Artist yearns for Obama meeting

Artist Collins Okello says he will cry tears of joy if he is given the chance to present his drawings to visiting US President Barack Obama.

The 25-year-old artist, who caught the eye of Kenyans with his remarkable drawing of President Uhuru Kenyatta in military fatigues last October, was commissioned by State House to draw three pencil sketches of Mr Obama.

President Kenyatta intends to present them as gifts to the US leader.

Although the deal does not involve him presenting the artwork to President Obama, Mr Okello says he will jump at the chance to do so.

“All I would do is cry. And cry again. What more could a small man ask for?” said the artist, nicknamed Jaduong (elder) because of his incredible talent.

The drawings, he said, took him over 60 hours to complete.

After the May announcement that President Obama will come calling, Mr Okello was contacted by both State House and the US Embassy to make drawings of the grandson of K’Ogelo.

“I chose President Kenyatta’s order because it was a fair deal. I did not want to take on both contracts as I wanted to do a perfect job,” said the Kenyatta University commerce graduate.


One of the works is a family portrait of President Obama, his wife Michelle, daughters Malia and Sasha and their two dogs. The other is a portrait of a smiling President Obama.

The third is a nostalgic piece of a young Obama eating roast maize at K’Ogelo with his grandmother, Mama Sarah.

“I draw a lot of inspiration from him and it was an honour to do the work,” Okello told Nation in his studio in Kisumu.

After his drawing of President Kenyatta became a hit on social media, Mr Okello was invited to State House to present it as a gift to the Head of State on his 53rd birthday.

Okello says he spent two days chatting with Kenya’s chief executive, whom he describes as humble and hospitable.

“During my stay at State House, President Kenyatta asked his aides to keep away in order to make me comfortable and at home. He would leave me as he went about his daily work and on his return in the evenings, we would have tea and chat,” recalls the artist.

“Just as President Obama rose from K’Ogelo village in Siaya County to the highest seat in the world, I also moved from my dingy home in the slums of Kisumu and spent two days with the President, whom I now consider a friend,” he said.

When he appeared on popular NTV show The Trend, Okello described his rise to fame as “unimaginable”.

He recalls an instance when he quoted what he thought was a fair price for one of his paintings, only for the client to pay five times more.

“After seeing the drawing I did of the President, people think I am very talented and want to pay higher rates. I no longer quote a price. I let the customer pay what he thinks my work is worth,” he said.