|'Morning Glory' (oil on canvas, 122x138cm, dated 2021), by Wallace Ejoh.
AS impressionism takes a lift through the palette of Wallace Ejoh in Impressions De Novo, which opens today, Saturday, May, 21 and ending 30, 2022 at Signature Beyond Art Gallery, 107, Awolowo Road Ikoyi Lagos, the artist shared his journey of over 20 years. The exhibition, which is Ejoh's debut solo art effort exposes the mastery of impressionism in an artist whose strokes create dimensional illusion on canvas.
Ejoh, a member of Universal Studios of Art, at National Arts Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos spoke with his colleague, Mufu Onifade, ahead of the opening of the exhibition.
On Monday 16th of August, 2021, Mufu Onifade paid a scheduled visit to Wallace Ejoh’s new studio at Ikorodu, a Lagos suburb.
The world was gradually recovering from the bite of the Covid-19 pandemic, which had confined many people to their homes. The studio was relatively young in operation even though many works already littered the space. The visit eventually culminated in this no-holds-barred conversation between Ejoh and his August guest.
Let’s meet you.
My name is Ejoh; Wallace Davies Ejoh. My dad, known as Davies Ejoh, was born in Ghana. He passed on in 2005, although my mum is still alive and living in Ghana where she hails from. She was born in Labadi, Accra. My dad was from Okpe Local Government in today’s Delta State, Nigeria. My grandfather was living in Ghana, then known as Gold Coast. My dad got married to my mum in Ghana – just like a Nigerian marrying a Ghanaian. That was sometime in 1969 when the then Ghanaian Military Government insisted that foreigners be sent packing from Ghana. Nigerians were no exception.
So, we Nigerians were also compelled to leave for our country. My father, having married my mum, had the right to stay back in Ghana, but my grandfather who was also living in Ghana did not have such privilege. So, he decided to return to Nigeria, and took me along, away from my parents; and of to Lagos we went.
What were your parents into, in Ghana?
When my dad was in Ghana, he worked in a bank and also played Conga drum with a popular musical band (can’t remember the name now). My mum - Merley by name - was a full-time housewife. She hails from Accra, Ghana.
Your position in the family?
I am the first child of my mum and dad together. Before their marriage, my mum had a female child already. This was before she met my dad. There was no marriage between her and the man she had that female child for. My dad, too, already had a son from an Urhobo woman before he met my mum. There was also no marriage between him and the woman who mothered that child. So, I have two step siblings older than me, each from my both parents.
Why did you leave your parents to go with your grandpa?
My grandfather said he couldn’t return to Nigeria without me. We were two biological children –same father, same mother - in the hands of parents at the time. My grandfather took me and left my younger one, a female child. That was how I came to Lagos with my grandfather. But after some time, my mum could no longer cope with her son in absentia. I was almost 4 years old when she came to Nigeria. That was in the early 70’s.
Your mum had never been to Nigeria before then. How did she trace your location?
She got the information of our whereabouts and description to our house from her uncle. Tat uncle of her was a frequent face in Lagos. So, he knew where we lived. As at the time my mum came to Nigeria, my father was still in Ghana, but he joined us later. By the time he returned to Nigeria, we (my mum and I) were living at my paternal grandmother’s room. We all lived in that room, but as soon as my dad joined us, my grandmother lef the room for my dad and mum with my young brother she came with. We were now four in that single room – dad, mum, myself and my younger brother.
Let’s go into your educational background.
I was born in Accra in 1966 and returned to Nigeria in 1969. I started my elementary school in 1973 at the Christ the King Primary School, Olodi Apapa. After my primary education, my dad enrolled me at a private secondary school, Oria National Secondary Commercial Academy popularly known in Ajegunle as ONSCA. Before then, I had sat for an entrance exam into a college in Delta State. It was called Hussy College. I passed the exam and was now invited for an interview. Unfortunately, I didn’t do well at the interview. It was painful, but there was nothing anyone could do about it. That was why my dad enrolled me at ONSCA. I did my Form 1 and some unexpected happened: the new Civilian Government of Alhaji Lateef Jakande took over most schools in Lagos State, including our own ONSCA. I was now taken to the Government College II. There were two schools of the same name. One was School I while our own was School II. After the take-over, the name of the School I was retained while the School II was changed to Ojo High School. So, I attended Ojo High School and graduated in 1984. If I had proceeded immediately from secondary school to Yabatech, I wouldn’t have graduated in 2000.
