Sunday 4 October 2015

For Isichei, Someday Is No Longer In The Future

By Tajudeen Sowole
 As much as digital race appears like a victory over information restrictions, artist Rom Isichei's visual prediction tracks how flood of technologies is forming a sea of addiction in which consumers of info-tech devices swim, sub-consciously. Also straying into Isichei's rampaging palette strokes is crisis of identity energised by ladies' search for the elusive perfect beauty.

  weChat as weDine, a collage painting by Rom isichei
Expressed in a mix of traditional or conventional painting rendition and contemporary medium, the body of work, which also exposes the artist's refreshed energy in appropriating themes, is currently showing as Someday Is Today, till October 16, 2015 at National Museum, Onikan, Lagos. 

As far as walls in Lagos art outlets would recollect, Isichei's elaborate consumption of space always takes no prisoners. Being the artist’s first solo art exhibition since a his MA Fine Art programme at Chelsea College of Art and Design, London, U.K, two years ago, quite a lot of his followers can't wait to see the artist's new texture of canvas. In April, he had a two-artists show Recent Works of Rom Isichei and Kainebi Osahenye at Temple Muse, Victoria Island, Lagos. An insight into what his post-Chelsea experience would bring was seen in one of the works, Deification iv on display at Temple Muse. 

Ahead of the exhibition, his only guest of this mid-day asks: The central theme Someday Is Today sounds anti-procrastination, isn't it? After about three minutes walk from his residence to the studio, the answer to the question sprouts on the walls in paintings and metal collages, drawings and installations that call attention to what has become people's addiction to handsets and other digital gadgets. 

“Digital technology – as subsumed in the mass media is one of many compelling evidences of our conquest over subjugation and dictatorship,” Isichei states. But he also warns of eroding “reality” in the new face of ‘conquest.’ 
 Mounted on the walls of the ground and top floors of the studio, waiting to be moved for the exhibition space, the works radiate a new period in the career of Isichei. If a gallery space, expectedly enhances display of works - given an added curatorial contents - then a visit to Isichei's studio inside the quietness of Ilupeju, on the mainland axis of Lagos, pre-empts what to expect when the works are moved to National Museum gallery.
The concept of the exhibition, Isichei tells his guest, draws from the famous assertion of pop art legend, Andy Warhol that "in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." In whatever relativity context one looks at the "future", digital age has clearly fastened the prediction of the American artist and other thinkers of similar thoughts. This much, Isichei captures in works such as The Geek and the Technophobe, Youth Code, weChat as weDine and Someday is Today, Lets Save the Night, among others.

Never has technology been so embraced across generations as the handset phone phenomenon is inflicting addiction on the human race currently, a trend that has been ongoing in the past one and half decades or more. Isichei captures people's constant clinging onto digital hand gadgets at non-formal and public places, even into privacy of homes at dinning table. And when it comes to aiding educational knowledge, over-application or abuse of digital technology threatens natural creativity, so Isichei argues.
A metal collage The Greek and the Technophobe, which the artist expresses in flattened soft cans on board recalls the early periods of info tech when a section of conservative people clung passionately onto the analogue ways; refused to accept the new age info tech. But the speed of the irresistible digital, as highlighted in the metal collage explains the reality of a new communication age.
 If you were in love with the artist's high textured impasto of which his work gained prominence among collectors, over the years, the new look of Isichei's canvas might generate curious interest as it seems to add a fresh painting technique to his oeuvre. In a sharp contrast from the familiar thickened canvas of the artist come paintings such as Youth Code, Put on A Happy Face, weChat as weDine, and Sunshine State of Mind among others. These works bring collages in coalescence with print cuttings to enhance bold application of colours. In fact, Isichei's technique of matting textile on canvas exhales a fresh breath, keeping distance from the similarities among many Nigerian artists’ trend of fabric on canvas. In fact, Isichei’s the blend of fabric with colours is as natural as coming directly from paint tubes onto the palette. A rich example of such work is Youth Code, painting of eight young adults, nearly each clinging to a digital device, a the artist’s painting tool on the wears of select figures enriches the natural extension of the toning.
One of the ‘Mutations and the Gilded Apostle’ panels by Isichei

Stressing the handset addiction as well as new look of Isichei's collage painting are weChart as weDine, a family at the dining; the title piece, Someday is Today, Let's Save Tonight, a couple in selfie; Put on Happy Face, ladies in facial checks and As Seen in ‘Vogue’ some fashionistas show-off.
 In appropriating the 'Now' context of the theme, Isichei also affords today's art lovers the benefit of what could have been the future of his canvas should any critic chose to see through a crystal ball. In fact, the gap in intensity of creativity between his impasto textured canvas of few years ago and the collage technique currently being used, could accommodate two periods in progression.  Indeed, time and life are too short - running on a fast lane - such that it could be shortsighted to wait for someday, so suggests the new texture of the artist's technique.
However, in a metal collage, The Past Is Still Present, he challenges the claim or perception that technologies in progressions - pre-digital and digital - have advanced the world in the real sense. "Despite the technological achievement we claim to have recorded in the worl, decay is still everywhere in our social and economic” spaces, Isichei argues. He stresses this much in a metal collage of rustic corrugated metal sheet and painting.  "The decay in the society is represented by the old metal sheet." 

 Given the increasing level of frantic search for perfection in ladies look, particularly among black and colour women, a set of portraits titled Mutations and the Gilded Apostle, speak volume about how not to lose natural identity. In 18 panels with each having a face in sculptured mask on a painting, the set of portraits panels expose ladies' identity crisis in the beauty parlance. The artist notes that averagely, most "ladies have a different look of make up for almost everyday of the week." Natural looks, he argues, " disappears" in ladies' efforts to keep searching for perfection of the facial beauty.  From Brazilian to Indian synthetic hairs, being regularly applied by increasing population of African ladies who patronize  the products, for example, a sense of self-esteem is being eroded.
 From a total of 30 pieces for the exhibition, paper works in drawings which take quite a chunk are not exactly far from the painting and metal collages in concept. But two installations, I Have Nothing To Declare, But My ARTitude and I Am My Choices are too distinct from the entire exhibits such that they (the installations) appear like some alien intrusions into the display of works. The installations, which appear more like drawings gain much of its incendiary contents adapting images of symbolic expressions to make some salient statements. In black and white, the installations would make great design piece for prints in textile.

 In 2011, Iisichei had his last solo art exhibition, Quiet Spaces at Nike Art Gallery, Lekki, Lagos, a show that used women as a fulcrum in articulating the misplaced priority of the society. Some of his previous solo exhibitions include Traces of Being (2009), at Terra Kulture, Lagos; in
2007, Chronicles, National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, and
Eyes of the Beholder (2005), Goethe Institut, Lagos.

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