Saturday 27 September 2014

For Adejumo, creating art comes first, identity later

By Tajudeen Sowole
 When an artist is webbed in dual characters as Olusegun Adejumo is, the search for identity takes the backseat and best left for the future to decide. Adejumo's practice exudes that of a painter in the day and sculptor at night. 

Also, to many of his followers, he is a full-time studio artist. But he is a quiet and natural teacher who takes time off the practicality of the palette to engage in teaching through workshops and seminars. And when the occasion arises at gatherings or on social media, he argues fiercely in support of the kind of art he holds dearly.
Olusegun Adejumo, during one of his lectures.

As a painter, Adejumo has established his skills through many solo and group exhibitions spanning a period of 25 years post-training. He has leaned more towards portraiture themes, consistently using his palette to research women and their elegance of fashion as well as exploring the anatomy of the softer gender's sensuousness.

For his sculptural indulgence, little was known in two and a half decades until now as he prepares for a solo art exhibition holding in a few weeks. But the same cannot be said of his art resource part, which he says happens quite a lot. And having regularly engaged in the intellectuality of creating art, he appears grounded in the battle of superior argument, particularly on issues relating to art and its contempporaneity or otherwise of it.

On the academics or intellectuality of art appreciation, as well as appropriating art, Adejumo discloses that "unknown to many, I have spent more time lecturing, informally, on art as a quiet lecturer." Some of his activities in that context include History of Nigerian Art, given this year at Red Door Gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos courtesy of The Nigeria Stock Exchange; in 2013 Breakfast With The Creatives, also at Red Door Gallery; Sharing My Work Experience in 2012 at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile- Ife, Osun State; in 2011 at OAU Ife, Surviving As a Visual Artist in the 21st Century Nigeria; in 2008 Nigerians at Work at Africa Art Resource Centre (AARC), Lagos; and in 2007, Young Artist and His Market Place- Swimming Against the Tide at Art Zero, Lagos.

As if reading the mind of his guest during a chat, he asks: "who am I?" The rhetorical question comes after his response on the gradual, but long-awaited changing face of Lagos art scene. From the conservative and perhaps "repetitive" themes, artists who derive strength from the modernist tradition appear to be imputing, faintly though, quite some change of contents. Adejumo is a consistent and stable portraitist of the modernism rendition. Are the modernists succumbing to the pressure from advocates of contemporary contents? "Not necessarily," he cautions. Artists, he argues, are not expected to be static. "We have to move from one state to another, and still maintain your identity." He notes that contemporary art, as being proclaimed these days "is not fine art."

Indeed, contemporary practice has, over the recent decades, been expanding the scope of visual arts beyond the confinement of fine art, making the relativity of creative or conceptual contents more subjective. But Adejumo, a member, Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) insists that fine art embodies or defines visual arts more explicit. "You can find contemporary art inside fine art, but not the other way round." Art appreciation, he stresses, should be truly based on how the content appeals to the viewer, noting that most "contemporary art thrives on volumes of literature to get people's attention."

But can literary support be divorced from contextualising and appropriating art, particularly in the 21st century? "A work of art does not need literature to be appreciated." In fact, Adejumo submits that conceptual content such as "installation and performance should have fallen under something else, not art."       

Although he denies being under any influence of the contemporary tide, quite some changes are, of recent, emerging on his canvas - away from the traditional portraiture styles. For examples two of his works heading for auctions in Lagos and London exude some contents completely different from the Adejumo one knows too well. "It's part of the change every artist desires," he insists. And still on the change, his next solo art exhibition titled Emotion, he discloses, takes a step further into the making of portraitures. It's about sharing the feeling or chemistry that exists between a model and the artist; and the evolvement of a girl into womanhood. The themes of the show are spread across paintings, drawings and sculptures.
WOMEN as subjects on Adejumo’s canvas have been given quite a large space over the decades. In his last solo Ideal and Ideas, held at Nettatal Luxury, Port Harcourt, Rivers State three years ago, Adejumo delved into Niger Delta narrative. He also touched on ladies' subconscious arrogance of beauty, stressing his artistic passion for beautiful women of the south-south region. This much he expresses in works such as ‘Figure Narration’ — a semi nude painting; a social gathering depiction, Sitting Pretty and Gele, as well as a charcoal work, Wrap. He adds poetry, not "literature" to stress his admiration of the beauties from the region. “Beauty is an attitude for these women; you don’t need to tell a southern woman she is beautiful because she knows it already.”

However, that exhibition also had traces of contents sharply away from his usual style of brush romance with ladies portraiture. For example, the piece, Take Six, melts the dreaded image of the Niger Delta militancy into hip-hop culture in a six-figure rendition of young males.

The exhibition, basically, was in sympathy with the struggle of the Niger Delta people. Undoubtedly, a Lagos boy, but Adejumo had part of his youth in Port Harcourt. So, among the works that express the sympathy are two sides of abstraction such as Pages Static and Pages Rotation, he ages the canvas, as an attempt to express the pathetic side of the region.  While insisting that the people of the region are peace loving, Adejumo argues, “it’s not the image of the Niger Delta that’s battered, but that of the entire country.”

And that he had chosen Port Harcourt for the show stressed his attachment to the region. “I lived in Port Harcourt throughout my secondary school days. I know the people and have friends among them.”

Over the decades, quite a number of factors, he notes, had fractured the unity of the country. “As a student at Unity School, we didn’t know the tribes of your classmates because we were not conscious of such diversion.”

In sympathy with the struggle of the people, the artist defends one of the heroes. “Saro Wiwa was not about militancy, but environmental activism.”

Adejumo the sculptor is an escapist. Moulding or carving, he discloses, are refuges for him to ease out tension or stress. “After a stressful moment, I find comfort using my fingers to mould.” So over the years, he has done qite some sculptural pieces that he thinks are worth showcasing. Some of them goes into the Emotion show.

A rebellious teenager, Adejumo abandoned studying Architecture at University of Lagos for Fine Art at Yaba College of Technology (Yabatech), Lagos. Two years after, he emerged the Best Over All Student in Painting, 1984. Again, he attempted Architecture, but “turned back on my way to University of Jos, and returned to Lagos for my HND.”
  History would record Adejumo as one of the young Nigerian artists who were bold enough to see the prospect in full-time studio practice. He joined the unfurling new phase of Nigerian art in the early 1990s,

Adejumo was born on September 30, 1965 in Lagos. He served as Assistant Lecturer, Painting at the Lagos State Polytechnic and later worked as a visualizer and illustrator at Advertising Techniques Limited from 1991 to 1992. He co-ordinated The Young Masters Art Trust.

Some of his past shows include Make a wish- fundraising exhibition in support of breast and cervical cancer, Bloom Project, City Hall, Lagos; 2007 Expressions, Sandiland Arcade, VI Lagos; 2004 Lately, Truview Gallery, Lagos; 1998 On Request, American Embassy guest house, Lagos 1997 Recent Paintings, Chevron Estate, Lagos 1994 Recent Paintings in watercolour, Fenchurch Gallery, Lagos; and 1992 Diverse Siblings, Centre Culturel Francaise, Alliance Francais, Lagos.

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