Hello Peter, please tell us about your yourself, what is your background?

My name is Peter Kanyallu and my nickname is Nyash, my company is called Nyash Customs, I draw graffiti art for vehicles and I grew up in the Eastlands part of Kenya  and that is where I am still based although I work all over Kenya.

What does that mean, all over Kenya?

Usually most cars are in different garages, as you can see (pointing to the garage we are currently in, in Industrial area of Nairobi) and so instead of people bringing cars all the way to where I am, I also go to where the cars are and work on customizing them from there. My garage is based in Komarock and I have employed some people who I leave to work from there when I am called to other garages.

Matatu Kenia
Designing matatus is more than just graffitis: it's metal work..

How did you get started doing Matatu graffiti. Where did you learn your skills?

I started this work in my teenage years. I used to put little stickers in Matatus and then I started doing exterior painting of buses and from there I started learning and perfecting my art. At first it was hard because not a lot of people understood graffiti and it took them a while to start appreciating it.

As you know we have no schools in Kenya to teach us such skills. So I got the skills from my own talent but I also learned them from guys who were in the industry long before me. People like Charles, Jeff, Smasher (Pioneer graffiti artists) who used to teach us at jobs. They would teach us using brushes back then, but now we have tools such as airbrush and compressors which make work easier. We also get a lot of inspiration from Google.

Matatu Kenia
and welding...

The government of Kenya had banned graffiti on Matatus and only just recently removed the ban, how did this affect your work and what about now?

I was not affected badly by the ban, because you see, this is a talent that I have, and for anyone with a talent you always have to be creative and think ahead. For me when the ban was instituted I went into branding, I worked for corporate where I branded their vehicles and also branding personal cars. I also did a bit of printing. During that time something called Matatu Sacco were also formed and they wanted all their cars to be branded and so this are the types of work that I was doing during the ban. However the big problem we faced was that the jobs were not frequent, you could only possibly get one or two jobs a week.

Now that the ban has been lifted it has also meant a major increase in work. Matatu graffiti is on high demand all over and in a day I am called to about four or five garages and in each garage I might have about three or four Matatus waiting for me to work on them.

I also like the new rules which have been set. Because you know we have been given a guideline, we cannot use profanities or vulgar language and we cannot draw pornographic images so these rules encourage us to create positive messages which are a good thing for the industry. Before people could do anything even if it was offending.

Matatu Kenia
... and welding again.

How do clients find you?

Most clients I get are through referrals. When someone sees my work they usually ask to find out who did it and that’s how I have grown a client base.

Kenia, Airbrush, Graffiti
Filling the airbrush.

What is the process of working with clients?

When a client first approaches me they tell me what kind of a job they want me to do. There are various types of jobs such as Extreme, Average and Normal graffiti work. There are various types of jobs such as Extreme, Average and Normal graffiti work. Extreme means the type of artwork and how much time I might have to spend doing it, these are just categories based on the work and time I have to spend on them. After I understand the scale of job then we can agree on payment for my service and then I get on with work.

Usually a client either comes with their own design and colours which I can work with or I can advice on how to improve their design or they can come without any idea on what they want and I would advise and come up with a design for them which once they approve we go ahead with it. There is no specific design which people request everyone has their own ideas.

Matatu Kenia
A detailed outline is half the battle.

Which is the best known work you ever did?

Personally when I draw I am not after fame or popularity, I am thinking of making a car look so good that the client will be able to have returns on his investment. However I do have a lot of popular Matatus plying all major routes in Kenya such as Ecstasy, Carter III, Zawadi, and Gift.

Matatu Kenia
Let's get started.

What does inspire you for you work?

Am inspired by money, but more than that am also inspired by volume. I want to be able to do graffiti on as many Matatus as possible and not just any graffiti but the best graffiti that will make people want me to make more of their Matatus and this will enable me to bank more.


And how much is one bus you do?

The prices vary depend on work requested. But average graffiti work will cost one about KSh. 20,000/ (approx. $200). The most expensive work I ever did earned me about KSh. 250,000/ (approx. $2,500) for work on a bus.


What challenges do matatu graffiti artists face in their work?

The major challenge is getting reliable employees who are able to get work done with minimal supervision. We also have clients who are fussy and give us a hard time. Up to now I have employed 30 to 50 people who I have mostly trained and after training I contract them to jobs I get.


How can a person who has a passion for this work get into it?

One needs to get trained first. I personally have trained a lot of youths and continue to offer free training.


What do you see as your future as a graffiti artist?

Personally I believe people should learn to work smart and you don’t have to do the same thing till you age. When I got into this industry I set goals for myself. Now am almost achieving these goals, I am sure in the next 3, 4, 5 years I will have achieved them and I will retire from the industry. One of the reasons that I really want to retire is that this job is also not very good for your health. The paints we use are very toxic and while working you inhale a lot of these toxic elements which in the end can be really disastrous. So this is also another of the reasons motivating me to retire early. But there are people who do this till they age, so I am not saying this is not something you can do as a career, but for me I have bigger goals and when I achieve my set goals I will retire and move on to do other things.


See as well part 1/2 of our mini-series on Matatu art in Kenia: The Return of Matatu Art.