Sunday, 30 June 2019

'Generations 3' of today's treasures for the future

'The Prognosis of Gele-I (10 x 40 inch, 2019), by Emeka Nwagbara.
 Across modern and contemporary periods of cultures as well as regions, the fundamental value of art has been resilient. Specifically, the diversity in visual culture appreciation, over the centuries, has not displaced the leading role of Fine Art.


Art, right from the Renaissance era to the modern period, has set the pace in cultural value for other disciplines such as Architecture and Fashion.  Either in critical or commercial value, the traditional rendition of art is still the reason that spaces and outlets across the world exist till date. While top museums across the world survive in their promotion of critical appreciation by displaying masterpieces, other outlets such as auction houses and art fair events contribute to the world's economy by selling same.

Fine art, specifically painting, has outlived quite a number of other visual expressions across movements and periods in the last two centuries of radical and rebellious developments that generated several movements. For example, one of the iconic names of the avant-garde, Marcel Duchamp (1887 – 1968), at the peak of his career, told BBC that "painting is dead." Duchamp's deliberate continuous devaluation of painting shocked the art world given the fact that his early career included experimental works in classical painting, being passionate about post impressionism and cubism movements.

He was no doubt a successful painter until he made a huge success turning 360 degree as an avant-garde artist. However, Duchamp was wrong: over half a century after, painting is still the most resilient art form in the history of visual culture appreciation.
'The Wait, Connection Series' (60 x 25 cm, 2019), by Raji Mohammed.

Every culture and region has its own 'Duchamp', just as the moment of truth always come to confirm reality and sustainable value. In the postmodern Nigerian period, history has recorded quite some individuals, institutions, groups and spaces as fountains that nourishes the blossoming art of the country.

The gathering of Generations: The Future Master Series is a beneficiary of two of the revered fountains in Nigerian art history. The exhibition series is a concept built on dual foundation of nearly forty years mentorship and over 25 years pedigree in art patronage.

 The mentor-ship base fountain: Among the iconic names in Nigerian informal training art spaces is the Universal Studios of Art, at National Arts Theatre, Igannu, Lagos, where concept of Generations: The Future Masters Series emerged three years ago. Popularly known as U.S.A, it is, arguably, the oldest group studio in postmodern Nigerian art period. Being in a hub city like Lagos, Universal Studios, has, in its nearly forty years of existence, informally, mentored an army of young artists. The studios' founders such as Bunmi Babatunde, late Bisi Fakeye, Abiodun Olaku, among others are also, individually, masters in the creation of 'treasure-able' art.

A private initiative, Universal has its origin from the current space of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) and been feeding the visual arts industry and also receiving trainees from nearly every art schools in the country. Also, those who are not formally trained come to the studios to acquire various skills in fine arts.

For deeper appreciation of the concept and ideals behind the Generation: Future Master Series, a brief history of Universal Studios is important for the depth of posterity. The studios started in 1980 when the then Ministry of Culture invited some artists to use the premises of the National Art Studio to work. However, in 1995, the artists were asked to move, due to change in the administration of the NGA. That development led to what is now known as Universal Studios led by a group of 12 professionals who run 11 departments or studios at a spot that was once used as a mechanic workshop by the National Theatre management. Among the 12 artists who head the studios are four founding members and board of trustees: late carver, Bisi Fakeye; sculptor, Bunmi Babatunde; painter, Abiodun Olaku; and sculptor, Monday Akhidue.
 It's on record that for its nearly four decades of existence Universal "takes in an average of 30-40 students per year.”

The art patronage base: Equally important, in promotional effort of the Generations Series is the exhibiting space's pedigree. The overall value of art is almost lost if patronage and presentation is not properly articulated.

Apart from being the oldest art gallery in the Lagos art hub city, Mrs Sinmidele Adesanya-led Mydrim has always been in the forefront of new ideas. In over ten years, for example, Mydrim, consistently promoted paper medium by showing  pastel series. And in consistent with the gallery's promotion of masterly pieces, the 13th edition of the yearly Pastel Exhibition -- in 2013 -- featured those considered as masters of the medium: Muri Adejimi, Segun Adejumo, Duke Asidere, Sam Ovraiti, Alex Nwokolo and Kehinde Sanwo.

For the Generation Series exhibition, which was initiated to promote basic and strong process of creating art, Mydrim is also on a familiar terrain. I recall that in 2012, Mydrim showed Nothing, But The Truth, a group exhibition meant to promote real ideals and values of fine art. The exhibition featured works by Kolade Oshinowo, Abiodun Olaku, Bunmi Babatunde, Ebong Ekwere Reuben Ugbine, Abraham Uyovbisere, Patrick Agose, Segun Adejumo, Wallace Ejoh, Umoh Akanimoh, Stanley Dudu, Samuel Ajobiewe, Mufu Apo Oyin, Ebenezer Akinola, Jonathan Jefferson, Abass Kelani, Peju Alatishe, Bede Umeh, Joshua Nmesirionye and Olumide Oresegun. The exhibition, which opened at Mydrim Gallery, yesterday, runs till July 13, 2019.

As a concept, Generations: Future Master Series emerged from Universal Studios to prepare young artists for the dynamics ahead. Such noble initiative is not peculiar to the Nigerian environment in defining the future of young artists.

One of the most important periods of postmodern British art was the emergence, in late 1980s, of a group of artists revered as Young British Artists (YBA). Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin, Chris Ofili, among others are members of the 1980s YBA, who enjoyed patronage of Charles  Saatchi. As one of the key promoters of art in Europe, Saatchi, was instrumental in using these artists to change the history of British art for good. Currently, Hirst, Emin and Ofili are, arguably, among the biggest names in 21st century contemporary art lexicon of the world.

