Sunday 3 May 2015

Sniffing through the masterly statuses of Isichei, Osahenye

By Tajudeen Sowole

As a two-artists’ exhibition titled ‘Recent Works of Rom Isichei and Kainebi Osahenye’ comes to a close on April 30, 2015 at Temple Muse, Victoria Island, Lagos, art historians of all shades must have taken some notes during the past one month. The two artists recently did Masters programme at two of Europe's elite schools, Goldsmith’s College and Chelsea College of Art & Design in the U.K.
 Deification (iv) by Rom Isichei
Given the level of intellect associated with creative visual expressions in quite a number of countries - Nigeria inclusive - not a few followers and observers of Isichei and Osahenye’s works will be curious to see a change in the artists' post-Masters degree status. Indeed, any studio artist worth his palette keeps improving on his themes, styles or technique and forms irrespective of self-taught and academic advancement. But the ongoing exhibition of works by the two artists curated by Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago, with the supported of Temple Muse and Ruinart has no reason to escape the keen interest of observers looking out for that 'Goldsmith and Chelsea quality.'

Perhaps, the curator fueled such expectation by showing the two artists from top-rated art schools. "Both artists are graduates of Yaba College of Technology, Lagos and recently completed their Masters in Fine Arts in the U. K; Osahenye graduating from Goldsmith’s College while Isichei graduated from Chelsea College of Art & Design," Mbanefo-Obiago reminds viewers in her cuatorial statement.

For those who were curious to see a post-masters' degree status of Osahenye, the artist's solo outing titled Shifting Currents, held in November last year at National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, had so much to reveal. About four months after, at Temple Muse, the artist is simply showing similar works or continues his monochromatic styles expressed in photography technique of cut-out eyes collages. But at Temple Muse, the tones in some of the works shift from monochrome to subtle applications of the primary colours. For example, one of the works titled Watchers comes with a little bit of yellow, red and green shades while the red appears dominant.

Also, I That I Know keeps the artist's monochromatic identity alive, except for modulation with embossed layers of the cut-out eyes technique. Perhaps reminding followers of his art that the traditional canvas has not been dumped for more contemporary expression, Osahenye shows few paintings.

While doing his masters at Chelsea, Isichei sent a work for one of the Arhouse auctions in Lagos, which gave insight into the direction his style might be heading in the future. It’s a photography-like kind of piece that clearly showed a departure from his traditional painting on canvas. But at Temple Muse, the paintings on canvas take the space, though with a slight shift in style and form.

Such are the Deification series, portrait styles, but with quite conceptual and more thematic energy. However, some of his works at the show are the Isichei that plays around highly textured canvas. The Temple Muse show is Isichei's first exhibition after his masters at Chelsea.

As much as practical studio works are essential in a Masters programme, there are indications that most schools’ emphasises strong intellectual appropriation of themes.

On the curatorial level, the well-known large scales of the artists' works would suggest that Temple Muse is not exactly the appropriate space. But the efforts of the curator changes all that. And creating space for as much as 35 pieces that breathe conveniently, with the design clothing, accessories and fragrance at Temple Muse makes for quite a creative blend.

 "Isichei’s 15 works are mostly figurative in composition, focusing on society’s self-obsession and excess consumerism while searching for ideal beauty," the curator notes. "His large works are sometimes heavily textured, sculptural mixed media paintings in which he uses glue, sawdust, acrylic paste, even kitchen towels to build up tactile surfaces." 
On Osahenye's works, she says: "Osahenye also presents works from his Isolation series in which he paints human figures curled into themselves, suspended and almost floating across planes of color – a totally different vibe from his pulsating,  multi-layered busy, repetitive collages."
                             Eyes that know by Kainebi Osahenye

Osahenye’s artist statement reads in parts: My work addresses issues that relate to the environment, consumerism, spirituality and social-political realities. Utilizing the everyday ordinary materials - aluminium cans, plastic, plywood, fabric, nails, chicken wire and recently, photographic cut outs, - I create installations, sculptures and paintings that express concern about the human condition. The processes of making include burning, cutting, stapling, pouring, washing, stringing, spraying, glueing, etc, involving sometimes, intense labour.

The accumulation of the objects that I work with and the repetitive mode that I subject them to, demonstrate my interest in crowded formations. This reflects the tension and survival instinct of life in the metropolis (with particular interest to Lagos), in all of their complexity and chaos.  The objects’ encounter with varying shades of colour or even monochrome representation could appear as an act of elevation. The psychological effect of colour and the path by which colour reaches the soul is heightened. For me, colour has the potential to camouflage sadness and morbidity, and to raise hope in someone.”
Isichei’s bio reads in parts: Born in Asaba, Delta State and currently lives and works in Lagos. He earned an HND in Fine Arts from Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, Nigeria, a Post-graduate Diploma and an MFA from Chelsea College of Art and Design, (UAL) London. He has exhibited widely- both locally and international. His works are featured in diverse publications and included in numerous public and private collections. Rom is listed in “Who’s Who” in Contemporary Nigerian Art, Smithsonian Museum of African Art Library, Washington DC.

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