Saturday 13 April 2013

At Grillo Pavilion, Buhari unearths the virtue of womanhood in Oshinowo’s strokes

By Tajudeen Sowole

Beyond aesthetics, the virtue of womanhood and by extension prospect to rescue the slipping family value in the society, are characteristics of painter, Kolade Oshinowo’s well-known portraiture themes, says the lecture session of the 2013 edition of Yusuf Grillo Pavilion Visual Art Fiesta.

In the lecture, The Master of Romantic Expressionism, delivered by Prof. Jerry Buhari of Department of Fine Arts, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, Kaduna State during the yearly gathering in Ikorodu, Lagos, Oshinowo’s aesthetic rendition and depiction of ladies got intellectual interrogation and scholastic treatment from the guest speaker. 
The celebrant, Kolade Oshinowo (siting, right), art patron. Mr Sammy Olagbaju; playwright, J.P. Clark; (standing) Chief Mrs Funmilayo Shyllon, Mrs Gbadamosi, Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya and Prince Yemisi Shyllon shortly after the lecture.
Oshinowo is the fifth artist in the series of yearly art fiesta organized by Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi-led pavilion. Established in honour of artist and renowned art teacher, Yusuf Grillo, in 2009, the pavilion had celebrated masters such as Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko and Uche Okeke in that order. And as the Pavilion appeared to have concluded the list of pioneer art students of ABU (then known as Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology), Oshinowo’s choice might have opened what could be described as a focus on another set of artists from the same school. 

Arguably, Oshinowo is a strong contender for Nigeria’s most prolific painter contest, should there be such a prize. Aside churning out paintings, almost endlessly, Oshinowo’s rendition of portraiture, which is neither of classicism nor impressionism, yet keeps the artist’s signature so strong for four decades must have informed Buhari’s choice of the theme for the 2013 Grillo Pavilion lecture.

However, Buhari, in his humility, did not arrogate to himself a sole authority on his subject. He disclosed to the large audience that the lecture, largely, consists of distillations from the interview Oshinowo granted him, as part of his research on the artist.

The guest speaker described Romanticism, in its subjective context,  as a process of art making that “seeks to make strong social commentary,” focusing issues of emotional texture “that are found in everyday life and give them personal interpretation”.      
After an overview of his thought on the subject, Buhari supported his assertion that Oshinowo is a Master of Romanticism Expressionism by noting that “Romanticism seeks to make strong social commentary” such as an artist’s independent interpretation of everyday life of a people. He described Oshinowo’s art as a mastery of uncommon romanticism. “Oshinowo demonstrates unusual mastery, by the way he combines aesthetic exploration with social commentary”. Buhari added that the artist has “structures” of paintings that “are carefully given organic rhythm through the manipulation of drawing, colour and composition”. Oshinowo, he stressed, fuses “the transcendental with tangible reality”. 

Dissecting an artist of Oshinowo’s status within the context of Romanticism or any other movement to boost academic study may require quite a volume, perhaps more intensive research. However, the artist’s rendition of female figures in an era infested by disturbing imagery via the social media appears like a challenge in sustaining the resilience of the artist’s style.

Oshinowo’s theme, particularly of women theme is very conservative; against the tide of today’s pop culture of indecent female body exposure, the effect of which is gaining some popularity among some visual artists. In fact, Oshinowo should consider himself fortunate that he already established his signature ahead of a generation that sees female figure as an inducement for sexuality.

If the classicists of post-Renaissance were merely inspired by imagination to render nudity on canvas and in sculptural images, a section of the current generation of artists appears to have every reason to populate contemporary space with indecent female figures. Reasons: the environment induces or inspires the artist, perhaps, interpreting academic theory that an artist is guided by what obtains within the artist’s environment.

For Oshinowo, perhaps his personal interpretation is on the opposite direction; against the tide as his ‘women’ promote virtues of womanhood. Buhari noted this much as he put male artists on the spot on how they interpret female figures. “In Oshinowo’s female figures, we read the glorification of the women. Her figure symbolizes elegance, beauty, motherhood, dignity, home maker, and more”
Founder of Yusuf Grillo Pavilion, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, speaking at the lecture.

Shortly after Buhari’s lecture, a visit to the Grillo Pavilion building where some of Oshinowo’s works were on display for the exhibition segment confirms the artist’s aesthetic commitment in promoting the virtue of womanhood. Such virtues exude in works such as At the Party, Togetherness, Aso Ebi II and Lady With Red Beads. The works, indeed, promote elegance, beauty within modesty frame lines. The works, more importantly offers an opportunity for those who missed the artist’s last solo show Silhouette at Nike Gallery, last year. Most of the portraiture pieces such as Aso Ebi II, Togertherness and others represent Oshinowo’s new period of highlighted painting on fabric, which he coined ‘recover and reuse (R and R) – waste fabrics from tailoring and textile shops used as part of the artist’s mixed media.

Earlier, Oshinowo told the audience “I am overwhelmed being celebrated today”. On his style of painting and freedom of expression imbibed from training, he noted that the pioneer artists of ABU art school otherwise known as the ‘Zaria Rebels’ “clear the roads for us, laid the foundation for us to just walk through”. He disclosed how he was compelled to excel “when I saw the works the pioneer  Zarians left behind in the school”.
 The patron and founder of Grillo Pavilion, Chief Gbadamosi, OFR gave an insight into his love for Oshinowo’s work. “I have in my collection of Oshinowo paintings of unforgettable landscapes. From village scenes to men and women toiling in the countryside, animals grazing in the fields to the quietude of hills and mountains all over Nigeria particularly the depiction of Zuma rock in the Abuja-Suleja axis of the heartland of modern Nigeria.
 “But ever so fascinating are the creation of mixed-media canvases engendered by oil paintings on rags carefully selected and turned into a celebration of beauty, colour and fine strokes of divine creativity.”

Gbadamosi noted that Oshinowo, lately, has “metamorphosed” his skill “into the embroidering of the female forms in attires crafted from rags glued together in motifs of beauty and exquisite tenderness.” He christened the artist’s new technique “a new wave of Oshinowoism”.

Currently a full time studio artist, Oshinowo had, earlier in his career thought art as a Grade II teacher at King’s College, Lagos, (1972-1974). And at Yaba College of Technology (Yabatech), Lagoa he had a blossomed academic sojourn. He was Assistant Lecturer (Painting), in 1974; Principal Lecturer (Painting), 1986; Head of Department, Fine Art, (1986); Chief Lecturer, (1991); Director of School of Art, Design and Printing; Deputy Rector, Yaba College of Technology.

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