Friday 9 December 2011


For Abass… it's Man and Machine


From the science of creating art through machine, Kelani Abass takes a painterly journey into the relationship between an artist and his tool of mass reproduction.

 This creative journey in the career of young Abass has a connection to his early exposure to the printing press, as a kid.  

 Still in contact with the printing industry, almost on a daily basis, his thoughts form the body of work for his second solo show titled, Man and Machine, held at Omenka Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos.

  Having established figural and representational identity, particularly in pastel, the theme of this show, one expected should avail Abass a chance to affirm this form. 
   However, the artist makes an almost 360 degree turn as most of the works, particularly the machine-related ones, float in a different realm.

  For example in Man and Machine (Synergy), a triptych of newsprint, acrylic, charcoal on canvas, the human content is obscured in sprockets and wheels-dominated composition.

 Tussle by Abass (2010), diptych, newsprint and acrylic on canvas.

  Kelani explains that the theme is derived “from experiences in my father’s printing press where I worked for years as a machine operator before gaining admission to study art, formally in 2002.”

  Other works such as Man and Machine Timepast II, Man and Machine Peace, Man and Machine Timepast III, Man and Machine Time, Man and Machine II, depict modern printing press, but in toning, each of these convergence takes the viewer to the history of ancient reproduction of art. 

  He notes, “it is fascinating to observe the way machines operate as different parts to achieve a common goal.”

  Perhaps, most conceptual of these works is Man and Machine (Synergy I)  in which skeletal impressions of human legs and hands opaque with the printing machines takes Abass’ art into semi-abstraction. 
Baba Ijebu by Abbas (2011), newsprint, modeling paste, acrylic and oil on canvas, 91.5x122cm

  With Man and Machine, Kelani has redefined his art, subtly venturing into abstraction, yet making representation an integral part of his rendition. 

  He argues that his past works though reflect the socio-political and economic realities of Nigeria, is about “creating a platform for my new work, which evolves more metaphorically in nature.”

  And that the machine – wheels and sprockets – work in a synergy for mass production is “metaphoric for me,” he says, arguing that, “this illustratively reflects the basic need for individuals to work together as one, with combinative and compensative efforts, to achieve their objectives. We need one another to survive as a team; to make our dreams, visions, goals and aspirations, as a common people, come true.”

   An artist whose strength, among others, is in dissolving and fusing images, sometimes in surreal- form, the skill Abass employs in the work that won him the first prize  at the Lagos Black Heritage Festival Painting Competition’s Lagos, City of A Thousand Masks, hovers over Man and Machine. This, he exudes in such works as Illusion IV and Man and Machine II.

  This show also brought Abass out of the pastel image onto the canvas proper as an artist, whose fluidity in painting is not confined within a particularly medium.

  He had displayed a striking skill in his debut solo show, Paradigm Shift, held at Mydrim Gallery, Ikoyi, in 2009, as well as several of the yearly pastel group shows at the same gallery. Largely his work in pastel blends ancestral and contemporary subjects.

  At Yaba College of Technology, Abass won the Yusuff Grillo Award for the Best Painting Student and Best Overall Performance in the School of Art, Design and Painting.

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