In a small workshop at Miami area near Bombolulu along the Mombasa-Malindi highway, Benson Murage is training a young artist who is drawing a painting of a dhow sailing on the Indian Ocean at sundown.
Mr Murage has been in the art industry for two decades. And true to the adage that necessity is the mother of invention, he stumbled upon his talent when he was unable to get a job after completing a course in food and beverage.
“I came down to Mombasa to look for a job at the hotels, but clashes erupted in Malindi in 1997 disrupting my dream because many of the hotels where I had sent my applications closed down,” Mr Murage says.
With his prospects of getting a job dimmed, he tried his hand in an assortment of odd jobs. He started off as a hawker and then a vegetable vendor. He also once pulled carts to make ends meet.
One day, while on his daily routine of eking out a living, he met a high school friend who owned a painting shop. The friend offered to train him on painting for a month.
Mr Murage realised how inbred the talent was as he was able to paint beautiful portraits with ease.
After the training, which made him discover his talent, he set about the journey of being a painter.
The icing of the cake was his realisation that he could make handsome income out of it.
“I sold my first paint for Sh500, back in the 1990s. That was a lot of money then,” he says.
“That lifted my spirit. As a hawker I could not make that money in a day.”
Since then, the father of two has vastly improved his skills and expanded his scope of painting. He now does different genres of arts from realistic, abstract and semi abstract.
“I paint oil on canvas, acrylic on black sued or do a mixed media where I use different materials including shukas to make the painting complete,” he says.
His key customers, he says include tourists, who mostly buy his wares at the beach, especially during the high season. He also gets a number of clients through referrals.
Mr Murage sees his business growing as more people appreciate art. “People have started appreciating and buying art in large numbers. During the holidays, I get a lot of customers even as far as Nairobi,” Mr Murage says adding that he has also sold his artwork abroad in England, Canada, Germany and Switzerland.
The artist says before he used to make between Sh30,000 and Sh50,000 a month by selling his artwork. Currently, he says he makes much more as a single art could earn him the amount he used to take home monthly.
“If I sell just four arts, I can make a good income,” he says.
Mr Murage markets his artworks on various online platforms including Facebook. He has also participated in various exhibition at the coast in Fort Jesus, British Council, Alliance Francaise to promote his artwork.
“I hope very soon I will do a solo exhibition and also participate in more competitions,” he says. Doing artwork with theme has been a major boost to his career. Mr Murage has drawn paints to campaign against poaching and to support women from different cultures around the world. He is also passionate about helping talented youth who do not have a platform to improve their skills.
“I have trained about 20 youths who have ended up opening their own workshops, some are now going international,” he adds.
Despite making significant strides in his line of business, Mr Murage has faced a number of challenges. “In 2003, my kiosk in Mombasa Town was demolished. In another workshop I was evicted because the owner of the land had various wrangles with his neighbours,” he says.
Another challenge is competition and the low number of people who appreciate art. “Currently, we are facing great competition. Also people need to learn to appreciate original artwork,” he says adding that more awareness should be created about art.
Mr Mirage advice to upcoming artists is for them to be patient and try out various styles to catch the attention of different customers.
First appeared here