Wanyu Brush

Wanyu Brush Bio(b. 1946) Named John Njenga Kamau at birth he adamantly denies knowing anyone by that name - even if his 2010 Presidential Citation for artistic achievement bears it. He renamed himself Wanyu Brush decades ago. "Wanyu" means "yours" in kiSwahili, and so with this rebirth he underscored a fundamental statement of his painterly creativity: "I am your brush." Wanyu is among the founding fathers of East African contemporary art, an iconoclast with a tortured spirit, and short tempered - as is the wont of those born with an acute social conscience. He was a protégé of an ex lover of Max Ernst, Ruth Schaffner - the formidable German-born Californian who'd long given up her socialite life in America for Africa's savannas and a sixth husband, an Ivoirian twenty years her junior. In the 1980s-90s Schaffner's Gallery Watatu in Nairobi was the It place, for serious artists, from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda to Ethiopia, Sudan and beyond.
Brush typifies what is weighty and non-frivolous in contemporary art in East Africa today. An art brut practitioner with a Pollock bent he paints dense horror vacui configurations, mostly of human and animal forms, composed as critiques on the darker side of humanity; envy, jealousy, stupidity, corruption, wanton violence and our unending wars. Even with liberal splashes of colours his compositions remain somber, but they always have something to say. His magisterial Never, Never, Never Again (2011) is a Boschian commentary set in an apocalyptic urban landscape of rioting, burning, and butchery depicting Kenya following contested results of the 2007 presidential elections in which some 1,500 people died. The danse macabre piece which took him three years to finish is in a major collection in Italy. It's been likened to Picasso's Guernica in essence. Wanyu has the distinction of having fetched the highest gallery price paid for a non-Diaspora East African for a medium-size canvas work ($24,000, 2011) at Gallery Watatu under Osei G Kofi. International success notwithstanding Wanyu lives in his birth home, a two-story clapboard and corrugated iron house in an overgrown secluded garden at Ngecha village outside Nairobi. Watch out for the Kikuyu-mastiff guard dog if you drop by unannounced.

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