By JOHN OTU
Art, as dynamic as it is
allows a wide field of
Explain descriptively the source of your inspiration?
My art takes its source from my environment; people who are less privileged, people under pressure and remarkable events, which are executed in oils watercolour, acrylics, Gouache and pencil.
What is the direction of your work?
With reference to my MFA Project, my attention was drawn to the butterflies. Most of the available paintings with butterflies are represented as they are seen in their natural habitat and at times with flowers, fruits, birds etc. however, I was influenced by the phenomenon of the appearance of the two different motifs on and beneath the wings. The phenomenon of the appearance connotes a safety device for the butterfly, which portends fundamental philosophical parallels in life.
I believe that in life, as on the wings butterfly, there are two sides to an issue or as the common cliche that states that ‘there two sides to acoin’. The wings of the butterfly therefore provides a fulcrum on which the profound philosophy behind my paintings, such as the difference between the rich and the poor, oppressed and oppressors, living and the dead. I am at the moment still working on more possibilities of this style.
What is your view on art in Nigeria?
Art in Africa has suffered due to the European influence. In the past, our fathers made their creations on the cave walls for the purpose, which could be seen in North Africa, such as Tassili. This influence by the Europeans has not left the Nigerian art out. The syndrome of’ Art for Art sake’ has eaten deep into most of our artists. Before the advent of the ‘white man’, the black man decorates his walls, make his simple woven clothes, masks for all forms of festivals and special occasions, which embraces both aesthetic and functional art forms. The ‘Oyinbo’ [white man] who did not know enough about our culture sold the idea of Art for Art sake, therefore separating functional art and aesthetics. This means that our own artistic African ness does not have as much meaning as it use to, as it compares to this contemporary times.
Art is life, a mirror of the society. It is time we Nigerians stopped creating art that tend towards esoteric art. ‘Let us stop creating pictures,’ as Professor Akolo says, or what Jacob Jari calls ‘bubblegum art’. Let us create art that has meaning to people’s artistically untrained minds. For instance, how do we make our politicians know that there are two sides that must benefit in every issue; you either win or lose. Let us (artists) save the situation with visual content of our works and the various philosophies of life. Much has been given to us, much is expected from us. To the collectors and viewers, do not just collect works or view them without asking questions. The inspiration behind each work of art is as important as the reason for which it was made.
This painting he titles butterfly tracking is borne out of the zigzag movement of the butterfly. It might decide to move straight but not for long. This also echoes the inconsistencies in life. The brush strokes suggest these inconsistent movements of the butterfly.
In this painting, he sees life as a wave that blows every one differently; both good and bad, though it might be temporary. His works, as philosophical as they are, leaves the view with food for thought as it concerns our relationships with each other in life and hour easy we should take life it self.
And to my (John Otu) works, but first, the production of the works in this style goes thus. I begin by painting the background of my work. In that, I leave it for about two days to dry. I then draw the ‘black broken lines’ on the painted surface. A very high level of draughtsmanship is expected in the production of these works, when a proportionate human figure is the subject matter. Two different aspects in life inspire these two works. The painting below was inspired by the poem titled’ An Abandoned Bundle’, written by Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali [in Wole Soyinka  ed. Poems of Black Africa p.146]
I read the poem that inspired the above painting with relish, every time I pick the anthological collection to savour my love for poetry, which I also write. The first line of the first stanza inspired my use of blue. This is to capture the use of the word ‘mist,’ in I the poem because the poet talked about the early hours of the morning. The red dots are , the paw prints of the dogs that made the discovery. It is a heart-rending situation of abandoned babies that keeps reoccurring in South Africa and Nigeria alike, but does not seem to have an end in sight. The baby is, in the painting, depicted to be lying in a gutter as against the poem’s baby, which was ‘dumped on a rubbish heap.’
The next painting is based on disagreements between couples of different ages, over different issues, such as decisions over the future of their children.
The various marital stalemates on the long or short run might lead to a separation or a divorce. Not to mention the attendant violence that typifies some of these situations. The attendant emotional setback on both the parents and the children is as imminent as the sun’s unfailing course. Children that come from broken homes are often used as weapons to taunt the female spouse, especially in Nigeria. At times they are prevented from visiting their mother for a very long time. This is simply because the man has custody of the children; but once they become adults, the tables turn against their father. To this end, it is pertinent to note that paintings are not as esoteric as people think they are and neither are they meaningless. They carry meanings that the untrained mind and eyes would normally find it difficult to understand.
On my views on art in Nigeria, I opine that the lion share of the problem that exists on the grounds of art appreciation lyes with the artists. The artists that were first trained passively talk about the problems of art appreciation without making any effort to make things better. This does not mean that they are at the major receiving end of this mounting problem. The Society of Nigerian Artists is still bragging about moves that will stop this and many of its other problems. Students’ graduate yearly from art schools in
Nigeria and the S.N.A. do not have a record of these; as it compares to the Architects professional body. The conduct that guides gallery running in the country leaves artists that patronise them in the claws of various tales of woe. As at now the S.N.A. does not have a gallery of her own, and is probably not planning to own one Vis a Vis the existence of these ‘shylock galleries’. The earlier the S.N.A. sets up a committee to get things going properly the better.
Chidinma Nwankwo, a graduate of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria is one of the few female Nigerian artists braving private practice in a profession dominated by men. She is at the moment undergoing a Post-Graduate degree programme at her alma- matter. Her inspiration, she says are drawn from nature itself. In her own words she says, ‘I believe nature has all that inspires an artist.’ All forms of social vices have been the theme from which artists have always drawn from; with the hope that there will be a change for the better, no matter how gradual. In the use of medium, she says she is more ‘comfortable’ with Acrylic. This painting medium does not smell like the Oil colour and it dries faster than the Oil colour. The direction of her work is currently the modification of landscape elements, such as trees and rocks, as well as the beauty around her.
The painting titled ‘Hope for the infertile’ is an artistic appraisal of the current achievement in Medicine, which avails infertile women the scientific vista to bear children through the Test-tube.
The work is done in stylised naturalism. The profile of the pregnant woman is painted in Lemon yellow to suggest the anxiety and the hope that the new discovery will work; for the first time user. The lower part of the painting shows the test-tube also painted in yellow, orange and blue, supper-imposed against the figure.
The one titled ‘Environmental hazard’ is an abstract painting that depicts the political situation we had just come out of; the military regime. Though the problems at the moment gradually abates.
The violence, turbulence of various kinds, lack and insufficiencies caused by poor water and electricity supply are depicted by the use of the zigzag and curvedly controlled use of co loured lines. The lines are meant to depict the stress people went through daily while the military government lasted and the ones that persist in the present regime. On her views on art in Nigeria, she says that, ‘Art in Nigeria has seriously undergone so much, negative and positive, and diverse experimentation and is getting better. She opined that people are becoming more aware of the Fine Arts, but that there is the need for people to cultivate an attitude of attending exhibitions. This she said will aid people to better understand and appreciation art. She further explained that art works in some developed countries have since being use as collaterals in most of their banks, among many other functions. Perhaps, the part this democracy has to play is to involve art works in many of her programmes. An annual nation wide travelling art exhibition which will also take art to people of various states that do not have art galleries.
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