Wednesday, 31st May 2023

At Alexis Galleries, artists Knock On Wood

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
13 September 2020   |   4:16 am
After a long absence from the exhibition circuit, art lovers and collectors had a taste of new works, courtesy of Alexis Galleries, one of the country’s leading art galleries, yesterday.

Controversial Armor by Olatunde Taiwo David

After a long absence from the exhibition circuit, art lovers and collectors had a taste of new works, courtesy of Alexis Galleries, one of the country’s leading art galleries, yesterday.

Alexis’ ‘exhibition ground’ was opened for a weeklong show featuring five artists — Afeez Adetunji, Chukwuemeka Michael, Olatunde Taiwo David, Darlington A. Chukwumezie and Osaro Luke.

Coming on the heels of its first successful show in 2019, the virtual exhibition titled, Knock On Wood II, is a dialogue on woods and will hold from September 12 to 19, 2020.

The group show, which, according to the CEO/curator Patty Chidiac– Mastrogiannis, is in keeping with the physical distancing regulation of the Federal Government, features 25 works that “communicate human feelings and emotions through the wood, especially in this period of limited interaction.”

Speaking on the theme, Bimpe Owoyemi, co-curator said that the exhibition is all about the wood. In time past “all we see about wood is the carving and other fetish things, but here the artists have not only defiled the common technic of carving, but had diversified the styles, technic, function, and societal appreciation or better put it the contemporary use of wood, as they have transformed, reformed, engraved motifs and even added colours on wood in special ways.”

She said Knock On Wood I was a success in turnout and also financial impact. “We felt it would be of good value for a response.”

The gallery notes in its forward to the show, “in an art world where wood as a medium can be ancient and contemporary medium, artists have diversified the style, technic, function and societal appreciation. The gallery bores the responsibility to encourage such transformation in art style and to birth contemporaries even in ancient mediums.”

Owoyemi added, “one of the major contributions of Alexis Galleries is to promote our artists, help them to develop in their style and also encourage them to develop new style and putting contemporary into ancient medium.”

With same theme and focus as last year’s, this year’s dialogue contemplates the affect of COVID-19 pandemic on the society.

The show offers participating artists opportunity to express artistic styles and creative ingenuity with wood as the only medium.

The artists communicate their feelings and emotions through the same medium — a fusion of African art form, colour, motifs and patterns in a contemporary form.

For this show, Alexis Galleries is partnering Down Syndrome Foundation. “A percentage of earnings will go to the foundation,” Owoyemi said.

Osaro Luke is showing four works, You May Kiss Your Bride, Nature, Enigma and Concubine. The lighting rod of Luke’s exhibits is You May Kiss Your Bride, which he said, is spurred by the lockdown. Over the period of seven months, wedding, which is a popular social activity in Lagos, was off the radar. “People were anxiously waiting for weddings to hold again.”

For Luke, the period of lockdown was that of rebirth. “It was a time for me to rethink and to revisit some of the things that I had done before.”

When he got the invitation to be part of Knock on Wood II, it was an opportunity to showcase other medium people don’t know about him.

“Unconsciously, I have been working on wood for a very long time,” Luke said, “in terms of medium, I’m a versatile artist. I don’t think there is any medium I can’t work with.”

For him, there’s a great challenge being an artist in the country. “First, I would say, is the government structure of art — it is very poor. For other countries, even in South Africa, they have grants for their artists. A grant is not as much to fend for themselves, but it is to be able to afford materials to work with. So, they believe that if their artists have materials, they can produce things, and if they can produce things, they can take care of themselves. Here, it’s the other way round.”

He added, “another challenge is art awareness and appreciation. We have some people who see art as a normal calendar that you can just flip through, and you have some that appreciate art. For instance, you have more galleries in Lagos compared to any state in Nigeria. It means the concentrations of people that appreciate art are more in Lagos than any state. They even have more galleries in Lagos compared to Abuja itself. The most challenging thing why galleries don’t thrive in Abuja is that people who can afford art don’t stay over the weekend. Transportation from Mondays to Thursdays is more expensive, while Fridays to Sundays are cheaper. Most people don’t stay over the weekend. Thus, the awareness about art is on the low side in Abuja, and it is discouraging to artists.”

