Friday, 23 December 2011

ABAYOMI BARBER IS 80


Dance of the Minds, Marks on the Sand of Time celebrate Barber 
By Tajudeen Sowole
(Tuesday, October 28, 2008)   
IT was a double honour for one of the nation's living masters, Prof. Abayomi Barber, over the weekend as two art galleries rolled out drums to celebrate the icon.
 Barber who marks his 80th birthday is being honoured with two art exhibitions, Dance of the Minds and Marks on the Sand of Time at Mydrim Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos and Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.
  The artist's last major outing in an exhibition was the much-talked about show, Living Masters, a gathering of artists whose selection for the epic show could not be faulted. Held at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, but organised by Mydrim Gallery in 2006, other artists of Living Masters are print master, Bruce Onabakpeya; cubist, Yusuf Grillo, mixed media gurus, Isiaka Osunde and David Dale; one of Africa's leading carvers, Bisi Fakeye; a leading Osogbo artist, Muraina Oyelami; renowned sculptor and teacher, El-Anatsui;  prolific painter, Kolade Oshinowo.
Abayomi Barber
  For Mydrim which was the first to honour the master  on Thursday, October 23 through November 10, 2008, it was a gathering of the artists who trained under the celebrant's initiative of informal setting, the revered Abayomi Barber School. During opening of the exhibition, the artists, 14 in number, explained, through their works why Barber remains one of the most gifted artists in this part of the world. These artists, who, in their own rights, experienced men of the canvas are: Muri Adejimi, Olumuyiwa Spencer, Toyin Alade, Tayo Oguntoye, Busari Agbolade, Femi Atewolara, Kayode Lawal, Yemi Morolari, Olatunde Barber. Others include, Bunmi Lasaki, Adeladan Adesina, Otori Olusola, Kayode Fadipe, Mosunde Daramola, and Adebayo Akinwole.
  Few days before the opening of the Terra Kulture show on Saturday October 24, 2008, Barber, during the preview recalled that he was destined to be what he is today. He said that with the aid of the colonialists who infused art education as a must for all students, he discovered his talent.
 Highly respected for his exceptional details in landscape paintings, Barber however said sculpture was his first love until he later found passion in painting landscape.
    Barber used the occasion of the preview to explain that he never had formal training in art, either at home and during his stay in the U.K. He stressed that he is a self-taught artist.
"I never had any formal training in any art schools while in England. My scholarship in 1960 specifically stated that I should go to England and spend 18 months in a studio. The scholarship board of the Western Region then thought that it would not do any good to tamper with the spontaneity of my art. It was the belief then that the nation could not afford to have two Ben Enwonwus. According to them, formal art training reduced the talent of Enwonwu."
  Barber, however, retired as Associate Professor at University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka. 
  He explained that during his stay in England, which lasted for 10 years – instead of 18 months due to political crisis in Nigeria – he worked as studio assistants and artists at different times in several studios. Two of the studios, he said belonged to artists "Frederick Macinni and Prof. Oscar Nemon, a great sculptor."
During his remark at the opening of the Mydrim show, the director of the gallery, Simidele Ogunsanya noted that Barber has combined humility with creativity to be able to train so many artists, informally, at no cost to the artists.
Abayomi Barber (right) and veteran  highlife musician, Victor Olaiya during the exhibition to mark the former's birthday at Mydrim Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos in October 2008
  Started in 1973 as a training ground for young art enthusiasts now referred to as Abayomi Barber School in the nation's art parlance, most of the artists involved in this show of gratitude include the pioneer and other students.
 As a talented artist of both visual and performance arts, he later found another home to express his immense talent at UNILAG. Barber was employed as a technician in the early 1970s working with the School of African and Asian Studies, involved in illustrations, posters and other graphic requirement materials for the school.
 During his days in the school he was so passionate about studio practice that he was said to have put on hold his resumption as a lecturer until a studio was put in place.
 Meanwhile, he had taken in his first student, Adejimi, but commenced training in 1973. And sticking to his idea of studio training, more students emerged, hence the birth of the Abayomi Barber School.
 At 80, works by his students on display at the birthday celebration were vintage Abayomi Barber School; consistent realism of an elevated kind and intellectuality that excites the soul.
 For Adejinmi, a classic painter, his invisible brush movement would  stirs a viewer's sensibility. Whatever subjects this artist of immense talent depicts on canvas is always in motion, most often in flight such that it would have attracted those motion picture animators of the old Walt Disney days, and perhaps makes the digital animator of today green with envy. This much was noticed in such work as Metamorphosis.
 In the surreal, Resurrection, Atewolara's brush into the extraterrestrial realm confirms the celestial effect of the blend of aesthetic and intellectuality on canvas.
 Lawal's Eko, a streetscape of the chaotic section of Lagos Central Business District, Idumota argues a case for the role of painter in architectural design, even in the age of digital imaging. From the skyline divide of the painting, right and left of the canvas, which offers symmetric aesthetic to the structural laying of each of the building, the artist has distilled beauty from this notorious part of Lagos.
  Whatever it means to hear From the Horses Mouth, Morolaran's interpretation of this old saying is as interesting as the British and Nigerian characters depicted through two horses who are ambushed by reporters.
Sinmidele Ogunsanya (left), Abayomi Barber and wife
  A tribute such as the Dance of the Mind would be an incomplete one without the master caught in action. This is what Lasaki's Creative Dialogue appeared to have done in the portraiture of his mentor, a capture that has the master caught in the studio, seated though, but in some spiritual dialogue with his canvas.
  Bred on what the Barber-trained artists agreed is "realism ideology", the artists reflected on what this identity means to individual skills and styles just as they douse the anxiety that this commonality could have unfavourable public perception of their works.
 "As regards the public, experience has shown that our work is well accepted and can only get better. One of the major reasons why most of us hardly organise exhibition is because our works are collected regularly, even before they are out of the studios," Alade said. He also argued that the kind of training they had is as good as formal.
  Olatunde who is privileged to have the master as his blood father stated that in any given situation, "the school does not sell the art, but an artist's prowess sells his art." And that quality, he stresses, as emphasised on realism and thought by Barber "is not just an ideology, but a spiritual commitment."
Encomiums galore really for the master, but how would the artists sustain the Abayomi Barber School legacy?
A proposal to set up a school in the master's name, they said, is under way.

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