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What can I say about this exciting new artist? I hardly know where to start.
JawTheCarnivore has lived in 32 towns in Kenya, in the process of his hustle. He has slept on the streets in Nairobi for 9 days. He has slept on the streets of Kisii for 14 days (including on his birthday in June - it was raining). In fact, it was while he was sleeping on the streets of Nairobi that the crafted the art that caught our attention. Those particular pieces are not for sale, though. He gave them away instead, saying their sentimental value makes them priceless.
At 32 years of age, Joe (real name, he never uses it though) personifies the saying necessity breeds invention. Blessed with an artistic and technical mind with an appreciation for fine detail, he nonetheless has spent the bulk of his working life so far in sales. Only recently has he begun doing art, discovering to his surprise that he is very talented in it.
I visited his current home in Salem (he will have moved by now) and we ended up talking for over two hours. He has an inspiring mindset and outlook on life. As we walked from the stage to his small one-room home, which he shares with one other person, Jaw told me about his upbringing. "My dad lives in Juja, but we don't talk much," Jaw said, smiling. He is always smiling. "He has never really believed in what I do. He believes I should spend my day in a 'real job', like being a mason, or a stone worker in a quarry."
Jaw standing in front of his former house, holding up the boards of his trade
He was carrying the pair of boards pictured above, as well as a can of black vinyl paint. I was carrying the four boxes of chair pins that he had handed me. These were the main materials he used to create his unique pieces.
"I got the idea one day in town, when I saw a woman with a dress with a lion design done in pins," he tells me. "At first I just did outline designs like the one I had seen, but soon I realized that I could make them more interesting and unique to fill in the whole image with pins and turn it into a raised, embossed-looking metal design."
We finally reached his humble home, one of a long corridor of shanties mere metres from a river. "When it rains heavily, the river regularly breaks its banks," Jaw says, the distant look in his eyes telling me that he was remembering such an incident. "The water can rise all the way to here." He indicates a spot higher than the headboard of his bed.
We settled ourselves on the available furniture (two beds), and he begun to tell me his story.
What as story it was! There's too much to tell in one blog, or even two. Possibly too much for three as well! A story of betrayal and mismanagement, goals realized and dreams shattered... A story with twists and turns, unexpected highs and predictable lows.
Have you ever made someone Kshs 30,000 a day in sales and been paid Kshs 150 a day for your efforts? Have you ever been so broke that you spent three months just trying to get the fare to return to Nairobi, until you eventually gave up and went to the police for help?
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We have just reached his home, and have just started to talk. I wanted to have an unstructured interview, more to get a sense of who he is rather than find out the answers to specific questions. It turned out to be a good idea, because as soon as he realized we were just chatting, out came the sketchbook.
Jaw has an unusual mind, blessed with both artistic and technical talent. This was very evident in his sketchbook, which was full of fanciful designs and intricate mechanical constructions in equal measure.
A page from Jaw's sketchbook
The passion he had shone through as he gestured at the book and at the world in general, outlining his ideas so vividly I could see his calabash lamp with engravings of Egyptian gods, or his table that doubles as an art display with embedded lights (pictured above).
His sketchbook spoke of an organised and meticulous mind, which usually leads to a timely and industrious character. And you know what that leads to? Satisfied clients, who get their pieces on time and of the quality they expect. So it comes full circle; Wallart Kenya is all about customer satisfaction, and JawTheCarnivore is looking very promising as a result.
Tune in next time for Part Two: The Hustle, where we explore just how he came to live in 32 towns in the pursuit of a better life.
Final tidbit for those who stuck around to the end: How did Jaw get his name? Well, "Jaw" is from his real name Joseph (which, again, he never uses), while "TheCarnivore" is from his famous love of animals. He has a dog, and says that even on his days living on the streets, if someone was to approach him and offer him money for his dog, he wouldn't take it. "All dogs want is love," he says. "Then they give you 100 times more."