Painters 2013

Bairbre Duggan

“I was exhausted, uptight and anxious” says Bairbre reflecting on her state of mind when she left the Netherlands for Kenya. Traveling to Africa for a painters’ festival with people she hardly knew seemed quirky if not downright absurd. Yet, the experience has had a tremendous impact on the artist. “You come here and shed skin,” she explains, referring to her initial anxiety. “Because everything flows.” It flows to a Lamu rhythm where tides and calls to prayer create the tempo. “It’s so sensual,” she remarks, and points out the vibrant colours, floral scents and food spices that she experiences every day. But it is more than that. Her painting techniques have developed as a result of her interaction with the other painters and the local community: “I have learned so much form others at the festival,” she says.

There have been challenges to overcome, however. For one, Bairbre found it difficult to paint on visits to Maweni and Matadoni, two nearby villages accessed by boat, as well as the Festival dhow competition in Shela village. These outings and events require the artist to quickly interpret the moment on canvas—a plein air technique—and Bairbre, like others, felt it challenged their normal painting methods. “But it was good for me,” she exclaims, “to test my ability to work fast.”

On unscheduled festival days, Bairbre took the opportunity to do portraits. One portrait she chose to paint was a Masaai in his traditional regalia.  “It is difficult,” she tells me, “because it is easy to make the painting look kitsch”, like the touristic images of Masaai warriors—emblematic of Kenya’s tourism market.  “I am interested in his stance, his body language…it is loose and supple….I am less interested in the superficial,” she remarks. 

Bairbre Duggan was born in 1968 in Ireland. She lives in the Netherlands with her family. Bairbre has a degree in art history and English from Dublin and later she trained in fine arts in the Netherlands. She describes her route to painting as ‘circuitous’. That is, she has worked at many different jobs including art historian, designer, editor and even yoga teacher until she came back to her initial ambition to paint, which she now does on a full-time basis.

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