Saturday 24 December 2011


'On Spirituality Of Abayomi Barber 's Realism, We Stand' 
 (First published on Saturday, October 18, 2008)  
RENOWNED painter, Abayomi Barber is 80 years old this month. TAJUDEEN SOWOLE meets the artists who trained under the revered Abayomi Barber School as they disclose their plans to keep the veteran's legacy alive.
  How much of impact has the informal training section has on the visual arts scene comes into focus in the next one week as a group of artists from that breed pay tribute to their master.
  The master is the renowned surrealist, Abayomi Barber. And the artists, 15 in number are from the master's studio. The studio is regarded as one of the top non-academic in art training, the revered Abayomi Barber School. These artists are using the period of the master's 80th birthday to stage an art exhibition titled Dance of the Minds, which opens on October 24, through November 10, 2008 at Mydrim Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos, in his honour.
  Started in 1973 as a training ground for young art enthusiasts who desire to become artists, it is now referred to as Abayomi Barber School in the nation's art parlance, even though there is no such physical structure. And to keep the consciousness alive, most of the artists involved in this show of gratitude include both the pioneer students and others. 

A surreal work of Abayomi Barber

  These artists, who, in their own rights are experienced men of the canvas, include Muri Adejimi, Olumuyiwa Spencer, Toyin Alade, Tayo Oguntoye, Busari Agbolade, Femi Atewolara, Kayode Lawal, Yemi Morolari, Olatunde Barber. Others include, Bunmi Lasaki, Adeladan Adesina, Otori Olusola, Kayode Fadipe, Mosunde Daramola, and Adebayo Akinwole.
  Each has some words to describe the master based on their experiences.
   Daramola recalls that Barber taught them that the closer the artist is to nature, the more vibrant his blend of creativity with his environment. Patience, he adds, was another characteristic of the school as practical art- "learning by seeing rather than studying art" -was the bedrock on which the group is based.
   Stressing that the identity of the school is based on drawing and realism, another artist, Alabi however noted that their teacher never forced his views down their throats, rather "he would advise, and paint his thoughts and leaves you to make up your mind."
  In his own words, Morolari says: "Because it's an informal school, drawing is so much emphasised, practically, using thumbnail. We also attempt to represent in 3 dimensional forms even in painting."
  According to Fadipe, Barber means a lot to the artists. "He is a father, teacher, master, mentor, a godfather who paddled the canoe of our career. It is impossible not to be influenced by his ways, no matter how short the relationship one has with him"
  Still on the informality of the training, Akinwole observes that it is not just a school of thought in the art, but that of philosophy as well"
  For an individual initiative that has brought out such a group of artists, one wondered how the training of the students was sustained. Alabi explains that no tuition fee whatsoever was involved throughout the training, a revelation that other artists confirm.
  "For training under Barber, there was no tuition fees. In fact, we were paid for training, because each time he sold a work, he would bring the proceeds onto the table for us to share. He used to have a saying, 'Let us spray', meaning let's share. Usually these were the works in which we did not make any creative input, and still we share from the money.
  "It will surprise you to know that most of us used to depend on this money we share to buy some of our materials."
  Encomiums galore really for the master, but how would the artists sustain the Abayomi Barber School legacy?
   "The legacy is well alive as some of us have students training under us, meaning that there is a carry over of that legacy. But beyond that, we are planning to set up a school, with a physical structure in place, a kind of training ground, particularly for fresh students from higher institutions of learning."
  However, whether that proposed school would be of a formal setting or informal, remains a matter of future development, they add.
  Bred on what they all agreed is "realism ideology", the artists reflect on what this identity means to individual skills and styles just as they douse the anxiety that this commonality could have unfavourable public perception of their works.
  "As regards the public, experience has shown that our work is well accepted and can only get better. One of the major reasons why most of us hardly organise exhibition is because our works are collected regularly, even before they are out of the studios," Alabi says, arguing that the kind of training they had is as good as formal.
  Olatunde who is privileged to have the master as his biological father states that in any given situation, "the school attended does not sell the art, but an artist's prowess sells his art." And that quality, he stresses, as emphasised on realism and thought by Barber "is not just an ideology, but a spiritual commitment."

Preparatory to the exhibition, some of the works available were vintage Abayomi Barber School, consistent realism of an elevated kind; intellectuality that stirs the soul.

Although non of his new works meant to make the exhibition was available for the preview, for Adejinmi, a classic painter, his invisible brush movement would not just stop exciting a viewer's sensibility. Whatever subject this artist of immense talent depicts on canvas is always in motion, most often in flight such that it would have attracted the motion picture animators of the old Disney days, and perhaps makes the digital animator of today green with envy. This much was noticed in such work as Metamorphosis.

In the surreal, Resurrection, Atewolara's brush into the extraterrestrial realm confirms the celestial effect of the blend of aesthetic and intellectuality on canvas.

Lawal's Eko, a streetscape of the chaotic section of Lagos Central Business District (CBD), Idumota argues a case for the role of painter in architectural design, even in the age of digital imaging. From the skyline divide of the painting, right and left of the canvas, which offers symmetric aesthetic, to the structural laying of each of the building, the artist has distilled beauty from this notorious part of Lagos.

And just in case you have been wondering what it means to hear From the Horses Mouth, Morolaran's interpretation of this old saying could just be as interesting as the British and Nigerian characters depicted through two horses who are ambushed by reporters.

A tribute such as the Dance of the Minds would be an incomplete one without the master, caught in action. This is what Lasaki's Creative Dialogue appeared to have done in the portraiture of his mentor, a capture of the master in the studio, seated though, but in some spiritual dialogue with his canvas.

As a multi talented artist of both visual and performance arts breed, it's on record that Barber, also informally trained in England, had a stint with the Ori Olokun factor, an art and cultural activist group that emerged at the former University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University.) He later found another home to express his immense talent at the University of Lagos (UNILAG.)

At UNILAG, he was employed as a technician in the early 1970s, working with the School of African and Asian Studies. He was involved in illustrations, posters and other graphic requirement materials for the school.

Whilst with the school he was so passionate about studio practice that he was said to have put on hold his resumption as a lecturer until a studio was put in place.

Meanwhile, he had taken in his first student, Adejimi, but commenced training in 1973. And undauntedly sticking to his idea of studio training, more students emerged, hence the birth of the Abayomi Barber School.
   His most recent major outing in an exhibition was the much-talked about show, Living Masters, a gathering artists whose selection for the epic show could not be faulted. Held at the Mydrim Gallery in 2006, other artists featured are printmaster, Bruce Onabakpeya; cubist, Yusuf Grillo; multi media gurus, Isiaka Osunde and David Dale; one of Africa's leading carvers, Bisi Fakeye; one of the top Osogbo artists, Muraina Oyelami; renowned sculptor, El-Anatsui; prolific painter, Kolade Oshinowo.


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