By Tajudeen Sowole
In spite of being mired in the increasing state of socio-economic decline, the Nigerian people’s resilience gets a boost in visual expression of artist, Jonathan Mavua Lessor
Lessor, a painter shares his experience in a solo art exhibition titled Amidst the Mire, which opens tomorrow and showing for one week at Alexis Galleries, Victoria Island, Lagos. With about 40 pieces of paintings, mixed media, Lessor opens the inner part of what he describes as the unfriendly circumstances that led to the making of the works.
Oil on Canvas painting Crown, by Jonathan Mavua Lessor.
Coming from the euphoria of a peacefully conducted general elections of 201, Nigerian electorates got the first gift of the democratic dividends in January 2012 - perhaps a reward for participatory democracy - in fuel pump hike. From the fuel subsidy-scam protests till now, quite some revelations in monumental and unresolved mismanagement of resources by the federal government have led the people highly depressed without respite in sight. For Lessor, the last two to three years, ironically, have spurred him into strong creative realm. "From the fuel subsidy crisis of 2012, to Boko Haram, political issues, Ebola etc, so much depressions have been around us," the artist recalls. But not everyone has surrendered their survival to the flood of crisis rocking Nigeria. Lessor is one of such brave-hearts who would not bow to the whims and caprices of unprepared politicians who were unprepared for leadership. "And in the midst of these we still have to work; I have been loking at the crisis rocking Nigeria from the positive attitude perspective, and learning that despite the problems we must move on."
One of the gains of not surrendering creativity to economic recession and poor leadership was the prospect in rediscovering and consolidating. Lessor, during the past three years has strengthened his mixed media technique. "In this show, I am focusing on new materials; using fabrics." The artist who has been a consistent impressionist in his over two decades studio career brings into Amidst the Mire works that may redefine his art in the future. Two of such works include Crown, a celebration of woman and the female hair as well as Cans of Life. The hair of a woman, which most African cultures regard as her "glory" comes into the capture of Lessor's palette as the artist's painting technique blurs the line between impressionism and mosaic. As much as the theme of Crown is African base, the rendition appears like a betrayal as Lessor's woman wears a loose and almost waistline length hair. Quite regal, from the profile angle view, but the African native hairstyle in her is conspicuously missing. Again, whatever the rendition misses in native contextualising of the theme, it gains in the elegance of feminine posture that radiates through the composite.
In the past five years or more, contemporary practice has been pushing Lagos art scene out of the conservative shell of the latter, slowly though. And as installation art, which thrives on the application of materials hardly finds its way beyond on-the-spot appreciation –still far away from collections - more artists have been filling that vacuum of contemporaneity by thickening the canvas beyond oil and acrylic. Specifically, painting on fabric has been gaining more ground among Nigerian artists who are, traditionally, glued to the canvas. Lessor belongs to the generation of Nigerian traditionalist painters. And having established his art as someone who loves the thickness of the canvas in impasto technique, he seems to have found an extension in fabric. All of a sudden fabrics are winning the canvas, is Lessor falling into the trends? "It's still mixed media, and I have been doing mixed media since eight years," he argued.
The co-curator and director at Alexis Galleries, Patty Chidiac noted that Lessor has the style, form and technique that fits into the contemporary time. And still maintaining a consistent partnership for the Alexis Galleries' sponsors, Chidiac listed the camaraderie: Leventis, Litho-Chrome The Homestores , Art Café, Veuve Clicquot, wazobia FM, Nigeria info and cool Fm, Wazobia TV, Cool TV, The Avenue Suites, arra vineyards and ISN Internet Solutions Nigeria Limited.
Lessor’s bio reads: He had his first solo exhibition in Lagos - ’Consciousness of Form’. Well received, he was encouraged to return in 2001 with - ’Colour Amidst Squalour, an exhibition coordinated by Obias Odogwu. This too was a huge success. Since then, it has become a bi-annual affair to exhibit his works, as in 2005, 2006, 2008, he followed up with ‘Tones of Light’. ‘Art on the Rooftop’ and ‘The Stages of Time’ respectively.
(First published in The Guardian, Friday, October 24, 2014)