Clavers Odhiambo - The Realism Artist
At first glance, Clavers' work looks like photography. An incredibly well shot and well edited photograph. Then, you take a closer look and you realize, it's a painting! The realist oil painter has an incredible ability to capture even the most minute of details when his brush touches the canvas.
Mookh: Tell us about your journey as an artist. What was the genesis?
Clavers: It was purely academic; I actually started out quite late (at 14) since that's when I joined a high school where Art and Design was taught. For the last three years there, most of my art education included studying the works of pioneer artists, largely European, and the history of art. I picked up from there and have been practicing since.
Smoke and Ashes
Mookh: Did you always know that your future was in the arts?
Clavers: Since I didn't have any immediate examples of 'successful' Kenyan artists to look up to back then (it's still not quite mainstream; art as a profession), I thought I could only be doing it as a pastime. My initial passion was Mechanical Engineering but art started picking up right before I joined campus so I immediately went to (The UoN) Design School instead of Engineering School. With such training (now studying my Masters) and the amount of practice I do, now I know it's my future...or at least a big part of it.
Like A Phoenix
Mookh: Did you study art or are you self-taught?
Clavers: I studied it mostly from school and YouTube but of course one needs to teach themselves, still.
Mookh: As an artist, do you feel like having formal training in art is an added advantage?
Clavers: Yes because there is the theoretical part of art that you can't come up with without studying it. This includes how to use principles such as balance, contrast, harmony etc; the elements of art; its history etc. You lose nothing by knowing more.
Back to Black
Mookh: Were you always a realist oil painter?
Clavers: It's kind of a trip but bear with me. I was always a realism artist, just not an oil painter. Since I started by learning from masters of Chairoscuro, Realism, Baroque painting etc, I always wanted to be able to paint images that looked realistic. I started with pencil drawing which I did mostly from 2009 to 2014, picked up watercolor painting sometime around 2010 and dropped it in 2013 when I discovered acrylics. I painted with only acrylics for a year then started combining it with oils in 2014; that's when I became an oil painter. Now I'm slowly laying off the acrylic so starting January 2019 I only use it to cover the canvas then I paint purely with oils on top.
Mookh: You often paint the human figure and activities. What is it about the human form that inspires you?
Clavers: Its intricacy and how dynamic it is i.e. there are lean people, muscular people, fat people, kids, black, white etc so you never really get good at drawing/painting all, really. With the human body you're always learning.
Also the stories you can tell about human life and activities (and that's where I'm moving towards) are endless, other than just the technical challenge of painting a person realistically.
Mookh: What stories are you trying to tell with your paintings?
Clavers: My focus so far has been communicating that realism is a viable style of art even in Kenya where other styles have always taken centre stage so I've been doing a lot of portraits, most of which are pointless, really, just a well-painted face. I guess the message so far has been, "you don't have to worry about the message; just...paint."
Mookh: What impact do you hope to make on society with your work?
Clavers: I just hope people express themselves more; don't know if I'll make an impact though, I'm just having fun here for the most part.
Mookh: What challenges have you faced as an artist in Nairobi?
Clavers: There's not so many art galleries and a lot of the active ones are either closing or on the verge of closing. it's a challenge for the artists who are just starting out but for others, a reason to either look outside our borders or capitalize on online marketing.
Mookh: What can we expect to see from you in the near future?
Clavers: More narrative paintings (paintings that tell stories) and way less portraits; I've done enough of those.
Check out more of Clavers' work here.