The YBA example has confirmed the importance of mentor-ship and patronage in mastery of art: the narrative has been the same, even right from the Renaissance era that projected the art of Leornado da Vinci, Michelangelo, among others through the post-Renaissance period. 

ALSO READ: NIGERIA'S OLDEST POST-INDEPENDENCE GROUP ART STUDIO? 

Seating on the fulcrum of over 25 years experience of Mydrim Gallery and nearly four decades of Universal Studios, artists of Generations-3: The Future Masters Series are privileged to be lifted into tomorrow's mastery of art. Chinedu Uzoma, Damilola Opedun, Emeka Nwagbara, Ezekiel Osifeso, Olajide Salako, Olufemi Oyewole, Oluwafunke Oladimeji, Opeyemi Olukotun, Segun Fagorusi and Raji Mohammed are Generations-3 artists.

Bathe in incendiary of colours, Uzoma’s 'The Search' explains how the artist applies the strength of creative lighting technique in rendering dramatic expression of a figure on canvas. Despite the capture of multi-dimensional sourse of lights, Uzoma’s palette exposes the main source by beaming more illumination overhead.

As an artist with conservative colour disposition to textures on canvas, Opedun shares his humanitarian projects of Makoko community in true reflection of the coastal environment. The haze, the wind and and water coalescence expressed in one of the paintings titled 'Gratitude', for example, radiate empathy for the fragile life of the riverian community.

Perhaps Nwagbara adds a new period into his art vocabulary with minimalism touch that strengthens some of his past themes, so suggest 'The Prognosis of Gele series' I and II. Between the figurative representation of his themes such as the 'Gele Series – White Gele' and the minimalist approach, Nwagbara offers rich diversity in visual culture expression.

Between realism and strokes of impressions lies the strength of Osifeso, an artist whose contextual composite speaks volume in visual communication. More pronounced is Osifeso’s articulation of space, so suggest his works such as 'Silent Anticipation' and 'Strategic Positioning'.

The hyper-realism trend that is fast growing among young Nigerian artists, in recent years, is further strengthened by artist like Salako. As much as the mastery of art, to a large extent, is complex when figurative painting is in focus, photo-finish pieces like Salako’s 'Contemplation', 'Oge' and 'Apprehension' would also put any artist on the critic’s spotlight.

As the only lady in the group exhibition, Oladimeji’s strong strokes in streetscape keep growing from one step to another. For this exhibition, Oladimeji steps up her spot light-effects on water and skyline, a technique that dominates nearly all the pieces she is showing in this exhibition. So much for dawn and dusk effects on her canvas, so explains a distinct piece titled Serenity, exuding great depth in resplendence atmospheric skyline.

Olukotun delves into the complex rendition of mobility by focusing on commercial motorcycles, being used as taxi across Nigeria and parts of West Africa. Writing about the socio-economic menace of Okada would attract volumes, but within the artistic expression context, Olukotun seems to have flaunt his growing skills of machines rendition in urban settings. The artist seems to celebrate okada riders against the tide of general disapproval of what most users consider as 'necessary evils.' 

And in night-effect paintings such as 'Survival Series', he announces the diversity of  his canvas.

In a streescape by Oyewole titled 'Gone Like Yesterday' comes the combined monochromatic and subtle application of colours, coalescing into fresh texture. More fascinating about this piece is the wide angle capture of the scenery, taking as much activities as possible. Unmistakably Lagos urban scenery, the artist’s capture, which include the notorious Lagos yellow buses may just be one of the last recordings of the soon-to-extinct urban means of transportation in the city.

Oyewole continues his canvas of pseudo-monochrome technique in quite a number of non-street scene paintings such as 'Contemplation" and 'Same Story'.

Despite being a realism representation artist, Mohammed’s brush movements on canvas always release some dramatic moments capable of striping viewers of appreciation prejudice. Among such rendition is 'Prepping For Nightfall', in which the artist brings to fore the science and spiritual depth of illumination.

The spiritual affinity of his brushstrokes continue in 'The Wait', a three figure gathering of what looks like family expedition. In creative context, 'The Wait' highlights the artist’s painstaking contrast application of light to exude dramatic moment, this time: a dialogue between humans and the atmospheric realm.

With sympathy for less focused activities of the rural women, particularly senior ladies, Fagorusi comes into this exhibition with two paintings about dignity of labour and loss of a loved one. In 'Iya Alaro', comes celebration of native Yoruba fabric designer -- a culture against the tide of western produced textile wave -- is captured in active production. Quite emotive and tears jerking is the solemn air of being bereaved in 'Who Knows'.

Irrespective of one’s sense of empathy, Fagorusi, in these paintings, applies the psychology of colours to stimulate emotion.

As the last in the first phase of the Future Master series concept, the current exhibition is very significant in art appreciation. Every piece collected from this exhibition, potentially, has a strong provenance attached with it. In the nearest future and beyond, when the history of second decade of 21st Nigerian art is being recalled, the exhibited paintings of Generations-3: The Future Masters Series would have weighed higher on the provenance scale of art appreciation.

 Like the YBAs of the late 1980s and the 1990s, the artists of Generations 3: The Future Masters Series have been privileged to contribute their art to a crucial part of Nigeria's visual culture history.
 As art patrons, also privileged to visit this exhibition, you cannot afford not to be part of the unfolding great treasures of the future. Across nearly all known forms of paintings in history, the Generations 3 exhibition has something for every patron to pick.
 (Edited from critique of the exhibition's catalogue written by Tajudeen Sowole, a Lagos-based Art Critic and Art Advisor).


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