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Adrian, the ‘lion-hearted’ artist

It is long since I last sat down with Adrian Nduma and the Covid restrictions were not helping matters. Being one of the top rated visual artists in Kenya, I have always been amazed by his works; they are so breathtakingly real.

The other day I went for a meeting in Karen and it occurred to me that this would be an ideal opportunity to hook up with Adrian; after all, his studio is situated in nearby Dagoreti Corner. I called him and he told me that he was on his way to Rongai and if I would call him when I was through with my meeting to see where he might be.

After my meeting, I called back and by coincidence, Adrian was in Karen. He asked me to join him at the Talisman Restaurant. When we met up, he put on a horrified face when I told him that it was my first time at the Talisman. “What! Tembea Kenya bana.” I had to defend myself saying that with ‘working from home’ I don’t get out much.

My main reason for meeting with Adrian was basically to touch base, and not necessarily discuss arty things – although you can never avoid that.

Once settled down and with our pots of tea on the table and the initial pleasantries done with, Adrian told me that he had gone to Rongai to supervise a project he is undertaking there. Our talk then drifted to construction, building materials and the rest, but he could not bring himself to discuss exactly what project he was undertaking and I did not press.

Would you, when you are enjoying specially brewed tea and exotic samosas at the Talisman? Me, I decided to enjoy the ambience and the piped music that was filtering through. On the walls, there were some art pieces and Adrian told me that an exhibition was currently ongoing.

The artist, whose works were on exhibition had used mixed media, including pieces of clothing on the canvas. This style reminded me of an artist named Kamicha; I wondered where he is today. He has been missing in action lately. Adrian, too, wasn’t aware of his whereabouts.

The Talisman is also an outlet for Adrian’s works and he has exhibited a number of his works there. Little wonder that he was quite at home there; the staff were passing over to say hi. You could also tell from the personalised service we got there.  He is some sort of a celeb there.

The Talisman has this cool, homely ambience about it. From the entrance, the establishment looks deceptively simple. There is a bright yellow vintage pick-up truck at right at entry, in spic spac condition. Now, this tells you people who patronise this place appreciate the finer things life has to offer.

This immediately manifests itself when you step inside. Well, not many establishments hold active art exhibitions, so that tells you the kind of clientele that frequents there. They are the sophisticated type.

Sophisticated does not necessarily mean wealthy – although you need to be rather well endowed to be able to appreciate FINE art. We have moneyed individuals in this country, whose idea of art is what their kids do with pencils and drawing books in school. I hope this gives you a rough idea of who frequents joints like the Talisman.      

Inevitably, Adrian and I find ourselves talking about his art. He tells me that with the Covid restrictions, he’s mainly been involved with commission works, and which has kept him gainfully occupied.

Since his studio is within his residence, Adrian told me that there are times when inspiration strikes, forcing him to wake up in the dead of the night to work on his paints and brushes, to produce magic on a blank canvas.

“I work best with music playing in the background,” said Adrian, a former banker. And what is his favourite kind of music, I ask. “Well, I like all kinds of music as long it strikes the right chords in me,” he said, adding that he even finds certain genres of vernacular music appealing.

And on that musical note, I seized the opportunity to ask him a question I have always wanted to take up withhim; his uncanny resemblance to Gikuyu Benga artiste Kariuki Kiarutara. He smiled wanly and acknowledged that he has indeed been told of the resemblance a few times. “But looking at Kariuki’s pictures, he doesn’t have a moustache, unlike me,” he protested weakly.

He added that he gets spooked by people who look like him, but he promised to check out Kariuki’s music on Youtube, especially after I told him that his music packs heavy messages and is comparable to the late Joseph Kamaru.

Like all visual artistes worth their salt, Adrian is also an ardent art collector, including his own art. “I collect my art for posterity sake,” he said. “That forms part of my children’s inheritance. Once I feel that a particular piece of art should go into my collection, I simply roll it up and put it aside. It doesn’t get to be viewed.”

And while he has made a name courtesy of his diverse variety of art, the Lion series stands out as perhaps his signature. Before talking about the significance of the lion in his works, Adrian reclines back on his seat, takes a deep breath and with a far-away look, says that he cannot get enough of drawing the lion.

“It is not for nothing that lion is king of the jungle,” he says. “There is a lot of mystery surrounding it. Of all the animals I think it is the lion that comes closest to man, in terms of personality.”    

As our conversation draws to a close, we agree that we should catch up more often.

PS: Did you know that in 2013 Adrian wanted to be the governor of Embu?

