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Sylvester Aigbogun in Shanty Aesthetic dialogue

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
23 August 2020   |   4:20 am
In a sector that thrives on in-person connection, the loss of an audience is disastrous, yet resilient performers, institutions, galleries, even entire art fairs, are moving to the digital arena, using streaming services and virtual reality.

When the markets reopened, one of Aigbogun’s works

In a sector that thrives on in-person connection, the loss of an audience is disastrous, yet resilient performers, institutions, galleries, even entire art fairs, are moving to the digital arena, using streaming services and virtual reality.

Before COVID-19, the digital space was almost always treated as an afterthought for expanding an audience beyond the reach of physical spaces.So, when Sylvester Aigbogun’s showed titled, Shanty Aesthetic, opens on Wednesday, September 16, as a virtual exhibition, the immersive artist Chris Milk’s statement, in 2015, that virtual reality could someday become the ‘ultimate empathy machine’ will come to play. The exhibition will be on till October 4, 2020

The show, which is being hosted by Eventful Ltd., will unveil how the COVID-19 pandemic has, incredibly, ushered a golden age of virtual media, which offers unprecedented access to some of the world’s cultural touchstones, some previously financially or physically inaccessible.

The Yaba College of Technology-trained artist, whose debut solo art show could have held in a gallery space if there were no COVID-19, will be making a statement with this new visual trajectory.

The exhibition, which has over 25 paintings on show, provides for art collectors to pick works that engage them in visual dialogue.From a skillful application of shades and colours that complement composite imageries, the works on display interact with viewers.

Figurative painting, particularly in impressionism texture, is perhaps, one of the most potent mediums in gaining mileage for artists who are bold enough with brush strokes or palette movements.

In a bold face painting titled, Asakè, the emphasis on how senses such as the eyes, mouth and ears communicate, asserts Aigbogun’s skillful attention to details in “making an art piece come alive from the surface of the canvas.”

The key factor here is interaction or dialogue between an art piece and its audience. From the eyeballs, shielded by the combined theatrics of the eyelids and bold eyelashes, to muted lips full of unspoken volumes as well as assertive ear, the senses of ‘Asake’, as captured on canvas by Aigbogun radiate so much aura of therapy beyond the obvious aesthetics of painting a beautiful girl.

This body of work is an attempt at capturing the beauty of the completely random aesthetic expression of the shanty dweller. His No Rhyme. All Rhythm and Green City, provide an alternative narrative reflection, which should appeal to collectors who like deep, intellectual and critical tastes in art appreciation. The narrative is interrogated in the broad space offered for as many interpretations as people can engage with them.

Aigbogun’s painting titled, Living Off the National Grid, visually documents the country’s power crisis. In quite several hues, his captures of a building in uneven illumination represent a country where most homes generate electricity supplies, through self-help, outside the national grid.

His collection that is quintessential and aptly themed, Shanty Aesthetic, introduces the viewer to his creative ability to produce semi abstract artworks from “an often ignored and undesired dwelling places in our suburbs.”

The Shanty Aesthetic represents the paradox of Nigeria, Africa, more especially, where slums have coloured the landscape.Aigbogun admits that he was intrigued by the complexity, creativity and functionality those dwellers put in to make a house. He sees so much creativity in their blend of building materials such as wood, carton, asbestos and nylon. You will notice so much creative force, his unrestricted freedom, impasto and almost abstract rendition.

“Colour fascinates me, the way it shifts in different light conditions. The way surfaces and textures affect it. I’ve seen people take to colour in different ways. How one person is drawn to poppy red, which to somebody else is repulsive. Colour is the most important motivation for my work,” he says.

He continues, “in Shanty Aesthetics, I explore the idea that we are all predisposed to making design decisions irrespective of status or position. A shanty can be described as a small, badly built house, usually made from pieces of wood, metal, or cardboard, in which poor people live. They are generally built with recycled materials which still bear the original colours they were manufactured in, different sheets of coloured plywood, metal, cellophane in bright colours – red, blue, white, green, orange, pink, rust, black etc.”

According to Aigbogun, “the Lagos party scene is unrivalled for its display of colour. Here, there is no random or accidental beauty. Everything is coordinated to perfection yet, the aso-ebi wearers find a way to be unique, to draw attention to their interpretation of ‘uniform’. The modern Nigerian woman uses colour as skilfully as any artist, creating shapes, highlights and shadow that previously, did not exist. Whether executed with precision or completely accidental, colour affects how we perceive beauty. I invite you to experience colour with me.”

Temitope Kogbe of Livingstone Studios says of the show: “There’s a point where colours, shades, hues and shadows become living things, some noisy, some meditative, some sensual, some murderous. Things that surround your being, harrying away negative spaces, defining moods and framing chaos.”

He adds, “where vibrant colour resist the social order. Fighting loudly, creating their own place in the sun. A place not defined by status or statistics.”

Kogbe reveals, “Aigbogun has chosen to travel a well-worn road, exploring colour in painting. From the cave paintings, to the classics of the Renaissance to the Zaria rebels, to masters like Ben Osaghae, Duke Asidere who have made their name as painters of the chaos that dwells within.”

Aigbogun acknowledges their contributions but takes another approach that calls into play his entire armoury as an artist working a five-dimensional world into two-dimensional frames; “unearthing skin-deep layers of meaning from the beneath, etching colours such that they peek out unexpectedly from the underground, from the source. His chisel like strokes sculpt forms with painting knives and at other times with brush strokes, revealing layers and lines of opportunity to be many things at the same time,” Kogbe says.

His body of work is a rich collection of expressions, which are “categorised into four parts — emotions, habitat, lifestyle and street scenes,” says Idoreyin Nzeh of Aziki Media.

She continues, “one key element that endears you to his style is his ample application of the oil pigment on canvas. Colourful, thick and lustrous are the typical characteristics, which resonate in all his paintings.”

There is a deliberate application of paint, which captures your thoughts into the subject matter. “A simple theme becomes very complex because of his unique style of treatment, which is a fusion of the 17th century impasto, and the 19th century impressionism art style,” explains Nzeh.

In his execution of the human emotion themed paintings, he transcends the limits of character recognition to mood recognition. “You notice the intrinsic labour of creating skin tone with different layering of colors while the mood of the subject remains intact This may seem effortless when viewed at a distance but when closely observed you notice and admire the paint volume placed layer upon layer on the canvas such that you move from enjoying the rich display of colours to the smart juxtaposition of complimentary shades and the subject composition,” she says.