Saturday 10 December 2011


Visual Soliloquy… a rescue mission for watercolour

 By Tajudeen Sowole

Watercolour works may have been grossly missing in the Nigerian art space, but two of the foremost watercolourists, Sam Ovraiti and Lekan Onabanjo attempt to return its golden days.
Streetscape of Lekan Onabanjo

The derelict state of watercolour, in the past decade or so, has a link to what most artists have described as its non-flexibility on paper.    

  However, the joint effort of the two artists titled Visual Soliloquy, an exhibition of about 70 works, which opens tomorrow, and ends on Thursday at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, brings a fresh breath into the Lagos art scene.

  Except in the works of Ovraiti, Ini Brown, Tayo Adenaike, Onabanjo and a few others, watercolour is rarely favoured by many artists, even in its so-called ‘golden days’ of the l980s, 1990s through the early years of the last decade. And as prolific as Brown, Ovraiti and Onabanjo were with this medium to complement the efforts of the early masters such as Aina Onabolu, Obiora Udechukwu, Uche Okeke and others, artists’ adventure into alternative medium and mixed media – to meet up with the changing dynamics of art and tastes of collectors – appeared to have pushed watercolour out of favour. In fact, this had also led most of the artists known for watercolour to abandon the technique.

  In 2007, an attempt was made to bring back waterclour, when Ovraiti and Onabanjo joined others to form the Watercolour Society of Nigeria. But since its debut show at Terra Kulture four years ago, nothing has been heard of the group.
Abstraction by Sam Ovraiti

  Although Ovraiti and Onabanjo have been more active in oil on canvas, to the detriment of watercolour, they have, however, retained their identity in content. This makes the duo well positioned to blend the past with the present, so suggest the works in Visual Soliloquy. And if there are challenges of acceptability ahead, it is nothing to worry about, the artists argued during a preview of the show.

 WHEN the show opens tomorrow, this expressed confidence of the artists would manifest in the streetscape renditions of Onabanjo and the abstract and representational works of Ovraiti.

  For Onabanjo, it’s a shift from the series on Ibadan  rustic rooftop, which his watercolour work was known for in the past. And more pronounced in this new theme and identity is impressionism, which blurs out his well-known skill in cracking walls and rustic rooftops. He however makes up for that in rhythmic flow of the colours. Onabanjo’s characteristic bouncing of scorching sunlight off the floors and reflecting such on other surrounding images, still finds prominence in his work.
Sam Ovraiti's return to figural

 He hoped that his shift from rooftop to alley, particularly of images that look very much like the narrow streets in Central Lagos (Isale Eko), “will be retained for long as part of my new identity.”

  For Ovraiti, the abstraction in his work “is about spirituality, which my work has attained.” He recalled that when he was in Auchi, its landscape and in Lagos, streetscape. “But these days I hear and see more disasters such as arson, bombing, kidnapping; so some of my works reflect these new changes in our environment.”

  One of such works, Usual Occurrence series – still vintage Ovraiti whose brushings bring the stubborn watercolour under control – but the abstract content takes more of the attention. In fact, he disclosed that one of the works “is a tribute to my cousin who died in the U.N building bombing in Abuja.”

  In reminiscence, his passion for landscape, particularly from the Niger Delta, still hovers around this show. From this set of works, Ovraiti’s touch further proves that despite the difficulty in controlling watercolour on paper, it is still possible to achieve a naturalistic depiction, particularly for a landscape.

  THE current show, hinted Ovraiti, is made possible, by the long “working relationship between Lekan and I since 1989, and made stronger in the partnership with our sponsor, Fullworks Foundation.”

  Onabanjo agreed that watercolour is fading out of the art space in Nigeria, hence the significance of this show “to bring back the golden days of watercolour.”

  And as the two artists make flexibility of watercolour a matter of significance, meeting the high demand for large size works remains a challenge. One of the reasons watercolour dropped in demand, observers have said, is the non-availability of large size papers.

 Ovraiti agreed that artists surrendered to collectors’ passion for larger canvas, which is not available in watercolour paper.

 And when he reminisced on his early days of  watercolour through the journey into the mainstream art market of the 1980s, the good old days of the medium reverberates; “I remember the national painting competition organised by Mobil Producing Nigeria. It was in the year 1983, where one of the resource persons in art appraisal, Adejumo Ademola, said: ‘This work I see, if adjudged by seasoned artist, though it is watercolour, will be one of the winning entries.’
Lekan Onabanjo's Alley Series

  And truly, that prophesy came to pass. Overaiti recalled that “when I read the newspapers and the headline says ‘Poly student shines in painting competition… Only watercolour piece wins Mobil Prize,’ it was a good beginning for me as a young artist.” He enthused, “the awareness, the conviction, the reward, escalated my passion for watercolour.”

 THIS exhibition is the second venture between the artists and Fullworks Foundation this year. Early in the year, there was a workshop held at Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State, which featured Ovraiti, Onabanjo and other alumni of Auchi Polytechnic including Pita Ohiwerei, Emmanuel Ikaro, Juliet Ezenwa-Pearce, and Duke Asidere, a former lecturer at the school.

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