Born in Kenya in 1980, Paul Onditi moved to Germany in 2000, where he studied art at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Offenbach am Main. In 2010 he returned to Nairobi, where he is currently living and practicing.
Part of a generation of young African artists working on the continent whose engagement with contemporary practice is rapidly gaining international attention, Onditi’s paintings explore richly layered images and contemporary global issues through the use of highly experimental, labour intensive techniques. Filmstrips, prints, transferred images, pared down layers of pigment, caustic acid and thin layers of oil paint are patched together in meticulous ways to visualise an imaginative world that carefully unpicks at current divisions and tensions based on the same ideological, political and religious differences that have plagued our collective existence since time immemorial.
Onditi’s works, mainly executed on digital polyester inkjet plate, blur an ever-present isolated and enigmatic figure into disparate, exploratory backgrounds that blend graphic, abstract elements with imagery drawn from nature. Constantly evolving in his practice, the backgrounds have abandoned the intricate, brightly coloured mapping of a rapidly urbanising city, with its lookalike contemporary buildings, loss of green space and increasingly polluted air that characterized previous work. Finely etched, seemingly chaotic patches of colour are meticulously constructed and counterpointed with darker areas, signifying the fragmentation, noise and confusion of contemporary life. The isolated, anonymous figure that anchors the compositions floats in these works over abstract backgrounds that include patches of fierce hues – orange, cobalt, viridian among them, highlighting global issues connecting us all: pollution, climate change, natural unrest and loss of resources.
Onditi has participated in many group shows in Kenya and Europe and has had several solo show in Kenya and Germany. His work has been included in Bonham’s Africa Now auction in London in 2013 and 2014, as well as featuring in the first auction devoted to Contemporary East African art that took place in Nairobi in November 2013. He has also taken part in Ernst and Young Action in the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt, Germany. In March 2016 he was selected to participate in VOLTA, New York, with a solo show.
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