Saturday 7 January 2012


Onabanjo… from studio to promotion
In art, studio skill is not enough, so suggests painter, Lekan Onabanjo’s hand-full of activities, particularly on promotion, in the last nine months.
  From running a frame gallery – in the past five years – he has conceptualised direct promotions such as workshop and art exhibition through out 2011.
  First, it was a workshop organised for his alma mater, the Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State in partnership with an NGO, Full Works Foundation.
One of Lekan Onabanjo's Alley series (2011)

 Last month, the partnership made a stride in bringing back watercolour in an art exhibition titled Visual Soliloquy, which featured works of Onabanjo and Sam Ovraiti.
 Onabanjo declares: “There are still more to come in the area of promotion in the coming years.” He notes that the dearth of promotion is a burden for Nigerian visual artists “and we cannot wait for ever; promoters are too few. We (artists) have to wake up and do it ourselves.”
  For the Auchi workshop, he explains that it’s so important to give back to the school, hence “the caliber of artists have been carefully selected based on their experience.”
  Ovraiti, Olu Ajayi, Onabanjo, Pita Ohiwerei, Emmanuel Ikaro and Juliet Ezenwa-Pearce, all alumni of the school were joined by Duke Asidere, who is a former lecturer.
   And as Fullworks Foundation, an initiative of a business man, Ade Ogunlesi, seemed to have found a strong partnership in Onabanjo and visual arts, it was time to bring back the good memory of watercolour, a medium that shot the artist to fame.
  He recalls the journey through the watercolour years: “I remember the constant harassment by Ovraiti that I should submit my watercolour sketches for appraisal.” He listed artists such as Zinno Orara, Emmanuel Isiuwe,  Ehi Obiyan, Olu Ajayi, Pita Ohiwerei, Alex Nwokolo  and Emmanuel Ikoro as “true Auchi school watercolourists while perusing my works in those days.”
  And the big break, perhaps, came when in 1992 in an exhibition at Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Ikeja he met the big names in the art appreciation circle. “I met Patrick Rafrery of British Airways. And I remember Miss Bruce showed my watercolour to Chief Mrs Oni-Okpako and she tagged me ‘a watercolour genius.”
 He therefore explains that Visual Soliloquy was not just about bringing back a memory of the medium, but an effort to keep the medium stronger in the art’s space. 
From Lekan Onabanjo's Alley series (2011)

   For a greater part of his career, Onabanjo had dwelled much on streetscape, exploring rooftops and dilapidated buildings of slums, mostly of Ibadan. But early this year, something new emerged in his work when he showed at a charity group show in memory of a patron, Sefunmi Osioke Oyiofe. His work on alley brought more ventilating use of space, contrary to compacting of images as seen in his past streetscape paintings. Also, his abstract expressivity seemed to have taken a leap into some classic rendition. 
   In Visual Soliloquy, Onabanjo stresses that shift in his art. And more pronounced in his alley period 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. 
Watercolourist Lekan Onabanjo

Onabanjo’s characteristic bouncing of scorching sunlight off the floors and reflecting such on other surrounding images, still finds prominence in his work.
  He hopes 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.”

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