Frank Whalley, who runs Lenga Juu, a media and fine arts consultancy based in Nairobi, has just published a rather flattering review of my book in the East African (where I have been plying my trade lately). Excerpts:
At first sight the cartoonist Patrick Gathara appears to be that rare character, a physics and maths student who became an artist. We tend to think of maths and the arts as being at opposite ends of the spectrum. But in doing so we are wrong. For there is a long and close association between mathematics, science and art....Technically he is a caricaturist like the best of the rest — Gado in the Nation, Vic Ndula in the Nairobi Star and Maddo in the Standard....Gathara excels in all these criteria, as can be seen in his new book, Gathara Will Draw For Food now available at bookshops in Nairobi, with part of the proceeds pledged to the Red Cross for famine relief.Here’s a man who puts his money where his mouth is — or at least his pencil and his wit....He focuses on faces, with expressions often captured from photographs. Typically, his subjects’ foreheads are narrowed, the cheekbones and jowls extended beyond reality and the ears made even bigger than those of Prince Charles. The plasticity of his subjects’ faces is relentlessly — and lovingly — explored. Exploited might be a better word. Gathara’s distortions are those of a sculptor working with plasticine, a pulled nose here, a flattened chin there, keeping just within the boundaries of possibility.In fact, at times, Gathara seems to lose himself in the sheer joy of drawing these fat, sprawling faces as, with a virtuoso’s control, he sends oleaginous wads of flesh in whatever direction he pleases — and occasionally ends up losing the likeness.His drawing of Kofi Annan, for instance, had me searching for the name, as did several others in this book. However, his portraits of Raila Odinga and William Ruto quaffing beer were more like their subjects than they are like themselves....Gathara’s cartoon of [Martha Karua] vigorously defending the president against his critics (in this case the media and envoys) while accidentally whacking him on the head with her handbag was prescient to say the least.And although occasionally his subjects might be hard to define, when he does get it right he spears his subjects to the paper with such force that you’ll never look at them the same way again… rather as the comedian Walter Mong’are has forever defined former president Moi as doing the ndombolo....Like some American cartoonists, Gathara seems to be as concerned with the quality of the drawing as he is with the point of the joke, although he can be as barbed as any of them, often daring to go where few others would venture — possibly because he does not have the discipline of a nervous editor on his back.For instance, one drawing shows a customer asking a boss at Nakumatt below a motto reading: You need it, we’ve got it — “Quick, I need a fire escape.” Answers the boss, “Sorry, we haven’t got it.”Tasteless? Probably. Insensitive? Certainly. Funny? You judge. I doubt if it would have been published in a mainstream newspaper so soon after the event. But a classy news magazine…?Gathara has a daring, original and remarkable talent. Someone with a classy magazine should rush to give the man a job.
Who could disagree with that last sentence?