Friday 9 September 2011

New Naturalists

 Enter, new Nigerian naturalists of the canvas
By Tajudeen Sowole
 Friday, 15 July 2011 00:00
Titus Agbara's As Our Mothers told Us ( oil on canvas, 2010)
Mass migration of artists to new media and conceptual imaging, which, over the last two decades, has broadened expression in contemporary Nigerian art would not drown traditional painting style otherwise known as realism or naturalism, so suggests emerging new set of Nigerian artists, in the last few years.

THESE artists are not giving room to a possible vacuum as their works are complementing those of the acknowledged masters in Nigeria’s realism and naturalism space.
Artists such as Titus Agbara, Kelani Abass, Ebenezer Akinola, Kazeem Olojo, Olumide Oresanya, Imoesi Imhonigie and Samuel Ajobiewe have shown, through exhibitions in Lagos, that not even persistent criticism from a section of Nigerian critics against the style would dissuade them from remaining hooked to the painstaking rendition of realism on canvass.
They argued that after all, the form of art predates many civilizations – ancient Greek Art inclusive and should not be pulled down to promote what has been described as “new art forms.”
Indeed, many exhibitions, discussions at forums and other gatherings focusing on dynamism of visual arts, showed that artists were moving away, in droves, from representational forms such as naturalism.
This move has depleted the number of naturalist painters on the Nigerian contemporary art scene as younger artists are being discouraged from exploring representational art, the form that made many Renaissance and other post medieval artists attain greatness even till date.
For these new artists in Nigeria, the success of older naturalists such as Abayomi Barber and many of his students, from the Barber School including Muri Adejinmi; famous cartoonist and painter Josy Ajiboye, night landscape and streetscape painter, Biodun Olaku, could be a shield of the young artists against critics’ pestilent posture.
Agbara's To Give Us This Day
However, these new naturalists need to be more aggressive; they are in a period of hostile criticism. The masters asserted their identities at periods when the art landscapes were more liberal; when critics and artists alike did not pull one genre or form of art down to promote another as it’s being done currently.
In the last few years, it has become common to hear phrases such as “photocopier painters” or “repetitive themes” to support insinuation that traditional form of painting was giving way to “conceptual art.”
Indeed if, for example, great paintings such as Rembrandt’s Night Watch (1642) and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (1519) and other great works are still adding heritage and economic value to the world, many centuries after they were produced, these new Nigerian artists could claim that they are on the path to greatness.
However, these artists need to strengthen their themes to reflect stronger socio-political reality of their environment even while highlighting the African cultural motives and norms. These flavours would make their works as resilient as that of the Renaissance masters.
Samuel Jobiewe's pastel 3 to Tango (2009)
AGBARA, 37, arguably, is a pride to his generation of artists. Reason: he uses palette knife in realism renditions that cut across scenery, human and animal figural, blurring the line between impressionism and photo finish images. One of his best works is As Our Mother Told (oil on canvas), a capture of children around a water-well in Lagos. He stated that this is all about having “a strong command of my subject and materials from the basic background.” In fact, Agbara has a race against science as he argues that his work is “like a computer screen re-fresh.”
Although Agbara, currently based in the U.K., was quietly making impact with his photo-finish work, shortly after school, his involvement in the Terra Kulture/Ford Foundation grant project for selected artists in 2006-07 strengthened his profile. And since his relocation to the U.K, few years ago, he has continued to make stronger statement with his work, home and abroad. He trained at the Federal Polytechnic, Auchi from 1994 to 1999.
When Ajobiewe, 41, made his debut solo exhibition at Mydrim Gallery in 2009, he broke a seeming long absence of a body of works from the core realism form. Through his work, realism and naturalism seemed to return to the exhibition scene, at least in Lagos, especially such produced by younger artists.
From works such as Imoran Lagba, Baba Alayeye, and Window to the World – rendered in pastels – to oil such as Under A Watchful Eye, Aso L’e Wa, Ewa Ni Wa, Commerce and 3 to Tango, 3 To Dance, there was a faint line of preference drawn between his skill in pastel and oil. With a two-man show, Waves of Live at Gold and Green Gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos, in 1995, Ajobiewe had his first show.
Currently, attention of art connoisseurs have been drawn to the ongoing solo debut exhibition Oresegun titled Moment of Reason, at Mydrim Gallery. Oresegun, 30, may still have much to learn in anatomy drawing, his strength, however, lies in toning, particularly, light effects.
Ajobiewe's pastel Childhood Reminiscence (2009)
His body of works confirms that indeed, there would not be a vacuum in the realism and naturalism space of Nigerian art. His Moment of Reason appears to project him as an artist who has a near perfect way of depicting any state of water, particularly dripping. Oresegun stated that his visit to Madrid, Spain, “where I saw some classical works of great masters of realism changed my perception in painting.” That inspiration is indeed very clear as there appears certain similarities in the works of the Renaissance masters and his art.
With less than 10 years in his career after graduation from art school, Oresegun, who earned his Higher National Diploma (HND) certificate from Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, Nigeria in 2006, could be described as a young master.
In 2005, he won the third prize at the Goethe Institut/Chidi Kwubiri Competition, organised by Goethe Institute, Lagos, Nigeria.
From ancestral through contemporary subjects, Abass’ work, though gradually forming in terms of anatomy drawing, have themes that are not too far from home.
Also trained at Yabatech, Lagos, Abass, 32, confirmed his prowess when he won the First Prize of the maiden edition of the Lagos Black Heritage Painting Competition in 2010.
Imhonigie’s rendition of naturalism through palette knife also shows a tinge of mastery of technique. He is so immersed in wild life such that human figures are rarely seen, as suggested in such works as Orange Blossoms, showing two people under an orange tree; Orange Markets, fruits in commercial quantity; Friends and At Parks, villagers and visitors savouring serenity. Imhonigie, 37 was trained at Federal Polytechnic Auchi, Edo State.
In Olojo’s streetscape works, rusty rooftops often add colour to the slums. For example, in Evening Mood, oil on board, the beauty is in mix of shades as the artist de-emphasises sunset. Trained at University of Benin (UNIBEN) Olojo’s depiction of greenery in the same composite with sunset, though often attempts conceptual and poetic taste, the cloudy rendition makes much difference as the blossom offers a balance.

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