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"Sane" Mbugua Wadu

About the Artist

Sane Mbugua Wadu (photo courtesy of artist)
Sane Mbugua Wadu (photo courtesy of artist)

Sane Wadu was born Walter Njugana Mbugua in 1954 in Nyathuna, Kenya. In the early 80's, after completing high school, he worked as a teacher and later as a court clerk. Wadu is a poet and a writer, he wrote plays and poetry.

Sane Wadu began painting professionally in 1985. He used mainly water-colors and household paints on clothing and sheets of plastic. His eccentricity became a subject of ridicule among friends and neighbors and they began to refer to him as "insane", especially since he gave up a secure career as a teacher and clerk in pursuit of painting, which to most was an abnormality. His response to their taunts was to adopt the name Sane which later became his nom de plume. 

Later he took up oils and moved from clothing and plastic to paper and canvas. Though he had received no formal training, his creativity and drive quickly secured him a national and international audience. He has had one-man exhibitions in New York and his work has been shown in the USA and Europe.

Formally, Sane Wadu's paintings have alternated between structured single-point perspective and abstract, dreamlike compositions and forms. He has moved between a tight, impressionistic style and flowing, Surrealistic abstracts - sometimes applying paint in constrained impasto,and sometimes in bright, fluid washes.

Wadu's choice of subject matter has also followed a shifting and varied course. Early works often show the wildlife of rural Kenya; hyenas, buffaloes, leopards, and elephants are depicted in isolation in a characteristic wide landscape of distant horizons and soft, muted colors. Though he explains that his inspiration was often the sight of these creatures, the paintings are more than merely descriptive. Placing them in a wild, unpopulated landscape, Wadu says he also pounders the thoughts in the animals' heads.

Sane Wadu paints the bush people as solitary figures, like his wild animals. Alongside camels, sheep, or cattle is the lone herdsman, the solo traveler. United through their labors with the environment in which they're set, the figures confront the viewer with a forth-right gaze and open, naive honesty - attributes paralleled by Wadu's style itself. In conception, his people are no different from his animals.

Just as he works to grasp the consciousness of wildlife, many works are self-portraits in the roles of his subjects in order to attain a closer empathy with the people he depicts. He is the Virgin Mary, the farm worker, the lover.

Currently Sane Wadu lives in Naivasha, Kenya with his family - his wife Eunice Wadu is also an artist, and he regularly conduces art workshops in schools and local community centers. 

Since the 90's, Sane Wadu's paintings have entered an urban environment and his compositions have become more abstract. On his increasingly crowded canvases, the figures press forward and outward, their massed humanity laid ever more bare. 

(Bio information courtesy of  "Contemporary African Art from the Jean Pigozzi collection", Sotheby's;, "Contemporary Art of Africa", A. Magnin, African Contemporary gallery).

Sane Wadu, born in 1954 lives and works in Naivasha, Kenya. Having previously worked as a teacher, a court clerk, a writer, a playwright and a theatre actor, Sane Wadu began painting professionally in the 1980s and went on to become one of Gallery Watatu’s most iconic artists. Over a long and distinguished career he has gained acclaim for his expressionistic, energetic paintings, which use thickly applied oil paint to create critically reflective narratives and scenes.

In the 1990s, Wadu co-founded the Ngecha Artists’ Association with his contemporaries Eunice Wadu, Wanyu Brush and Chain Muhandi. Working alongside his wife and fellow artist Eunice Wadu, he continues to support young artists through The Sane Wadu Trust where they hold weekly art workshops from their studio in Naivasha.

Wadu’s work has been exhibited worldwide, including in the USA, Germany, South Africa, Japan and the UK, notably in the seminal exhibition, Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1995 and its accompanying book. Other publications include Angaza Africa by the African curator at the British Museum, Chris Spring, 2008 and Contemporary African Art by Sidney Kasfir, 2000. In 2021 Wadu has exhibited in the travelling group show Mwili Akili na Roho, at The Royal Academy, London and Haus Der Kunst, Munich and a solo retrospective at Nairobi Contemporary Art Institute in 2022. His work was also featured in the When We See Us exhibition at Zeitz MOCAA.

(Notes courtesy of Circle Art Gallery)

Elephant Fossil
SKU: Wadu-1

Nairobi, Kenya
c. 2000
Oil on canvas (48" h x 50"w), Framed.


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