What were the causes of your delay?
After I left secondary school, lack of finance posed a huge difficulty for my schooling. So, I had to engage myself in jobs that fetched me some money to take care of myself. At first, I used to sell second hand clothes, which I took to hotels to sell. I had someone who brought them for me from abroad.
Bend down select?
That’s what people called them, but mine was a bit different. I didn’t sell them in the market. I took them to hotels where I had my customers always waiting for me. It was good business with which I made my ends meet. At least, I didn’t have to beg anyone for money.
Was that the only business you did?
Not really. I later worked as a steward with some Lebanese guys whom my mum also worked for. She worked for them as a cook. I worked with some other Lebanese and Americans. Later, my mum introduced me to one particular Lebanese man. I was meant to work in his house, but the man took me to his office, which was a technical company called Shebli Engineering and Construction Company, located on Apapa-Oshodi Expressway. They later moved to Apapa proper and I went with them.
Were you into technical stuff before now?
Nooooo! (Laughs). I knew nothing about technical or mechanical work. I didn’t even have any knowledge of whatever work they carried out in the Company, whether technical or mechanical, but the man made me a spy – to discretely watch some workers. I would secretly keep an eye on them and report their activities back to my boss. With time, I no longer found the job dignifying. I saw it like demeaning myself. I also feared for my life. I then had to complain to my mum about it. She approached my boss to address the issue; and he promised nothing would happen to me.
Instead of continuing the task, I still went ahead to confront him personally, and register my distaste for the job. That was when he heeded my plea and made me Storekeeper. I was now both Storekeeper/Supervisor. I was there for many years. After that experience, I still went into many other things.
All along, what were your dad’s responsibilities?
When I was in form 5, boys of my age at that time were still living with their parents, but my dad got a room for me to live independently. I objected to it, but he forced me to accept it because he had already paid for the place in Ajegunle. I graduated from secondary school owning my own apartment. At this point, my dad stopped fending for me. I started doing odd jobs to fend for myself. In fact, I had a locally made Casino that I operated to make money for myself.
Yes, a locally made Casino. It was a popular sight in the ghetto. That ghetto’s location made it easier for us to produce it. I used Board and Boris to make it flow with smoothness. I worked in partnership with my cousin. So, we both operated the Casino and shared the proceeds. It was a mini money-making machine. We made money. Everything was going smoothly without any qualms until the police suddenly started raiding us. The wahala was too much. That was why I abandoned it and did nothing until my mum came to my rescue by getting me the job.
Why then did you leave the Construction Company?
Sadly, my boss died in 1988. His wife took over the Company with her brothers. I was retained as Supervisor, but I had to leave.
Why did you leave?
Well…I went into religion, which took a lot of my time. I joined the Harish Krishna religious sect. Earlier, I had started developing interest in Hinduism. Joining the Harish Krishna made me go deeper into the practice.
I started attending many seminars and symposia. I researched deeper, and soon joined the Astra Temple, which I started attending in 1992 until I finally gave up on everything and left in 1999. This means that I was actively involved even while I was also going to school. I lived fully inside the temple and was a vegetarian for that whole period. I spent a lot of my time in the religious practice. In fact, I was caught in-between art and transcendental religion, which is different from a church. Transcendental religion had to do with certain occultic practices.
How did you escape unhurt?
I found the truth. I became a Christian in 1997. To be candid, Christianity gave me peace of mind. I have since been at peace with myself. So, when I finally left the Yaba College of Technology in 2000, I was already a Christian. Although I must confess that I was still in the Temple when I entered. I converted fully in 1997.
Let’s focus more on the school. Tell us about it?
At Yabatech, I did part-time, which took my time. Although there was the June 12 1993 crisis and so on. So, instead of 3 years for my Ordinary National Diploma, I spent 5. I entered Yabatech in 1993 for my OND programme and finished in 1998. My Industrial Training programme was observed in 1997. I did my HND between 1998 and 2000 and majored in Painting.
What was your OND project?
For my OND project, I did a painting…I think it was a landscape. I can’t recollect fully now.
For my HND project, I produced a large pastel work on a 6f x 3f Masonite Board. I painted polo players. For me to do that, I had to visit the Polo Club at Ikoyi for further research. It was a beautiful work. I framed it later.
What about Industrial Training?