Talking about the statement he wants to make with Knock On Wood II, Luke has this to say: “I’d like to use the word ‘awesomeness’.”

Getting on board the show did not come to Olatunde David as a surprise. “I was part of the first Knock On Wood, and I’ve been expecting that it’s going to come up, despite the lockdown. So, when it came, and madam (Chidiac– Mastrogiannis) said I should prepare. I said, ‘fine, I’m prepared already.’ It just came to me as one of those things I wanted to do this year.”

He is presenting five works. They include Swing In Your Own Direction, The Controversial Armor, The Body, The Lagos Babe and The Father Figure.

What will he say is the dominant motif in these works?
“My background,” David said.
Cool, hot, complex, challenging?
“You see more of these textures like stones, and what came to my mind when I was working, the first time

I did this was what the Bible says about Peter that upon this rock I would build my church, and the gate of hell shall not prevail. So I just used that, that upon this, I’m going to do some things that look like a rock. So when you look at it, it creates a feeling of some stones, creating something on them. So that’s what you see on most of my works.”

“And all are interrogating wood in their different ways,” he smiles.

So what could have inspired or spurred what he produced for the second show?

David said, “I’m an artist that every time I work, I don’t sit back, because there’s something happening. Now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chidiac– Mastrogiannis was suggesting that it might, or might not hold. We were discussing, and then later, she said it’s going to take place. So, my experience during the lockdown and the things I had in mind before were the things that gave me inspiration to produce what I’m exhibiting.”

Looking at The Controversial Armor, it’s a figure of a woman with facemask. Apart from the international scene where Donald Trump and the rest were fighting whether to put on facemask or not, “in my locality in Ibadan, going to the market, you see people not putting on facemask and they never believe the pandemic is real. So, there was a time I just went to buy some things from the market and I had my facemask on, and everyone was laughing. I was like, ‘for crying out loud, you heard the news, you heard the government say put on your nose mask, wash your hands and all that, and you are here laughing.’ Had it been someone had died in the market, maybe every one of them would have their nose mask on. So I just felt like doing something on nose masks, so that was why I did that and I called it The Controversial Armor, because it’s a controversy to wear or not to wear,” David said.

He added, “technically, I’ve been working with wood, though not as deep as now. I use a light wood for some of my paintings, some little carvings and paste it on the canvas, and I create. That was a very long time ago and it had been interesting, but when I came in here, into the Alexis Galleries and we had the first residency — The first residence we had was on painting — When I came for Knock On Wood I, I had not actually used wood to that extent. Patty Chidiac–Mastrogiannis called me and said, ‘David, you can do it.’ I said I would give it a try. It was awesome. I never believed you could explore on wood to that extent. I can tell you I haven’t touched colour for the past two years. I even discovered that I could paint on wood. I’m an abstractionist. I paint, do all sorts of abstract painting on canvas, and one of the works I’m working on at home now, is a painting on camel. I didn’t believe I could do such works. It’s something that brings out the other side of me as a sculptor.”

His philosophy of art is diffusion of African art with contemporary art. When you look at my painting or my artworks, you see a little bit of African motifs, patterns and the likes on them, and at the same time, they still have the feeling of a contemporary artwork.”

He added, “what I do is, I sit down and think of the message I’m communicating. what do I want to say to people? Then I pick my sketchpad and bring out something, then from that, I begin to structure my work in line with the message I’m trying to pass across. Most of my paintings are interactive; you want to ask why, you want people to know why I did this. Like Swim In Your Own Direction, it’s a blue panel painting with fishes — big, small, regular, all swimming around in circles, but there’s a little one going in the opposite direction. So, it’s speaking to us that if everyone is going one way, you can decide to channel your own course and you achieve what you wan to achieve.”

Pepsi, Tiger, Indomie, Mikano, The Guardian, Wazobia FM Radio, Cool FM, 7Ups, Cool World, Cobranet, Delta Airlines, The Home Stores, Art Café, and Lost In Lagos Magazine sponsor the exhibition.