Saturday 4 February 2012

From Soyinka to Grillo, Living Legends blossoms

By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published, Guardian of Tuesday, December 16, 2008)

WHEN the ongoing recording of the documentary, Living Legends took off with its first guest, Prof Wole Soyinka, about three months ago, the unique dimension of the project was obvious.
The next guest, Yusuf Grillo, surprisingly, was one of the supervisors of the first recording. Recently, at the Aina Onabolu Building where the event was being shot, 12 artists continued what may be the most comprehensive documentation of Nigeria's icons.
Coincidentally, the recording came the same month the master painter turned 74 years old.

Master, Yusuf Grillo (left) Prof Wole Soyinka and David Dale in front with the artists who participated in the Living Legends project, in Lagos.

Under the supervision of another creative luminary and architect, Prof. David Aradeon, four artists were involved: Olu Ajayi, Sam Ovraiti, Odun Orimolade, Tom Agose, Wallace Ejoh and Osazuwa Osagie were joined by new entrants, Kelechi Amadi-Obi, Ibe Ananaba, Kingsley Braimoh, Joshua Nmesirionye, Awoyemi Ajibade and Edward Samuel.

At the first shoot, the other artists who did works on Soyinka, under the supervision of Grillo and David Dale, were Edosa Ogiugo, Abiodun Olaku, Duke Asidere, Ben Osaghae, Segun Adejumo. At exactly 12:13 noon, the supervisor, Prof Aradeon stepped onto the rostrum to position Grillo before the artists' prey and their spread of easels. That done, the coordinator, Ajayi, warned his colleagues that the guest would not be on the seat as long as the artists would want, but for a limited time of about one hour.
Seated model is not strange to the artists either, but it was a different challenge when you had a master as the model and there were other artists working on the same subject, live, yet with limited time attached. A reminder of a classroom life drawing session, isn't it?

However, for some of the artists, the setting must be getting more familiar, having been part of the first shoot that had Soyinka as the sittee or guest. With enough space, the setting provided the artists to spread across the room, hence the frontal and the two side views of the guest. In fact, there was an opportunity for an almost 360 degree view in spite of the grey backdrop behind the model.
For the first session of the day, artists that started from the side angle include Agose, the closest to the rostrum whose view must have been aided by the lighting umbrella; Odun, though quite a distance, but was more on a faster lane with her brushing. On the left side, equally taking their perspective of the icon's side view, were Ovraiti and Braimoh.
On the frontal side were Ohiwerei, Osagie, Edward while Wallace, Kelechi Amadi-Obi and Ananaba were taking theirs in between the side and front views of the guest. For those without easels, like Omoige and Ajayi, they had the backside-view to contend with as their laps served the place of easels. 
Artists during the recording of the documentary.
At the end of the first session, the painters on the set were just half way through while nearly all the artists drawings were close to finishing. While the painters maintained their positions during the second session, those in drawings as well as the only sculptor were mobile, changing from one position to another. At the end of the day, however, the diverse styles produced justified the calibre of artists in the hall. 
From drawings of Omoighe, Ajayi, Ananaba, Ovraiti, Ohiwerei and Samuel, to the impressionistic renditions by Osagie, Ejoh and Nmesirionye, the commitment of the master sitting before these artists was justified. Also with the cubism-like rendition from Amadi-Obi, and near photo finish of Orimolade, the gathering seemed to have proven Ajayi's statement right that "selection of artists for the project is based on competence."
At the end of the second session, "It's a rejuvenating experience," Grillo declared after stepping down from the rostrum. He recalled how the first shoot reawakened his interest in studio work. "I knew it was going to send me straight back to the studio. I even borrowed some charcoals from Olaku, which I eventually used when I got home." He explained how he had wanted to do some works few weeks earlier and could not get charcoal in the stores. "So, I actually stole Olaku's charcoal the last time we were here," he confessed jokingly, and added "I hope I would return it, someday."  
For Grillo who taught most of the young masters, the life drawing experience was "nostalgic." About a week earlier, Grillo, had predicted that the future of the project would blossom beyond the imagination of everyone. He however noted that the important thing is to have a good take-off as seen so far. But Grillo disclosed that he never imagined the next guest would be one of the supervisors of the first. He had at the first shoot issued a warning: "Now that you have started from the top, I hope that you would maintain the tempo."
The producers must have taken that advice as the next guest after Grillo, according to Ajayi, will be the Oba of Benin, Omo N'oba Erediuwa II.

Still on nostalgic aspect of the project, the supervisor of the day, Aradeon also admitted that "since I retired from teaching, I have missed the studio environment so much. I would like to come here again." He advised that the project should be advanced for the living icons in art and performance arts of the country. Veteran photo artist, Okhai Ojeikere said his imagination of what to expect when invited fell in line with what he saw on the set.
However, Ajayi explained that all the works would still undergo jury and the best selected for the final documentation. The medium for the documentary include book, TV documentary and art exhibition in that order.
Prof Soyinka and sculptor, Patrick Agose, examining Soyinka's bust

Ajayi had stated, during the recording of the first icon of the project, Soyinka, that the whole idea is to have leading players in the evolution of Nigeria documented by artists in a standard and formal way. He explained: "In our time, we want to leave imprints for the future just like those who created monumental works such as Aristotle, Alexandria, the Benin heads, among other great individuals. 

"Modern age artists can use photographs to aid their impressions of great personalities, but it is not the same as having interaction with the subjects while painting or moulding them into art's impression in a life exercise."
The project, he added, is being planned for a launch in 2010 with an exhibition as part of Nigeria's 50th Independence Anniversary. 

Living Legends was said to have been originally designed as a TV reality show, but that concept was dropped because of the need to add a lasting value to what each selected icon stands for as well as the artists involved.

Noting that their counterparts in the literary genres have implored Theatre and books to document notable people in the society, Ajayi said Living Legends would include the input of art historians, who would research on each artist and the medium used for a particular personality.

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