Events News Travel

To the Aberdares: journal of a reluctant hiker

The marketing of Tafaria Castle, which straddles two counties, Lakipia and Nyandarua, is such that no one in their right mind would pass up the opportunity to spend a night there.
When a call came in, one fine Friday, asking if I would like to go to Tafaria, the following day, I did not think twice; I cancelled an appointment I had the following day.
The caller mentioned that the tour would involve a ‘two hour hike’. I easily brushed off this information; the only thing ringing in my mind was Tafaria.
We were to be picked by a van at 5.45 am, at the Kencom Bus Stage. Ordinarily, I would have taken a matatu, but the thought of walking from the Railways matatu terminus to Kencom, carrying a camera, at that early hour, was not one I fancied; what with the blood cuddling reports of muggings in this Sonko city.
For the sake of my camera, I managed to convince my mechanic to act as my chauffeur that morning.
I was the first one to arrive at Kencom, a full five minutes ahead of schedule. We were to pick a few other guys along Thika Road. To get to Tafaria, one has to go through Nyeri. Nyeri is about 150 kilometres from Nairobi. Tafaria is 65 kilometres from Nyeri, as you go towards Nyahururu.

The majestic Tafaria Castle

We were supposed to get to Tafaria Castle at 9am, where I imagined we would take breakfast before embarking on the ‘hike’.
Our last pick-up in Juja was a young man, who kept us waiting in Kenol for more than one hour.
This delay was to cost us dearly, at least for me.
Along the way George Waititu, the director of Tafaria Castle, called, asking us to find them deep inside Aberdare National Park, where the team was to embark on the hike.
That call put paid my dream of a sumptuous breakfast at Tafaria. Just before getting to the Rhino Gate, of the park, we encountered a steep incline and our van was unable to get to the top. We had to push it to the top.
Bad mistake.
Pushing the vehicle sapped all the energy in my body; remember I had not taken breakfast, having woken up at 3.30 am. Coupled with the fact that I was woefully unfit, I was not in the best shape for the hike, which by now I realised involved climbing a mountain – Satima is said to be the third highest peak in Kenya, after Mt Kenya and Mt Elgon.

The Castle of Love

When we got to the starting point, having driven some 10 kilometers inside the Park, Amos Mwaura, the high pitched guide told us that the leading pack, having gotten impatient, had set off an hour earlier. We needed to catch up, he said, there were four kilometres ahead of us. I panicked.

The hikers approach the Theatre of Heaven

Mwaura noticed that one of us had come dressed in office attire; a suit!
From his tone, Mwaura came across as a no-nonsense guy; no cutting corners here.
You can imagine my relief when Mwaura passed around snacks wrapped in tinfoil. I attacked mine straight away; such was my hunger.
From the word go Mwaura set a punishing pace and immediately I knew it was going to be a long day for me. I simply could not keep up. My lower back was on fire, my legs felt like they were made of lead. I was panting, nay grunting, as I shuffled one protesting leg after the other.
After clearing the first hill made up of bush and thickets and having wolfed down my entire lunch pack I felt somehow energised and enjoyed the less strenuous descent into the moorland.

The enchanting vegetation up there

My worries temporarily forgotten, my eyes suddenly opened up to the beauty and splendor all around me. This was an absolute eye fest; a true hiker’s paradise . Apart from the gently rolling hills, the valleys and the gorges, I saw some of the most dramatic rock formations ever witnessed in God’s wide world.
From the look of things, God must have been in a mischievous mood when he created these rocks.
To be honest, some of the rocks, from a far, look like animal droppings. Others have more elaborate patterns like ancient ruins. I was especially struck by one that looked like a giant tulip. This one I later realised has been christened The Lost Pyramid.
We later learnt from Mr Waititu that due to the fact that not many people frequent this particular area, these interesting rock formations are yet to be named. Thus the Tafaria establishment have, with the permission of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), embarked on naming these amazing rockformations.

Into the moorland

This is how we learnt that they have called this place, its haunting beauty and all is now called the Theatre of Heaven. I for one could not imagine a better place to shoot a movie. The Kenya Film Commission, Ezekiel Mutua seems to be making all the decisions nowadays, can thank me later.
Other interesting names include the Castle of Love, Devil’s Sword and Dragon’s Teeth.
Tafaria wants to promote the Theatre of Heaven as a tourist destination to the level of Mt Kenya and even Maasai Mara. Mr Waititu, a widely travelled man, said that he has been to the Swiss Alps but he maintains that the Kenyan Alps are in a class of their own.

The Devil’s Sword

Soon, it was time to go back and it struck me how far we had come. Luckily, I had taken some mountain spring water and was somehow rejuvenated.
Still, it bothered me to no end that the man in a suit was constantly ahead of me. Just then, I missed a step and my right foot got stuck the sticky dark mud. Meanwhile, suit man and his office shoes, kept walking ahead like he was on red carpet.
My discomfort was compensated by the anticipation of spending the night in the dreamy Tafaria Castle. It gave me the energy to plod on. Luckily it was downhill, er, in a good way, all the way.

The magical wedding under the Twin Peaks

When we got down to the twin peaks, where the vehicles had been left, a table was laid for a delicious cocktail. And to the surprise of many, a couple was tying the knot. Many ladies were left envious at what beautiful the mountain scenery was.

Pictures by Joseph Ngunjiri