Artist CHRISTINE BOWEN on her LOVE OF AFRICA from Lagos, Nigeria to the East coast in KENYA …
My connection with Africa started early (at age three) in Lagos, Nigeria, where my father was working as a shipping agent. I went to boarding school in Cheshire, when I was seven, and commuted for holidays to wherever he was posted along the west African coast. On leaving school, I spent a year in Monrovia, Liberia (before the civil war), and then moved to Ireland to live and work in Dublin. After a career in interior design, in my forties, I changed direction, studying Fine Art at the RTC, Sligo, before doing at BA in Fine Art at the University of Ulster in Belfast.
Many years later, I reconnected with Africa, this time on the east coast in Kenya where my brother Michael, and his wife, Jane, live in Mombasa. They have a guest house – Colobus Cottage Upper – in a beautiful location leading directly onto Diani beach. Recently voted the best beach in Africa, it’s a kite surfers’ paradise. That means I have the perfect bolthole to escape the grey, winter months and get to work under pure light and in the perfect conditions of heat and a sea breeze.
My two daughters usually join us for Christmas, as direct, affordable flights from Dublin make it very accessible. A favourite family trip is to head up to the Shimba Hills for sundowners. This entails lugging iceboxes of beer etc to the rocks perched over the valley and, if you’re lucky, watching elephants arrive at the watering holes. To see more wildlife, we head to the nearby national park at Tsavo.
I usually kickstart the day at 5.30am with a walk along the beach with my brother’s small army of eight dogs, catching the stunning sunrises and seeing the fishermen sorting out their boats (dhows) and nets. As fish and marine elements feature in my imagery, it’s a good time to put together ideas for the day’s work, which I start around 7am. I have a variety of monkeys for company; the small, curious Sykes and professional thieves the Vervet. I also receive sedate visits from the exotic black and white long-haired Colobus monkey, but the baboons are ones to dodge! I usually finish up around 1-2 pm as the rising temperature dries up acrylic paint. If I work in the heat, I prefer to use inks or liquid acrylic.
My niece Alisa Bowen, a zoology graduate from Trinity College, works with the Governor’s Camp safari group. While she and her partner were running a lodge in Rwanda, on the slopes of Mount Sabyinyo, I flew from Kenya last year and spent two weeks working in the garden. In April of this year, I returned to complete the body of work; it was quite an experience adjusting to the high altitude. I worked under an open pagoda and while there had an opportunity to go on a gorilla trek, which was a marvellous experience. Currently I am finishing the work I started there – of indigenous floral imagery. I am also completing a fish series based on the fishermen of lake Kivu. As a canvas I used a local heavy linen/cotton which I’d primed and rolled up into a cut-up drain-pipe and brought back on plane with me. It was six foot long – I got several odd glances as I shuffled through the airports en route home!
Bowen’s artworks are in private and public collections. She is based in Kenmare, Co Kerry. For studio visits and viewing by appointment, telephone 087 904 6735; christinebowen firstname.lastname@example.org.
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