By Tajudeen Sowole
FIVE decades old, 28 years post-training career, Gerry Nnubia, who is one of the artists known as ‘Colourists’ in the 1980s undertakes self-appraisal and discovers that he has outlined the current state of his art right from the time he began art practice, professionally.
As part of activities marking his 50th birthday, he reconstructs the walls of art gallery and shares his art’s trajectory.
For about three weeks, at Terra Kulture Gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos, the artist has been showing Gerry Nnubia @ 50; A Retrospective Exhibition of Remarkable Paintings that reflect his character of "creating and not representing."
An artist with core level of abstraction on canvas, Nnubia, over the past two decades of his career had mapped out, consciously, the current shape of his art. He has a radicalised process of creating forms, in a sharp deviation from the norms. Among the results of his experimentation is his current period coined Acrylic Flow - a process that eliminates building contents on foundation of forms.
For the first time, in 2012, Nnubia showed the style and technique in a solo exhibition titled Unlicensed at Omenka Gallery, Victoria Island.
Four years after, the concept has been elevated to a state of spirituality, so suggests the artist's expanded adventure in acrylic flow.
His philosophy of art, which draws line between creating and representing idea would always attract attention in any encounter with the painter.
Rendition or communication of idea in whatever forms is basically representing something, isn't it? Every work of art, he argues, "is spiritual and philosophical." Nature, he explains, has given "every artist space to expand; take the opportunity and add creativity to it," stressing that "recreation on the blank space provided by nature has been the bedrock of my practice."
For an artist who has put into studio practice as much as 28 years, showing 32 pieces of paintings in a retrospection would mean that the bulk of the exhibits come from collectors who part with the works on loan agreement. But Nnubia is a different kind of artist; most of the retrospection pieces, he discloses, are from his private collection.
Indeed, over two and half decades in practice is quite a long space for an artist to use the period of his 50th for a retrospection. However, Nnubia's modesty and humility on the Lagos art space seemed to have blurred his spot in the history of contemporary Nigerian art. For example, perhaps quite a number of art followers did not know that Nnubia was among the popular 'Colourists’ artists of the 1980s whose exploits added glitter and glamour to the Nigerian art landscape.
Revisiting the Colourists era, Nnubia underscores how the liberalist ideology of Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu where he had his training played a vital role in his career later as a teacher at Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State. "I brought my IMT freedom into Auchi, which gave me the strength I have now." He notes further, "I am the brain behind everyone's rebellious way towards the contemporary period."
There was no doubt that his Colourists colleagues such as Sam Ovraiti, Olu Ajayi, Toni Okujeni and Pita Ohiwerei, among others led a fresh path for new generation of Nigerian artists over 25 years ago. But in the current face of contemporaneity, how relevant are the canvas and signatures of the Colourists? "Very relevant," Nnubia responds sharply. "You can't really express much without brilliant colours," he argues, adding that till date "a lot of my works still come with brilliant colours."
Beyond the Nigerian space, Nnubia appears to have won the hearts of some collectors outside the country. "Surprisingly, my work is appreciated more outside Nigeria," he discloses and attributes the international attraction for his work to, perhaps, freedom "not to paint in a particular way people expect."
Looking ahead into the next 28 years of his career, Nnubia hopes to continue proving that African or Nigerian art should not always be about commercial value."
He would not for any reason deny his African origin or expression on canvas, but warns: "I am an African artist with universal view." And being "born and bred" in eastern part of Nigeria, he says, gave him opportunity of being close to nature. By extension, he has also imbibed "environmental activism."
Curator of Gerry Nnubia @ 50..., Luciano Uzuegbu states that the exhibition "is not just about the artist's past, but his recent as well." On sorting works for the exhibition, he agreed with Nnubia how it was made easier "because Gerry is an artist who enjoys collecting his works."
BORN in 1966 in Enugu, east of Nigeria, Nnubia
studied Visual art at the Institute of Management Technology (IMT) Enugu, where he was not only taught the fundamentals, but how to improvise in communication. This laid the foundation for what would become the hallmark of his art–the tendency to deviate.
Nnubia is a member of The Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) and currently the Social Director of the esteemed Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA).