Born in Murang’a in 1962, just before Kenya’s independence, Stephen Mbatia attended Thika High School and Kenya Polytechnic, before completing his B.Ed. in Fine Arts in 1988 from Kenyatta University.
Mbatia was an art teacher at Thogoto Teachers College for 5 years. When he resigned from paid employment in order to delve into art full time in the mid 1990s, few of his peers thought he could succeed. But Mbatia was convinced that art was his future and started a gallery in Ngong, on the outskirts of Nairobi. For a time it was rough sailing. However, he has now established himself quite well in the contemporary art world.
Mbatia is an “all-around artist” who highlights a variety of issues in his paintings. Some pieces are social commentaries highlighting urban life, social disparities and market scenes, while others comment on social relations. Others are “philosophical pieces which look at matters beyond the universe.” To a large extent, he is an abstract artist who looks at man’s inner feelings and sub-conscious mind. He uses color quite deliberately to achieve this goal. He says “colors enable me to capture people’s emotions and moods at different points in time.”
Mbatia’s work is well known to Nairobi art lovers. He is a keen observer of life in Kenya, and his paintings communicate his fascination with the people, land, and his concern for the issues that affect them.
Mbatia is well known for his work in elaborate beautiful collages. To create these paintings Mbatia first makes a sketch with a pen or pencil on a board of what he wants the final product to look like. Then he tears colors or subjects out of magazines with his fingers he then uses a varnish to make the pieces stick and shine, as well as to protect the work of art. The beauty of these paintings is that they are not messy with glue between the clippings, but on the contrary, are glossed over with a shine using a unique technique developed by Mbatia.
The Gallery of Contemporary Art at the National Museum has accorded him a solo exhibition on several occasions and his work has been exhibited in group shows in New York, Tokyo and Saugatuck, Michigan.