Interview with Peter Ngugi – Artist from Nairobi, Kenya

Peter NgugiPeter Ngugi is an artist based in Nairobi, Kenya. He is a self taught artist painting for the last 14 years. He has previously exhibited his art and lectured at the University of Kentucky in the United States.

You can visit Peter’s website to find out more about him and to purchase his artwork.

View Peter Ngugi’s portfolio. You can also view his artwork after the interview below.

ExtraImaginary: We have Peter Ngugi with us today – an artist from Nairobi, Kenya. Peter can you tell us a little about yourself and your art?

Peter Ngugi: My name is Peter Ngugi. I am 31 years old and I’ve been painting for the last 14 years. My work is mainly oil on canvas and I have kept my work totally experimental. That means I keep trying different things at different times. Currently I am working with animals and I am experimenting with transparency. The last show I held was here at RaMoMa last year in December 2009.

ExtraImaginary: So Peter, when did you first see yourself as an artist and when did you get interested in art?

Peter Ngugi: I started painting back when I was in primary school maybe in the fourth or fifth grade. That was when I was about the age of 10. And ever since I’ve been painting. But I just started in 1997 when I cleared my high school education. But I’ve not gone through any formal education as an artist. I just taught myself to do what I do.

ExtraImaginary: So your main medium is oil on canvas?

Peter Ngugi: Yes. I use oil on canvas. But I’ve experimented with other mediums over the years. I’ve tried working with pastels, I’ve tried my hand on sculpture, but I like oils and I’ve really experimented a lot with oils.

ExtraImaginary: Can you tell us about the process from when you first get inspiration to do a piece of work until the final product?

Peter Ngugi: Well all my pieces inspire me. Say if I’m working on a piece today. That will inspire the next piece I will be working on. That is to say, most of my pieces are connected. Like from the first time I started showing, the style that I used, the subject, everything is so connected. The subject varies because over time I have changed what I used to do because I’ve worked street scenes, I’ve worked with faces, I’ve worked with people, and currently I’m working with animals, and I’m not sure what I’ll be working with next time. But what I do is, the approach I use is that what I’m working on inspires the next piece.

ExtraImaginary: What’s your favourite piece of work so far? Do you have a favourite?

Peter Ngugi: I wouldn’t say I have a favourite. What I do, I try to keep my work very, I’ll say I try to concentrate on the piece I am working at the moment. So the piece I am working on is the most favourite piece at that moment.

ExtraImaginary: Who’s your favourite artist? And who inspires you to paint?

Peter Ngugi: There is an artist. An east african from Tanzania. His name was ES Tinga Tinga. I like his work a lot. And there’s a few artists, you know, the masters, that I’ve always liked their work, for example, Salvador Dali. Salvador Dali, I mainly like his work because he gives me the freedom, he shows me that you can have the freedom to do whatever you want to do with your subject. Then for Tinga Tinga, it is simplicity and a very naive approach to what he does. So those I would say are some of the artists who have inspired me and who I would say that I’ve liked their work. but apart from those, there are local artists like Jack Torkaway. I like Peter Elungat’s work and several others.

ExtraImaginary: How do you overcome creative blocks? What helps you get out of it?

Peter Ngugi: I never force myself to do anything. Well, I’m self employed and a bit about my background, I’ve been doing art for a living for the last 14 years. And its a challenge you know because art is very seasonal, especially in Kenya. Because there are times when it is easy to sell your work and there are times when you never get any sales coming. So what happens is I try to do different things at the side like business wise. i try to do different things. But the main thing that I would say I supports me, that puts bread on my table is art. But when I get a creative block, I don’t force myself to do anything because I might work on a piece for maybe a month and I don’t know how to proceed from there. And if I force myself to go on with it, I may end up messing up the whole work that I’ve done for the whole month. So what I do is I leave that piece for a while and try working on another piece. If its not another piece, I’ll just rest for a while. Then from there, I start again. For example, after my shows normally, I take a break. i take a break for maybe a month, a month and a half before I start painting again to just relax.

ExtraImaginary: What do you think about the state of art in Kenya? And if you think it needs improvement, what can be done?

Peter Ngugi: Well, art in Kenya as I said is very seasonal. Its not very advisable to look at it from a commercial approach. But if you look at it from the commercial approach, art is very seasonal in Kenya. And we’ve seen a lot of artists who come in and they start working. Most of them are either from art institutions, universities or art colleges here in Nairobi. And when they start working and sales are not coming in for maybe the first few months, they stop painting or they stop doing their creative work. They just stop because they can’t even proceed if they don’t have money to buy materials. So what I would say defines a Kenyan artist is that endurance because for those who’ve been there for years, even when sales are still very low, you still keep on doing whatever you’re doing and maybe sometimes you find that whatever you’ve worked on for some time, there are times when you even get to sell everything that you have in your studio and you have to start all over again to start creating a new body of work.

ExtraImaginary: What are your main goals in regards to your art?

Peter Ngugi: I want to take my art to the highest level possible. I want to start trending in art. Especially for example, the person that I just mentioned – Tinga Tinga, he was from a very humble and very remote background back in Tanzania. He was able to start a very big school that is very vibrant now called Tinga Tinga. That is some of the things that inspire me. I tried to create something that will define art as done by me. So I want that to inspire people. I want that to reach people. I want to have a style that you don’t have to look at the signature to know that it is my work.

ExtraImaginary: Thanks Peter. Is there anything else you would like people to know about yourself?

Peter Ngugi: Well, I have a website – I keep on updating whenever I have new works. And I’m yet in the process of developing it so that when I have a new show, I’ll be letting my clients know. I don’t use it as a selling point. I just use it as my online gallery. Thank you.

ExtraImaginary: Thanks Peter. You are ExtraImaginary.

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