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Persistence draws ambitious artist to public canvas

At a very tender age, Michael Musyoka often competed with his siblings to make artworks. Little did he know his artistic show-of-might would lay a ground for his future career. To beat his siblings and sharpen his skills, he made sketches from comics and cartoons.

While at it, Musyoka gradually discovered his talent and the passion for art grew in him. In primary school, he was the de facto diagram illustrator for his classmates. While, ironically, he did not pursue art as a subject in high school, he was literally the lead ‘consultant’ for many art projects for his classmates and the schools clubs.

After school, the teenager was convinced art was his calling and to take his talent a notch higher, he began looking up to graffiti artists and drew inspiration from George Omore, a veteran artist. His thirst for perfection saw him lock himself in a room for hours on end working on his artworks, which saw some of his friends shun him for being what they termed “anti-social”.

With a desire to pursue his studies, Musyoka took up a part-time job as a waiter to raise money for fees. A few years later, he joined Buruburu Institute of Fine Arts (BIFA) but dropped out after the first year due to financial constrains. Determined to excel, Musyoka got a job at a pub in Nairobi’s CBD.

One evening, he met John Osunga, the then Chief Executive of GlaxoSmith Kline and after a brief chat, Musyoka got a chance to present his art portfolio which really impressed the CEO. Osunga offered to support Musyoka’s education. He enrolled afresh and in 2012, he graduated with a specialisation in drawings and paintings.

His impressive performance saw him emerge top of his class besides bagging other accolades such as the most enterprising student. Since then, Musyoka concentrated on developing his niche style to create an identity for his works.

A collection of his artworks.
A collection of his artworks.

Never give up After several years of hardwork, Musyoka exhibited his work at the National Museums of Kenya alongside other artists in a project dubbed “Unsellable Art” that featured artworks unpopular to Kenyans because of their subtle subject matter and messages.

His major breakthrough was in May last year when he featured in Finding Voice 1 at the Little Arts gallery alongside James Njoroge and Boniface Maina that made him a household name.

The exhibition extended to two other series in which Musyoka featured. Musyoka’s style is based on a fusion of what he terms surrealism and analytical cubism. In cubism, he says, each detail is overlapped, a style inspired by Georgy Kurasov — a renowned Russian painter-cum-sculptor. Currently, Musyoka is leaning more on surrealism.

He has also not shied away from experimenting with other styles such as collage and digital art using photoshop. The surrealism style of art works great for him as his paintings urge you on to explore and decipher their innate meanings, which he says is intentional. “Art has to have some mystery.

You have to start looking for clues to decode the mind of the artist,” Musyoka asserts. Majority of them have aspects stacked together to appear as if they are in some steel composition and prefers using acrylics on canvas. His pallets also appear to be overdone and the finishing is smooth.

The themes are more of commentary on contemporary socio-political matters. The ideas emanate from his daily observations and the media and note the ideas from his analysis and interpretation of them.

But most of the times, his ideas are vague and expand them as he progresses with the painting to also include new developments in the idea.

Promising artist Musyoka is now working on a project he intends to exhibit at the Kenya Art Fair in November dubbed “Mating Positions” which seeks to use the game of chess to capture the political intrigues unfolding in the run up to the 2017 General Election.

It is this dynamic style of his art that won him the second runners-up position in the Manjano Art competition held in March. While his style makes him a promising artist, the expensive nature of art materials makes his journey bumpy as he has not yet established himself as he would prefer.

Lack of water-tight copyright laws for artists further threatens his works as he risks his ideas being plagiarised especially since he markets them online. Despite the bottlenecks, Musyoka is upbeat that he will land a solo exhibition soon. ”Art is simply about consistency, persistence and exploring possibilities,” he says.

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