Mervyn Kigemuzi Balikuddembe, 25, graduated this year with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, but decided his true love was drawing and painting. He has used art to tell stories, and the talent has taken him places. Quick Talk caught up with him recently:
What inspired you to do art?
I took one piece at a time, being inspired by the previous one to get better on the next. Then I noticed a huge gap in the Ugandan art industry with regards to realism, especially using pencils. I took it on as my genre, having in mind the great urge to make a difference and make it known. Other inspirations are nature, life, events and culture.
When did you start drawing?
I remember sketching at the back of my books at a tender age. At that time, nearly everyone was fascinated by comics. As I grew up, I got exposed to Da Vinci’s paintings. They stuck in my mind and always kept me curious.
Da Vinci inspiration! Okay…
I use a pencil to create hyper-realistic drawings in a resolution that allows the viewer to relate to the drawing more than the reference photograph. I started by drawing myself, close friends and family. [Then] I made drawings of renowned personalities. Here, I could easily see the errors and work on perfection. Everyone has noticed my growth over time. I kept getting better and better.
I have more than 100 pieces but I wait for a perfect moment when I can meet [the personality in the art piece], then I release it. [He has works of people including singer A-Pass, broadcasters Crystal Newman and Faridah Nakazibwe and Makerere vice chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, among others].
Your art pieces are dope! Do you use just pencils?
I use Faber-Castell pitt charcoal pencils and colours too. I have a friend who travels to the UK a lot; so, she brings me the materials I need. It’s cheaper that way.
And then Covid-19 happened!
Yes! I have missed out on featuring in a big art show in UK after it was cancelled when Covid-19 hit. Otherwise, I still get many orders online. I’m also having a good time working on a series of huge detailed pieces I’ve always wanted to make. I’ll release them soon.
Did you entirely drop the engineering?
I have always loved engineering. I actually worked for a while as I was drawing on the side, but my work was not growing. That’s when I went on to concentrate on honing my skill.
With time, I would love to invest in brilliant engineering ideas in form of pitching contests. This is something I don’t see innovation hubs doing well.
Interesting options that God afforded you!
I am a multidisciplinary artist. I am comfortable with various art forms; be it graphics or painting. However, when people look at my pencil work, they get blown away and opt for that. I get so many commissions; so, I really spend most of my time working in this style.
Still strange that you chose art over engineering.
First, I have never felt so happy and fulfilled in life like this. I feel at home. I draw for over 15 hours a day. Time ceases to exist when I’m working.
Then there’s the motivation from people who send remarks about how my work inspires them. That appreciation means a lot. I also got people to fund my talent. These angels supported me to open up a workstation which eased interactions with the clients and helped me get situated.
Lastly, I’ve met figures I never ever thought I’d meet in my life. I’ve got recognition from prestigious galleries and art centers. I’m humbled.
[Not to mention how lucrative his passion is. His art pieces range in price from Shs 150,000 to Shs 1m, depending on size and colour.]
How do you market your work?
On social media. I use my Facebook account (Kigemuzi Mervyn Balikuddembe), Instagram and Twitter (@mervynkbart). I also upload my work to my website which many people subscribe to (mervynkbart.blogspot.com)
Also at the workshop [Papa’s House of Art, Gadhafi road opposite the Kampala Central SDA Church].
Whose portrait did you enjoy making the most?
I surely enjoy all my pieces. Maybe I shall say the one of Barack Obama which got me an American Art Awards award last year. A curator from the UK mailed me and said he loved it. He said he felt the natural feeling of the stretches of the skin. He then commissioned me to draw Princess Diana for his gallery. It was an incredible feeling.
🔹 Born to Rebecca Nakitende and Richard Musoke, Mervyn went to Greenhill Academy, Buganda Road primary school, then Kitante Hill school for O-level and Buddo SS for A-level.
🔹 Last January, he graduated from Makerere University with a degree in civil engineering, where he had no retake in the four years he was there.
🔹 His only formal education in art stopped in S2; he started drawing in his first year at university.