Q&A with Camille Wekesa… painting African landscapes

I love what I do! From an artist perspective the more I paint and develop my skills, the more I want to understand everything about perspective, light, paint, how old masters worked and how contemporary landscape artists are continuing and advancing that tradition – that enquiry continues to deepen the more I paint and read. So l am fascinated by that. It’s a never ending learning curve in paint, layering, tradition, history, current trends and many other things.

Majestic Baobab I, tempera and pearl luster on gesso panel, 23x33cm. Copright Camille Wekesa
  • Over the years you have developed a unique style which is?

I always start from real life sketching in oil for my landscapes or murals but the work I love the most is mural work as it combines incorporating landscapes with design and pattern-work, using my imagination, using 3D elements in the work as a more decorative element so I feel it is more personal and unique. I also love working on a large scale that murals offer and the relationship you build with the client by working on site over several months and getting to know them better is much more interesting and personal to me than showcasing canvases in a gallery setting.

  • Favourite spot for landscapes?

There are too many to name in Kenya although I love Tsavo national park, the private conservancies in Laikipia where I live and my own home that has over 50 types of indigenous trees being at the edge of Mt Kenya forest reserve -so I don’t have to go far for inspiration.

Majestic Baobab I, tempera and pearl luster on gesso panel, 23x33cm. Copright Camille Wekesa
  • Why

I am inspired by places where the light is incredible, huge skies and endless landscapes that we have in Africa and places that you feel in awe of nature.

  • Your most challenging work that you were commissioned for?

I find most commissions challenging as you’re balancing your creative freedom with a client’s expectation of what they want. So you have to find a balance somewhere in between for both of you. The best clients will not try to control you too much even though they have given you the brief. They will allow you your own creative and artistic freedom.

  • Are you working on anything new?

I am working on a series of eight indoor murals at my home in Nanyuki of eight iconic landscapes in Kenya. I have started the first which is of Aberdares forest. This is both a personal creative journey which will take me about six years to complete. I want to help keep art made and created in Kenya in the country and help the industry together with other artists to continue to build Collections of art in Kenya and on the continent too.

Maze, oil on canvas, 150x150cm by Camille Wekesa
  • Your favourite colour?

If I had to choose it would be either green or yellow…

  • Any exhibition coming up?

I have just completed a new series of landscapes and forests on canvas and panel that will be shown later in 2020 at Redhill Gallery in Nairobi called ‘Lattices’. Unfortunately due to Covid-19 we weren’t able to show the work in June. However the work will go online on the Artwork Archive website from late August.

What do we hope to see more of from you?

I coordinate and lead children’s art education combined with environmental awareness in a few schools in Laikipia with top Kenyan artists which I started in 2016 and is supported by Lewa Conservancy and The Matisse Foundation.

Shrouded in Mystery, oil on canvas, 148x180cm. By Camille Wekesa

How do you distress?

Going on safari and being in nature, eating out with friends and family and I do love traveling to different countries as it opens up your mind, builds tolerance and understanding and of course going to galleries and museums to see other artists work.

You always look so cool – what’s your secret?

Thankyou! Having a quiet mind is extremely important to me and not being overly involved on social media although every artist needs that for their work. I exercise daily and practice weekly yoga and pilates. Living in the countryside also contributes to a quieter lifestyle so that when I do travel locally or internationally to big cities, I absolutely enjoy everything that they have to offer although I would not like to live and work in them on a permanent basis any more.

Whistling thorn by Camille Wekesa

Favourite place to travel?

I love so many places in Europe, currently Paris is my favorite. I have lived in London, Florence, Rome, Paris, Milan and travelled round Europe during that time so I love the culture, sophistication, music and the incredible variety of galleries and museums. I look forward to going back to New York later next year and to exploring more in Africa too – Namibia and Rwanda would be two places I want to visit.

Your favourite artist?

Too many to name but I do love the Renaissance painter Sandro Boticelli for his elegance and refined style, also 12-17th century Chinese landscape painters, the American abstract painter Mark Rothko, the Ghanaian El Anatsui with his fabulous tapestries made out of pressed bottle tops…..I can sense they are curious about life and I can detect a great spirituality in their work too.

Have you been inspired by any?

I think you can draw something from most great artists – again too many to name. Perhaps Josef Albers as a more recent exploration into the theory of colour and Frida Khalo for her heart breaking and inspirational journey as a female artist last century. The slightly unsettling landscapes of the English artist Peter Doig is a favourite too. I also listen to a lot of artists on You Tube, more recently learning about the practice of the American artist Ellen Gallagher. I am inspired by their daily practice, their ideas, sensitivities and reflections on life and not just the work itself.

Clear Nights, tempera and pearl luster on panel, 93x122cm by Camille Wekesa

Your website?

A lot of my past work will continue to be available on Artwork Archive from September 2020. My company website is linked to completed and catalogued work of mine and others. The company was set up a few years ago and owns a small Collection of art. The murals I am doing as well as other artists working on site at a cottage I have renovated for visiting artists in residence will contribute to building the Collection of site specific artwork of African artists painters, sculptors and photographers here in Laikipia. I hope one day in the future it will open to the public.

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