race with time, that time might be catching up to her at some point, and she must be fully prepared for it.

Yet my feeling is Patricia need not worry about exhausting her artistic energies. She has soulful fuel to keep her going for a good time more.

Many of the images in her paintings and etchings are of figures in motion, many dancers and many women moving gracefully as if passing through her free-flowing imagination.

Much of Patricia’s art is abstract. Yet her works are not to be classified. She can be a colorist, or painting delicately in black outline adding various crayon colors for accent. The range of her subject matter is vast.

So it is well worth a walk through Kioko’s gallery where a few of his sculptures are there to offset and enhance Patricia’s works which, thanks to Andres fill Kioko’s white high-ceiling walls.

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