Interview with Anthony Wanjau, artist at Kuona Trust Art Centre.
Interviewers: Stefanie Habben and Sabrina Loll
Please introduce yourself...
My name is Anthony and I´m a sculptor, working with wood and stone. And sometimes, I also do paintings. I started working as an artist at the age of eight years. Actually, I´m brought there from the family. My dad was a sculptor, too.
Why do you choose wood and stone?
In fact, I didn´t choose my material. I only get material, or I use material. First, I have to get the idea of what I´m doing, or what I´m going to use. It depends on what kind of sculpture I want to make.
So you see a piece of wood and stone and then you have in your mind what you want to do?
I need to have it in my mind, and then I am looking for material which is going to fit my idea.
Is it important for you to work outside?
Yes, it is important for the subjects and sculptures that I make. I can´t do this in a house with closed walls. In sculpturing, I believe, you need a lot of space because of the movement.
And what inspires you in your work? You do a lot of faces and people, what does it mean?
First, I have to say: I like women. Mostly, I´m inspired by women, and also children. That is what my environment is about. That is what really inspires me.
Where do you go to get your inspiration? Do you use the city for that?
I would say yes, because in most of the cases, I´m always in the city... going to a bar, taking one or two bottles, keep on looking around, see how people move, how they behave. I need to know what they are doing. I´m looking around and try to do what they are doing. Like children, doing different kinds of activities.
Would you like to describe your working progress when you start to work on a piece?
No problem. The first step I´m doing is to have the idea. Sometimes, I do a design on paper and do a sketch, sometimes go straight to the wood. Then, after designing and choosing the wood, I decide if I want to sketch on the wood or on the paper. When you have an idea, you can´t remember all the details that you have in your mind, so you need to put them down so you don´t forget. It´s simple.
And how does the material influence your work? If the piece of wood had a hole, for example. It´s a natural material...
Well, not really. Cause, like this one1, it´s the first one in which I followed the wood. I never follow the nature of the wood. I just have the idea and get a piece of wood and try to squeeze my design in there. ‘Cause, sometimes, when you follow the wood, sometimes you mess up. ‘Cause for example, you put an arm here and then you can´t get there, because it´s probably broken or it´s rotten. I don´t really like following the wood, the nature of the wood. And sometimes, for example, stone. It´s quite hard and funny. You know, funny shape of stone, because no matter where it´s going...
Another kind of question: What does art mean to you? In what time in your life did you recognize that art is important to you? Why are you an artist?
Hmmmmm.... I think... I´m an artist, because I want to be free. I want to have freedom. I wanted to express myself. That´s why I´m an artist, that´s why I like to be what I am.
To whom do you sell your pieces?
My buyers. I don´t have specific people. Sometimes, people come here, like a work and leave with it, sometimes collectors come and say “We want to have your work in our collection”.
And can you live from your work here? Or do you have to do some other stuff?
Well, I´m thinking to do other businesses.
And you are painting some pictures.
I started to paint later in my life. But I don´t paint that much. Just when I get bored of sculpting, get tired, or when I don´t have an idea in my mind of making a sculpture, I’m going to do paintings. Actually, I don´t even sell my paintings.
So how would you describe the difference between working as a sculptor and working as a painter? Is there a difference based on the process?
Oh yes! There is a big difference! I used to think painting is, you know, very easy to do. But for me it is not. Because, in a sculpture I decide one time, then go with the wood and stop thinking about it until it´s finished. But in painting, I need to keep on thinking until the last paint. I felt that this is very difficult for me - for me, painting is hard.
Do these two ways of working inspire each other? Or are they totally different?
For me, they don´t need each other. But ok, sometimes they do. Like when I´m making sculptures... but in painting, for me, the difficult part of painting is choosing the colours.
I have a question about Nairobi. Because we´re looking for evidence on how the city influences the artwork... What would you say about this? Is there any influence coming from this special city? What is Nairobi to you? Is it necessary that you live and work here? Or could you live somewhere else?
No, I don´t think it is important to live here in Nairobi. Before I came here, I was working at home. The best way or place to work is the material, that there is space... what I want to say: Nairobi does not influence me at all.
So you could be an artist anywhere.
What I can say: I can work everywhere. But for the market, Nairobi is good. ‘Cause here are a lot of people... people are able to access your work.
Is there anything you want to add, about your work, or your life as an artist, or your work here at Kuona Trust? What should the readers know about you as an artist?
I would like to say to them: Come and see for yourselves! Not just by reading or seeing the images. I want to invite them to see, and probably work together. Yes, you must not be an artist to work with us... we can influence each other in another way, we can go out!