For more than two decades, Joseph Bertiers of Kenya has created humorous yet sophisticated message and political commentary paintings about events world- wide. Although he has never left his Kenyan homeland, Bertiers often chronicles events which would seem, at first glance, to be unrelated to his life experience. However, always an avid reader and connoisseur of the local Kenyan press, he now enjoys both access to and information from the world press. Time, Newsweek, The Economist, The Guardian, as well as CNN and the local Kenyan newspapers, have become the fertile grounds from which his largely imagination based paintings are derived. His subject matter ranges from A to Z -- from AIDS to Zimbabwe. His realistic and colorful paintings are rendered on plywood and embellished with English text.
Bertiers is married and the father of three children. As an artist, he is entirely self-taught, and has had minimal exposure to art from outside Africa. He is a member of the Kikuyu tribe known throughout Kenya as merchants. At the age of 18, he began his artistic career, painting signs for local bars, butchers and beauty parlors. He showed his inventiveness early on, creating a character called “Mr. No Credit”, designed to discourage customers from asking for free services.
Modest commercial success aside, Bertiers grew frustrated by the limitations for creative expression, which he depicted in a series of humorous paintings titled “Painting A Cat -- I Really Hate It”, self-portraits of the artist brushing paint on live cats, suggesting that only cat painting could be a worse job than sign painting.
Finally, Bertiers’ chance to change directions came when American collector Ernie Wolfe saw Bertiers’ early work in a bar outside Nairobi. Wolfe was so intrigued by its forthright charm he sought out the artist and became his patron. At this point, Bertiers was able to turn his artistic attention to the subjects he now paints with such humanity -- fools and dreamers, heroes and charlatans, domestic bliss and marital discord, personal foibles and national tragedies -- taking us all to task mostly with gentle humor, and always with the assurance that he shares the same problems with the rest of us. He very well may be bridging the gap between naive and “third world” art and world art of the 1990’s.
Joseph Bertiers was born in 1965, Nairobi, Kenya.
© 2016 Ernie Wolfe Gallery
Prior to 1989: Bar interiors, murals and billboards around Nairobi, Kenya
1989: “Bertiers Garden”, cut tin can and masking tape foliage sculptures, Ernie Wolfe Gallery, Los Angeles
1990: “Early Paintings on Metal”, Art Center, Pasadena, Curated by Pierre Picot
1990: “Never Argue with a Woman People Might Think U’R Drunk”, new works on plywood, Ernie Wolfe Gallery, Los Angeles
1992: Painting a cat, Goeth institute Nairobi (solo)
1993: “Joseph Bertiers & Kane Kwei”, Guggenheim Gallery, Chapman University, Orange, CA
1993: “AIDS in Africa: Through the Eyes of Joseph Bertiers, The Fowler Museum of Cultural History, UCLA, Los Angeles
1993: “JOSEPH BERTIERS: From Kenya With Love”, Ernie Wolfe Gallery, Los Angeles
1994: View of the world, Goeth Institute Nairobi (group show)
1994: AIDS in Africa culture and history, Los Angeles, USA
1995: “JOSEPH BERTIERS: Retrospective”, Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CA
1996: “JOSEPH BERTIERS: From O.J. to Kobe - The Year in Review”, Ernie Wolfe Gallery, Santa Monica, CA
1997: “French Paper Meets Kenyan Plywood: Selected Works from the Collections of Paul Hayes Tucker and Ernie Wolfe III”, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA
1998: “Double Trouble”, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA
1999: “Four from Sub-Saharan Africa”, Muckenthaler Cultural Center Foundation, Fullerton, CA
2004 Dagoreti H.I.V. awareness Committee Launch
2005 Recent paintings - RaMona Museum of Modern Arts
2006: Grand prize winner of Juried contemporary African art competition, sponsored by Alliance Francaise de Nairobi and Goethe-Institut of Kenya, leading to grand prize award at All African Biennial Art Expo, Dakar, Senegal, March 2006
2006 Juried art competition/exhibition –French Cultural Center, Nairobi
2006 Ostafrik, Heidelberg- Germany
2007 “Black Like We”, Feldman Horn Gallery, Harvard-Westlake School, North Hollywood, CA
2007 Health and Human rights-GTZ and GOETH INSTITUTE, Nairobi 2007 East African Art Biennale - Dakar, Senegal
2008 Africa Now-Denmark
2008 Art not Terminal –Seattle, Washington
2008 Africa Now- Kunskvaret Lofoten, Norway
2008 Africa Now-Tampere Art Museum, Finland 2009 60th anniversary French Cultural Centres
2011 CAAC-Art Exhibition, KIASMA, Helsinki, Finland
2015 Muckenthaler 50th Anniversary Exhibition, Muckenthaler Cultural Center Foundation, Fullerton, CA
2016 Joseph Bertiers: Then and Now, Ernie Wolfe Gallery, Los Angeles
Fowler Museum of Cultural History, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA
Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN
Canter Arts Center, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA