The Textured Pop Art of Evans Mbugua
Evans Mbugua is a fast-rising Kenyan artist known for his creative medley of colours and print detail captured in portraiture. Born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1979, Mbugua began his career in art with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1997. Two years later, he migrated to continue his artistic studies in France and enrolled at the University of Toulouse, Superior School of Art of the Pyrenees. He obtained his degree in graphic design in 2005.
Not long after, he began his professional career as an artistic director in a communications agency in Toulouse. Nevertheless, he continued his own personal art practice in his studio and improved his style. In 2011, Mbugua moved to Paris, where he immersed himself in art exploration and design.
A common theme in his work is the use of people at the centre of his pieces. The diversity and cultural crossbreeding of different people nourishes his curiosity as he records hope, joy, love, pleasure, pride, and other emotions through photographs and paintings.
Discussing his artistic practice, Mbugua said, “I portray my life and those of my friends and strangers. In this way, diversity nourishes my curiosity about the world. I look at our identities and their hidden facets, and my portraits celebrate the characters of my subjects. I use glass and Perspex to beautify my subjects through the glow and reflections they emit while underlining human frailty. In my work, pictograms represent our urban environment, which shapes and provide the rhythm of our lives, and in turn, become my playground.”
For Mbugua, design and art form the perfect symbiosis. Through experimentation, he has explored and developed his creative process. Not only does Mbugua use prints to enhance his portraits, he also includes a twist on modern symbols to create a unique, striking design.
Speaking further on his work and creative process, Mbugua said, “My work today is an attempt to revisit these creative processes from a personal contemporary perspective and setting. In my view, art should serve as a link to communicate and unite people, as opposed to alienating us from each other. This is perhaps the reason why I use urban signs and pictograms in my quest to create a universal link through contemporary art. The motifs that I create are composed of common pictograms with which we interact on a daily basis, be it on the streets, on a product label, or on food packaging. The dots in my work are a metaphor to join the dots around our environment and get to experience the bigger picture which is more human, harmonious, and hopefully, beautiful.”
Mbugua got his first break in 2014 when he participated in a collective exhibition, The Week of Kenya, organised by UNESCO. The next year turned out to be even better for the young visual artist, with the opportunity to feature in more exhibitions in France, including Afriques à Venir at Galerie KO21 in Paris; Afric’Art <=> Villetaneuse (COP21) at HCE Galerie in Saint-Denis; and La semaine de l’Afrique à UNESCO, also in Paris. In 2016, Mbugua held his first solo exhibition, Cartes et Identités, at the Ellia Art Gallery in Paris.
In his next exhibition, Identities, held at the Out of Africa Gallery in Barelona, Spain, Mbugua explored identity and hidden faces. He favoured the use of portrait to celebrate his contemporaries, using the brightness and reflexive quality of glass and Perspex to elevate his characters, while at the same time emphasising human fragility.
Currently, Evans Mbugua’s works are held in institutions and private collections in several countries in Africa, Europe, and North America. He has featured in exhibitions in Paris, London, and New York.
March 18, 2019