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Philip Peter Kairu, in art Kairu, is an experimental artist focused on portraits, colors and soft lines. Art is an essential tool for investigating every person’s intimacy. Drawing faces is his mania, a way to challenge his technique with the watercolor process. But that’s not all, because Kairu also expresses himself with another form of art, photography.

No lies in art. This is Kairu’s message.

I hadn’t really asked myself the problem. But that particular moment posed a challenge and meant a lot to me, I understood how important a portrait can be, especially based on who the person represented is.

Hello Kairu, how would you describe your art?

My art is full of media experimentation and focuses on depicting personality through portraiture, emphasizing the likelihood of expression based on my choice of individuals. My latest works, which I consider to be minimalist in style, mainly focuses on the use of lines and colors that work hand in hand to build facial looks.

Where does the need to portray faces come from?

I used to draw a lot during my studies, but I saw the need to portray faces in 2016 when I first drew a portrait. Even though I didn’t capture the likeliness of the individual I had chosen. My friends kept wondering who the individual was, while others speculated who that individual looked like in particular, I hadn’t really asked myself the problem. But that particular moment posed a challenge and meant a lot to me, I understood how important a portrait can be, especially based on who the person represented is. That’s when I started to get passionate about working with portraits. I drew a lot from magazines, books, actors from the most watched movies... All out of the need to learn how to capture similarity and represent individuals, but in different media based on my mood.

You also have a second interest: photography. How does this relate to graphic illustration?

When I entered university, we were tasked to choose course units. My favorites, painting, printmaking and illustrations, were grouped together with the photography group. I had never been into photography before, but after a few lessons I loved learning how much photography was part of art. Photography itself is an interest, but apparently it hasn’t had that much influence in my graphic illustrations yet but I hope it does in the future. However, artistic creativity had a great influence in my photography on the other hand, and thanks to it I was able to capture images based on angles that serve a purpose.

Tell us about the Youth League photographic project.

The Youth League was a two-day sporting event organized by young people of my community called Kisaasi with the aim of selecting talented individuals to represent the area in inter-community games. There were 2 main activities for the event which were football and netball. I voluntarily documented both the activities that took place on the two consecutive days. I had never ventured into sports photography before and the Youth League Chairperson invited me to take some photographs, but after seeing the results on the first day I decided to make it a project, hence to participate the second day. The project was fun to carry out, plus by that time the laws on gatherings in the country had loosened up and also aspiring politicians were using the opportunity to campaign, also contributing substantially to the event, providing equipment for the teams and refreshments like water, glucose and many others.

I hope to use my art to create a totally new reality away from the existing one as I move forward.

Does your art recreate an existing reality or create a new one?

My art is based on real things as references, and it’s related to people. I believe that what I do with my art is more about recreating those things that are real in order to create a new reality that viewers can see and interpret based on my approach. However, I hope to use my art to create a totally new reality away from the existing one as I move forward.

Describe the technical process of watercolors.

Just like any other work of art I have made, I always start by choosing an image to draw and print it on an A4 sheet. I prepare my canvas and stretch it out neatly. Sometimes I prefer to work on the background with light or dark colors before going further. I do this in order to offset a few layers of color and reduce the effort to get a lot of detail that I usually try to avoid. I want to be free with my style as much as I can. Then I lightly sketch the portrait for about 1 or 2 hours with an emphasis on form.

Once I am sure what the sketch looks like, I go ahead and mix the other colors to use for the face and apply them in two stages. I lightly apply the first few layers of color and then start going dark and bold with the colors until I feel it’s enough to match a resemblance.

Did you experiment with your art during the time of the pandemic?

Yes I did. For about 4 months I was unable to study due to the nationwide Presidential declaration of a lockdown. This meant I had to find new ways to work with my art and keep being creative while waiting for the university to resume. I also experimented a lot with mediums and styles. The last technique I have experimented with and particularly appreciated is the line and color art, which uses less detail to portray a character.

Do you have future projects?

I wouldn’t necessarily call them “future projects”, but they are more thoughts on how to merge art and photography. Something I partly did during the pandemic. I am planning to work on a project that focuses on using my artistic skills in drawing portraits, illustration and photography to demonstrate the past and also create works that are not only portraits themselves but also messages to convey. I am also working hard to be able to collaborate on projects with artists both in my country and abroad.

To know more about his work, click here.

Interview and Article by

Vivian Di Lorenzo

Images provided by

Kairu Philip Peter

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