BY TAJUDEEN SOWOLE
LEKAN Onabanjo, no doubts, has joined the growing list of artists, who have made a move away from decades-old identity. In fact, a visit to Onabanjo’s studio showed that his art has made a-360 degree turn, as he has now ventured into abstract impressionism from core representational art, which he was known for in the last 15 years.
While preparing for his next show titled, Transitions, holding at Homestores Gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos from November 24 to December 3, Onabanjo said his new work takes him beyond the known for uncertainty. However, Transitions also include retrospective of the artist’s watercolour.
Is venturing into the uncertainty not too much of a risk? The risk, he assured, “is the real challenge that defines great artists.”
|Onabanjo's The Cake and The Conscience.|
Onabanjo, who has established himself as one of the respected painters in the watercolour medium, is known for his lucid presentation of images of Ibadan rooftops and Lagos slums. He has, in recent times, extended his skill into what he described as Alley Series, bringing narrow ways of central Lagos and similar urban settings on canvas.
His new works such as Coffee Strains Series, an abstract rendition of urban landscape, Megapolis, a warning against irresponsible leadership, Red Books, The Cake and The Conscience are all sharp contrasts to his past.
Some of the works, still in progress during the studio visit included a mixed media of objects matted on paintings of semi-abstract tone.
He recalled how the “desire to go beyond the known and familiar to the uncertain and challenging,” had, in recent times pushed him further.
With a licence to create, an artist inherits additional responsibility of making his art relevant to the larger society. This responsibility, perhaps, informed Onabanjo’s metaphor of matchsticks, which dominate Transitions.
What exactly are the matchsticks content all about? “They signify fire.” Life, he argued, has a bit of fire to it either in the positive or negative context.
Most striking, among the works, for an Onabanjo piece is the core-abstract The Cake and The Conscience, a mixed media of oil and matchsticks. It’s a warning to “looters of our treasury.” The painter, a passionate agent of change argued, “Nigeria cannot continue going on like this, where our leaders are no longer serving us, but looting our resources.”
In Red Books, comes his prediction of ‘a silent revolution’. Aside from the thoughtful and topical issue Onabanjo raised in the work, the content is quite compositional; clearly showing that the artist has a lot to offer in his new medium of expression as much he had done in most of his representational periods over the past one decade.
ONABANJO’s last exhibition, a joint show with fellow watercolourist, Sam Ovraiti, titled Visual Soliloquy, held at Terra Kulture, Laos late last year. Organised to celebrate watercolour, Onabanjo used the show to formally present his Alley Series for the first time at a major show. And now moving into another period, so soon, perhaps reflects the fast changing face of the Nigerian art landscape where artists are springing surprises.
Part of the statement in the catalogue for Transitions said Onabanjo’s ‘adventurous spirit and his desire to express himself on all fronts has brought out the entrepreneur in him which has seen him set up Vertigo Frames, an enterprise providing framing services, events management, branding and art consultancy.’
In the last few months, his works have been part of two international shows abroad — a special section for Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) at Bonhams, London, U.K., sales tagged Africa Now 2012 as well as Olympic art show organised by Bank of Industry (BOI) during the last summer games, also in London.