I did my OND Industrial Training at the Universal Studios. I later did my internship directly under Mr. Abiodun Olaku. Although I can’t forget Mr. Alex Nwokolo who was also there to train and guide me. That’s why when you look at my work, my classical approach is inspired by Olaku, but my expressionistic approach derives from Nwokolo. They both greatly influenced my artistic direction, and I remain eternally grateful to them.
What are your other experiences as an artist?
Despite my dedication to studio practice, the most significant thing I have done beyond painting is teaching. I started teaching art students in 2002. The first student that came to me then was Solomon Omogboye, now based in South Africa. Since that time till now, I keep accepting students for internship. I have trained more than 100 students. At the Universal Studios where I was an Instructor, they often get students as many as 80 (from various higher institutions of learning) at a go. So, I must have trained not less than 100 students.
Let’s talk about your exhibitions?
Generally, the first exhibition I took part in was our school exhibition at Yabatech. At a professional level, my first exhibition (after school) was a group show held in 2005. It was titled ‘Colours, Moods and Feelings.’ The show featured four artists: Titus Agbara, Sam Ajobiewe, Moses Obhagbon and my humble self. The last group show was titled ‘Essence,’ held at Alexis Gallery, Victoria Island, in 2021; and that show featured 9 artists: Bimbo Adenugba, Osagie Aimufa, Akinola Ebenezer, George Edozie, Gerald Chukwumah, Joshua Nmessirionye, Kunle Adegborioye, Segun Ayesan, and Wallace Ejoh. Between 2005 and now, I have taken part in many exhibitions; I can’t recall how many in all. Meanwhile, all the shows I participated in, also include the ones organized by the Universal Studios of Art.
Are there other aspects of your practice you find interesting?
As at 2017, I have been involved in teaching expatriates. In fact, I started teaching them in 2012. However, many of my expatriate students stopped coming to the studio due to the pandemic wahala.
Any international exposure?
Sometime in 2016, about 4 years before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, some of my expatriate students got us involved in an art exchange programmes, which was held in Holland. The group paid for everything including return ticket and accommodation. The project was titled ‘Mutual Art Inspiration’ and involved two Nigerian artists – myself and Joshua Nmesirionye – and some artists from Holland. It was a beautiful experience! Joshua and I were taken to Holland where they hosted us for 2 weeks. All the works we produced in Nigeria for the purpose of the project were exhibited in Holland.
The high point of the experience is that my teaching of art continued in Holland as I was able to teach some interested candidates while on ground in Holland. I taught them my technique while I also leant from them. A beautiful experience, I must say! In addition to the exchange and the experience, I also now have many friends in Holland whom I have stayed in touch with ever since.
Your studio movements?
I had been in the Universal Studios since 1992. I left in 2019. I went to Apapa where I had my own studio that was …myself and a lady called Chief Mrs. Josephine Oboh-McLeod… we started together. She is the owner of the building that housed the studio and granted me space to produce my works. While I was at Universal Studios, the Apapa space had always been there. I only moved in fully after I left the Universal Studios in 2019. I started operating fully, again producing my works and training some students from some Nigerian higher institutions of learning. I left Apapa in July of 2021 because the need to leave became too imperative and I was under intense pressure to do so.
(Mufu Onifade is an Artist, Writer. Published in the catalogue of the exhibition, under the heading 'From 'Ben’ Down Select' to Art Practice').
'Liberation Of The Soul'
"It’s said that everything has Its own time and season. It is year 2022, exactly twenty years after my graduation from art school. Someone may want to know why it took so long to have a solo show. Just as it has been said, there is an appointed time for everything.
"After graduation from Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, I have been involved in teaching fine art and mentoring students from various art schools in the federation. Which I did for free. This has been my passion apart from painting and drawing.
"It gives me joy and a sense of fulfilment when I see my students become successful artists in the industry. This is because I so much believe that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.
"I do not regret anything. In fact, I am elated to be part of the success story of many of my students out there.
"Today I want to say that, if I must be remembered, may I be remembered as the master artist who mentored others to become master artists.
"This exhibition is titled ‘impressions de Novo ‘it means ‘Impressions Anew ‘. Here ,one can see that there has been a shift in my colour pallet.
"There is a saying that ‘when the inner spirit has liberation,inspiration is born ‘ Moving my studio, the simple plan studio, from Apapa commercial area to Ikorodu Town, afforded me an atmosphere of serenity and peace of mind, this I believe one would notice in these new body of works.
"The Signature move in my paintings is not my colours but, rather my dynamic brush work. Presently, I am working with the Zorn pallet. It is the combination of limited colours which I have come to cherish and to promote."