Friday, 1 December 2017

Onabanjo, Artist-Art Entrepreneur on the Rise

Lekan Onabanjo
As 2018 approaches, Lekan Onabanjo is one of the artists to watch out for in the new year. As an artist who has been active in both studio and promotion scenes in the past two decades, his activities this year  suggested he has more up his brush and palette strokes in the new year.
 Onabanjo, an artist, entrepreneur and promoter, has been the curator of a new initiative called The Content Art exhibition series. Organised by Mrs Modupe Ogunlesi-led Adam&Eve, GRA, Ikeja, Lagos, The Content, which debuted in May-June 2017 and  currently running its Harmattan Edition, was designed to open a new dawn for art appreciation on the mainland axis of Lagos State.
  From running a frame gallery business – in the past ten years – Onabanjo has  conceptualised
direct promotions such as workshops and art exhibitions. Among his off-studio activities was a workshop organised for his alma mater, The Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State in partnership with an NGO, in 2012. The partnership made a stride in bringing back watercolour in an art exhibition titled Visual Soliloquy, which featured works of Onabanjo and Sam Ovraiti. Onabanjo declared then: “There are still more to come in the area of promotion in the coming years.” He noted that the dearth of promotion was a burden for Nigerian visual artists “and we cannot wait for ever; promoters are too few." He argued that artists have to wake up and "do it ourselves.”
 Onabanjo recalled how in 1992, during an exhibition at Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Ikeja, he met the big names in the art appreciation circle. “I met Patrick Rafrery of British Airways. And I remember Miss Bruce showed my watercolour to Chief Mrs Oni-Okpako and she tagged me ‘a watercolour genius.”
 Onabanjo, has created visual identity with several periods. Among such are 'Ibadan' and 'alley' series. The 'Ibadan' period focused architectural rooftops of old settlement of Ibadan. The paintings were highly successful among patrons.
 Next was the 'alley' series, which is currently on the artist's palette.
  In December 2013, he showed
'Celebrationz', a solo exhibition at Sofitel Hotel,  Moorehouse, Ikoyi, Lagos. It was second show of the artist within one year. Previously, he had shown a new body of work titled 'Transitions' in which he had a mixed of the Alley series and other new forms The show was in partnership with one of his patrons, Tayo Ajimoko.   
  Onabanjo noted that for every period of his art, from the rustic rooftop to houses on stilts and now Alley series, appreciation of his work increases.  
 Ajimoko was not new to Onabanjo’s art; he had been following the artist’s periods for over a decade. He recalled the artist’s 'Makoko' and 'Ibadan' periods as memorable, noting that “the Alley is a departure from his past styles”. And the value of the Alley, Ajimoko argued transcends the Nigerian or Lagos streetscape. “The Alley series take me back to different places," Ajimoko explained. "I could relate it to paths in Lagos or places in the Middle East.” 
  Apart from the Alley, Onabanjo returned to architecture, but this time, of Gothic or Portuguese designs still standing in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Unlike the smooth painting brush movements seen in the rustic rooftops and cracked walls of 'Ibadan' period, the old house’ peeling paints and falling layers in the Abeokuta series are depicted by Onabanjo imploring impressionistic technique.  
 Interestingly, the 2012 solo show, Transitions, was  his most radical shift.
He moved away from decades-old identity. and made a-360 degree turn. It was abstract impressionism; a shift from core representational art, which he was known for in the last 15 years.  Shown at Homestores Gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos from November 24 to December 3, Transitions, according to Onabanjo was to prepare him beyond the known, for uncertainty. He said, “the risk taken was the real challenge that defines great artists.”  The paintings included 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 works. 
 He recalled how the “desire to go beyond the known and familiar to the uncertain and challenging,” had, in recent times pushed him further.
  Being grouped with old masters in the two editions of 'The Contents' highlighed Onabanjo's mastery of his palette. In less than one year, he had shown in the same exhibition series with master printmaker, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya and prolific painter, Kolade Oshinowo.
 Onabanjo has about 25 years of post-training studio practice experience. He has held several joint and solo exhibitions both in Nigeria and around the world.
  He is acclaimed for his mastery of the watercolour medium but is equally comfortable with oil and acrylic. His Artist Statement and bio say he has dealt, for a greater part of his career, on the exploration of the issues of the fringes of the Nigerian society in his works; as well as topical issues relating to rural-urban subject matters. The bio adds that Onabanjo is especially skilled in the use of light and reflections as dramatic elements in his compositions.
- Tajudeen Sowole.

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