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Man turns artistic passion to source of living

Artisan courses have for the longest time been regarded as menial jobs with no substantial and stable income. But according to Gerald Okoth, an upcoming young artist from Kakrao Ward in Suna East Sub County, nothing could be further from the truth.

Mr Gerald Okoth painting a wall with a message of Covid 19 preventative measures in Migori Town. Photo by Polycarp Ochieng

Okoth is a natural talent who decided long ago to embrace his artistic profession to the fullest. He is a specialist in portrait drawings and painting and everything he does is to perfection yet he has never attended any class lessons for drawing.

“I am a class eight dropout not by choice but because my parents could not afford to pay my secondary school fees,” said Okoth.

The shattered dreams of joining high school did not deter him from accomplishing his vision of becoming an artist in life.

Okoth drew his first portrait in 1998, something that he says launched his artistic career. “I drew myself on a piece of cotton cloth and my friends and neighbours were amazed. So I did it frequently by drawing my siblings and the resemblance on the portrait was remarkable,” said Okoth.

Okoth who is in his late 30s says that portrait drawing and painting is the only source of livelihood that has helped him educate his children.

His first born daughter is now in fourth form. Although the income is not much, he says that the most important thing is to ensure his family is properly taken care of.

The artist says that a single portrait can take him three days to one week to be completed depending on the size of the portrait and the accompanying details.

He acknowledges that drawing sketches and mixing of colours are the most tiresome processes in portrait making.

On the prices of the portraits, Okoth says that they have no fixed prices and customers were always welcomed to bargain depending on their economic states. It’s a decision he says could be easily reached by him and his customers.

The most expensive portrait he has ever sold was the portrait of President Uhuru Kenyatta when he visited Kuria for 2017 presidential election campaigns.

Okoth points out that the reason he has various portraits of politicians is because they are known and recognized by almost everybody. “When people see my canvas, they can easily point out and say this is so and so. It’s a good thing because a customer will be confident that I can really portray him or her the way he or she looks in real life,” stated Okoth. He also acknowledges that politicians could buy at better prices.

A self-made artisan Mr. Gerald Okoth sketching one of the portraits in Migori town. Photo by Polycarp Ochieng

He is encouraging the youths to venture into what they like doing and nurture their talents instead of sitting idle. Okoth is also cautioning the youth to shun drug abuse and alcoholism but instead focus on their education and talents.

Okoth is urging the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage to recognise the artists and help them access grants to nurture youth talents and professionalism in order to cater for their livelihood.

His wish is that the national and county governments should come up with a programme where artists like him could mentor and practically tutor artisan students from Technical and Vocational Education Trainings (TVET).

With the adoption of the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC), Okoth says that the education system would tap the talents of children at an early age.

He points out that proper mechanisms should be put in place to ensure these talents are promoted and supported.

“Artists are always good ambassadors that can promote, showcase and market their own counties in terms of tourism and marketing. Migori County should partner with artists to ensure that our county and country is well marketed nationally and internally,” stated Okoth.

By Geoffrey Makokha and George Agimba

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