By Tajudeen Sowole
FOR over two decades, Godwin Archie-Abia ruled as a bone-collage artist whose period in waste recycling shot him into mainstream Lagos art environment. But a new period in the artist's career is now unfolding. He now paints in embossed canvas.
At Win Arc Gallery, a moderate space off Awolowo Way, Ikeja, Lagos, some of Archie-Abia's paintings, which were on display, revisit the old themes of market, streetscapes and general focus on societal sceneries. Basically, the themes have not changed from his bone-collage period; the difference is the medium.
However, sustaining a certain level of relief technique in slight embossment is applied, which he described as ‘graven’ painting. Recall that the strength of his bone-collage lies in the embossed texture of the contents. One of the works titled Tomatoes For Sell, for example, derives much of its textured contents from the engraved objects, particularly those in the foreground such as the baskets. And if building depth into canvas of populated figures defines creative contents, Archie-Abia displays that much in Tomatoes For Sell, a painting that blurs the line between modern and contemporary art.
A thought in dignity of labour is expressed by the artist in another piece titled Work Pays, which explains the growing trade in small efforts by individuals. Interestingly, the painting appears like a scene from tour destination: a grocery lady under bright colour umbrella, captured in an environment that looks like sunny scene all combined to make attractive piece.
Having established his art in the unique medium of bone-collage for such a long period, it's rather curious that Artchie-Abia, just of recent, switched over to painting.
"There was no electricity to keep powering the machine I used in cutting the bone material," he explained his frustration that led to painting. "Even after I bought electricity generating set, then came petrol scarcity, so I have to diversify to other medium."
Being a "focused person," his perception of art, he disclosed, led him into spiritual realm, from which painting and metal medium was revealed. However, he has equally been active in the sculptural genres. Among his works are outdoor and embellishment projects. For example, such commissioned works include a design for First Delightsome House & Suite, Ikorodu and a sculptural work for a company in Abuja.
In commission jobs, most artists are pulled either way of professional or personal sentiments. For Archie-Abia, "the motive for my choice of art depends on the customer."
His idea of concept, he stated, depends so much on how imagination drives the process of art making.
Graduated in History and International Relations at Lagos State University (LASU), Archie-Abia, by "divine", is a self-taught artist. "I have never attended arts class in the physical sense." But, he believes that in the spiritual realm "I had several classes in the dreams."
Revisiting his journey into art, he shared his experience as a young, talented pupil in school. "From handwork class in primary school level, creating art and crafts, I later started with bone-collage medium driving it to the highest level where I used cow horn to achieve portrait picture."
Most artists are driven by a particular inspiration, from which, most often, such reflects in the work produced. For Archie-Abia, spiritual realm has always been the inspiration. "The Holy Spirit is my inspirational figure." He however appreciated the efforts of every master whose work, directly or otherwise has imparted on his art.
Archie-Abia is among few artists in Nigeria who have been consistent in full-time studio practice. He is perhaps, in a position to assess the art environment's performance. "The industry is doing well in Nigeria but we need to do more in the art contents, materials and lots more. And the need for an in depth knowledge of the work to be acquired as well as development of participatory interest in art like exhibitions, auctions workshops and seminars where works of artists are sold exhibited and discussed.” Nigeria art is moving forward with a few private individuals promoting & investing in arts."
Within a short period of shifting into painting, admiration, he boasted, has been on the increase. "The richness and uniqueness of the medium have attracted my collectors." He noted that unlike bone-collage, which was confined to board surface, his new medium "is both canvas and board." He hoped that in the next few months a solo exhibition would be organised to officially unveil his new medium to both his regular and new collectors.
About graven painting: "The material has to be glued to either board or canvas panel to create a relief format. First, I sketched, provide the materials, engrave the materials before you glue to either board or canvas panel to create a super relief effect. Then you prime the materials on the panel, allow to dry then you start applying colours to it. At the end of the day, you are out with a super and unique work."
Archie-Abia is a strong advocate of art as a vital aspect of any developmental growth. He insisted that Nigerian artists should be part of the economic and technological development of the country.
“No serious economy will want to undermine the importance of creative industries, which visual art plays a vital role. In developing economy like Nigeria, where total dependencies on a mono-product has exposed the country’s economic strength to unsettled instability, all hands must be on deck to evolve a supporting and alternative economic platform for the country to lean on for survival.”
Archie-Abia doubles as an artist and gallery owner. Such combination is not exactly new among artists. Currently, the gallery is hosting children in its Summer Art Class.
“I set up the studio away from the Gallery. I visit the Gallery three times a week, but spend more time in the studio because of the commissioned works.” Separating gallery and studio, he explained, makes the former run effectively. “I set up Winarc to solve the challenge of artists not having where to showcase their works.” Winarc gallery is in Ikeja, while the studios is at Peace Estate, Baruwa, Lagos State.
Archie-Abia has shown works at Antick Gallery (1995), Archbishop Vinning Memorial, 1996, Didi Museum Art Centre, 1996 and Nimbus Art Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos.