Dickson Kaloki

Sanaa Mtaani - Kunst in der Stadt

Dickson Kaloki

Interview with Dickson Kaloki, artist at Kuona Trust Art Centre.

Interviewers: Stefanie Habben and Sabrina Loll


Dickson Kaloki

Could you please introduce yourself? Who are you and what are you doing here in Kuona Trust?

My name is Dickson Kaloki. I sign my paintings ‘D. Kaloki’. I rented a space here in Kuona Art Trust Centre, and this is where my studio is.


Tell us something about your art...

My art is about reflecting the cities and slums. My work is about reflecting people through the city and the slums. So yes, it´s about the mood of the slums combined with the mood of the city.


And what is your working process like?

Sometimes, I go to the slums for sketching and then I come here in my studio to finalize the sketch. Or I just sit down, after visiting the slum or the city, just sit down and sketch something instead of working on that. But it is mostly about how I feel there. I´ll go to the slums, spending some time there. And then, after spending a period of a good time there, I come into the studio, lock myself – the reason why I love this studio is because it´s private. I love to lock the door and no one comes in. So I have the privacy on myself, to work on a piece and create something that I love the most.


When you´re painting, could you describe the steps that you take?

When I´m painting, first, before I´m painting, I prepare the canvas, prepare everything and just relax. And what I´m feeling to do on that canvas is what I´ve seen and what reacted, interacted with what I visualize on the painting. When you look at my paintings, most of them have no people in them. That´s because of the difference between rich and poor people.

People believe that they can see, because of the surrounding, if a man is rich or poor.

But if all people were in one room, you wouldn´t know the rich and the poor persons, because everyone looks the same. For me, it´s not the building that should case a personality - for me, where you come from is not who you are. It´s just a house or a building, just the way it is. Sometimes, I do the paintings of the buildings in town; sometimes, I do the paintings of buildings around this area. But in between, it´s the personality of the people who lived there. It´s not the building. So, it doesn´t matter where you come from, it only matters on who you are, what kind of a person you are. Yeah, that´s why I put not so many people in my paintings, but instead I put shadows in them. So that´s the spirit of what´s in there. Yes, that´s how I work on the paintings.


Can you tell us more about the shadows in your paintings?

The shadows in my paintings show the energy that´s in there. The shadows pick more than anything, because it triggers the viewer’s curiosity. For me, the shadow of a person before you see the actual person, is what gives you the energy, it gives you everything. So the energy and the power of the painting is the shadow itself. It brings out the curiosity, it brings the life in the painting... and the places with no shadows mean that there is no existence of anything. It´s just a quiet place. But the shadows speak more.

The problem is: I don´t care so much about people. I don´t care about who you are, where you are from, what you do – I don´t care about that. I only care about who you are in society, what you do in society, what your purpose is.

And when I´m painting, that feeling comes to me. You´re just a person, but what is inside you is the important thing. That is why I show shadows and stuff. Because that doesn´t show who the person really is. You can say that this is Obama, but you never know. I can say maybe this is Mandela, because it doesn´t show the person in detail. Because it´s just a shadow. And what is inside him is what is more important than his outer appearance.


And when do you think your art piece is finished?

I work on a painting for so long, hours and days, and hours and days... but it reaches a point where the painting is just finished. And then you know it very well: If you do something on a painting, is it your need or is it the painting’s need? I feel that the painting is done when there is nothing to add. You will feel if it´s unfinished.

So, each picture has a level, probably, when I touch it and then feel that it is complete: “Damn! There is nothing I can do!”. I just try to put it nicely, and then stretch it completely and look at it two or three days, make sure it’s alright, before I say it´s totally done. A painting will tell you when it´s complete. We just have a feeling. It doesn´t communicate “Hey Dickson, I´m complete!“. You will know, definitively. But at that point, the colours will show you, the structures will show you something, and then you´ll know at this point, this painting will tell you: “I´m complete”.


Are you working on just one piece at a time?

It depends on how I feel, because I work with colours.

This is a very dark painting. And this painting, I reached the point where I want to make it dark. When I feel that I want to make it dark, then I come to this one. And this one reminds me to make it bright. Working on the bright piece gives me balance. It´s much easier for me to paint that way. Once I start painting, I will paint till tomorrow, because I sleep here, and it is only painting, painting, painting... So I need a kind of a balance.


Do you feel confident with every piece?

No, I don´t feel confident. Sometimes I feel “Oh my god! I don´t care who will buy this! It´s the ultimate painting... the Picasso... the painting of the time!”, and then the other paintings are like: “What the fuck! What am I doing! I hate this painting!”, and then I put it aside. I remember there is a painting I was working on. And I absolutely hated that painting. I really hated that painting! I don´t know why. Maybe, it connected me with something, maybe it reminded me of something, but I had no idea what that was. I hated it so much, and then I didn´t want to let it go. I hated the colours. I hated the structures. I hated everything. But every time I looked at the painting, it gave me the energy to work on it. I don´t know which power it had. So when a friend of mine later bought the painting, I was disconnected. I felt so bad! And every time I asked my friend: “Hey Dude, where is it hanging? Uum, do you like it?”, and he answered: “Yeah, I like it”. Ok, every time I talked to him, the painting only came up because I felt that this guy took the part of me that I hated the most and finally became a good friend of mine. I felt the connection to that painting very strong. Some of my paintings I love and some of them I hate. Sometimes, I want to destroy pieces that I hate. Some pieces I don´t show to anyone. Some pieces I show and some of them I sell.

I can´t say I love all my paintings. The only thing I love is the process of working on the painting. That is the thing that I love the most. When I´m holding a painting, working on a painting, discovering something, because this painting looks similar to that one, but it´s totally different from that one... Because I know the process of working on it. I love to use coincidences. I play with material. So, mostly is not about the outcome... I´m just curious about working on it, because there is a picture inside me that I need to see. So the process of working on my paintings is the most important thing. Not the finished product. It´s the working process on a painting. It gives me the satisfaction that I want.


Is there something else you want say about your work?

I don´t know, what I would say about my work. I like it when you look at my work. What YOU get is what it is about. What you don´t get is what I think about it.

Einblicke in die gegenwärtige Kunst Nairobis.

Dieses Projekt wird gefördert durch die Stipendiatische Projektkommission der Hans-Böckler-Stiftung