Thursday, July 4, 2013

Allen Kupeta and Helen Lieros- 'When two colours meet, they form a line'. A tribute to great mentors: (Memoirs Part I)

Fourteen years ago on an afternoon in 1999, a 14 years old boy stands at the entrance of a gallery in Livingstone Street, Harare, Zimbabwe. Next to him was his sister, Linda, who had accompanied him as she felt the city was to big for him to navigate alone. On the veranda of the white paint walled gallery, stood this an old woman with long grey hair. And sitting down on the chair next to him was a old man with white hair and a huge beard.

That boy was me. The old woman was artist and mentor Helen Lieros. The old man was Dereck Huggins. The gallery was Gallery Delta. This was the beginning of what l would call my apprenticeship. Looking at the little drawings of rural Zimbabwean scenes (huts and animals) and cartoon characters I had bought to show them, after Derek had invited me to the gallery after corresponding through letters, I was  advised to focus more on drawing, and to draw objects in real life as opposed to copying from a photograph.

Helen Leiros. Artist and mentor.  (Photo courtesy of

Allen Kupeta, artist, mentor and friend (image source: Allen's Facebook account)

Derek Huggins. Gallerist and Director at Gallery Delta, Harare (Photo courtesy of 

I immediately began to focus on my drawing skills, concentrating on seeing and observing rather than just looking. I drew everyday.

Then a few months later, Allen Kupeta, Hatitye and other young and emerging artist who was staying in Chitungwiza, a town outside Zimbabwe's capital Harare. They were art students at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe workshop studio (then known as BAT Studios). They inspired me with their drawings of figures, still lives and brightly coloured paintings of street scenes of Mbare and Chitungwiza. I asked if they could assist me in my quest to learn to be an artist and Allen Kupeta agreed to help.

Everyday after school, I would walk in the dusty street of New Zengeza 5 to Allen's studio located at his parents house, which was then under construction, and he would instruct me focus on drawing, handing to me a number of newsprint paper to draw various objects that we found in his studio. I would sit  next to him and observe in admiration how he was painting in his studio. I focused on drawing, and drew for a long period of time.

I drew a bottle of coke about 20 times until l got the shape right. Other objects were cups, teapots plates, fruits, clothes, shoes among other objects over and over and over again. Allan will critic these drawing, pointing out errors and requiring me to do the drawing over again again until l got the shapes and the tonal values right. He would instruct me on fundamentals that he himself was learning as an art student at the BAT workshop/studios - aspects like shape, line, perspective, tones (from dark to light), form, depth, line and composition. 

However over a few months, I got better. So I went to show Helen and Derek my new work, and they could see I had been busy. Helen then gave me task to do, writing them on a sheet of paper for me to do at home and bring back for feedback. And I drew again and again. Went back to show Helen, and back again to draw and draw. I enjoyed drawing. I drew my mum's plates, tea pots, cups as well as bottles, clothes and a variety of other objects. For about a year, I drew.

A year later, Helen introduced me to Greg Shaw, a respected Zimbabwean painter and art teacher,  who at the time was conducting Friday afternoon lessons with art students from St Johns in the amphitheater at Gallery Delta. I joined that class

Then began a whole new dimension into my art education.


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