Artist Erick Muriithi, aka Stickky, says art is about telling stories and educating ourselves. His recent exhibition certainly had many stories to tell.
Watu, Viatu na Mavazi 2 (Swahili for People, Shoes and Clothing 2) was a solo exhibition at the Nairobi National Museum for the last month, with drawings from Stickky’s childhood.
Lady in Red, the title picture of the exhibition, shows a seated woman in a ruffled red vintage dress. She has long toned arms, a golden halo, and is gazing thoughtfully over her shoulder.
His motivation for this piece was the evolution of fashion, “Renaissance art, as well as modern art, merging this golden age into one Modern carries over era”.
The images cover a range of themes. “It pays to be multidimensional to get good at other things,” he said.
I first became acquainted with Stickky’s work through his realistic paintings of sneakers, an interest that dates back to 2010 and is still a subject he pursues as footwear fashion has evolved into lace-up boots and flowers emerging from the socks of the Carrier grow.
He earned the nickname Stickky in college because he took part in extracurricular activities such as soccer, track and field, dance, drama, and church events.
“One morning at breakfast, a friend said to me: ‘You stay everywhere’. Someone heard sticky and the name stuck.”
He began painting professionally at the GoDown Arts Center in Nairobi as a student of visual artist Patrick Mukabi, who still inspires him today. The exhibition Viatu na Mavazi showed a series of charcoal drawings on recycled brown paper. Charcoal drawing is one of the first techniques Stickky learned under Mukabi.
“Charcoal teaches you how to draw and create art because “You have to draw, then rub, draw, then rub,” Stickky said. “Charcoal also teaches you patience and how to layer.”
He now works at a studio in Karen Village, a media, Arts and Innovation Center in Nairobi Stickky was fond of skateboarding in his youth and illustrations of the sport sometimes appear in his portfolio.
He later became interested in painting baggy, multicolored sweaters, a fashion trend of the 1990s that he grew up in. The faces into his His Graffiti Characters series and paintings of break-dance youth are influenced by hip-hop, Stickky’s favorite genre of music.
I found his monochrome charcoal drawings most appealing. Among them, of course, was a pair of sneakers. Try a Little Tenderness shows a child’s hand holding a finger of his mother’s hand.
“In life you need a helping hand , a guiding hand. There are more experienced people ahead of us,” he said of the drawing.
His childhood memories are captured in the Lifundo football series. In one picture, a boy is playing soccer with a homemade ball.
“We played barefoot and made soccer balls out of waste paper and nylon because that was all we had,” he said of his youth.
The gnarled, bony feet in another drawing appear to have lived a hard life. A piece entitled The Painful Process of Art continues the study of feet. It shows the feet of a ballerina, with a shoeless foot connected at various points. The drawing is a testament to the creative process, which is both beautiful and a struggle.
He says that the process of making art is born out of guilt, difficult backgrounds and negative energy that makes us better people, so it’s always so intentional.