Three decades after, Osawe’s Pa Johnson and Gabriel goes to mainstream art
Over 30 years after the comic character Pa Johson & Gabriel of the rested Fun Times disappeared with the weekly Sunday magazine, the creator of the cartoon, Moses Osawe, is back from his U.S. base and has pulled the cartoons out of the magazine onto the canvas to give them aesthetic value beyond its original fun contents. Osawe showed the paintings and drawings, inspired by the ‘Pa Johnson & Gabriel’ characters as a solo art exhibition at Weave and Co Gallery, Moor House Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos. While some of the exhibits still retain the drawing forms, others are rendered in paintings.
Yes, satire still hovers over Osawe’s work, even in the paintings, as can be seen, for example, in the elongated figures of a dancing couple. What a capture of ecstatic mood in what looks like typical dancehall music groove. Titled ‘Generation WhatsApp,’ the painting, interestingly, takes its fashion tone from the 1970s baģgy trousers and high heel shoes for males. In this painting, Osawe flaunts his fluidity of making figures move, even on a flat surface.
Still on periodic theme, the artist continues to apply his creative licence to revisit the past in works that are as fresh as 2018. Among such works is ‘Kalakuta Police,’ a drawing that derives its title from the late controversial musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s imaginary nation. It satirises a policeman from Kalakuta Republic, who shares ‘ganja’ or marijuana with a smoker in a supposed den of miscreants.
Other pieces, mostly in drawings include ‘Blood not Palm OiI,’ ‘Police and Ganjaman’ and ‘Rent-a-cop-command,’ among others. About 25 works in total are on the walls at Moor House Hotel in the return of Pa Johnson and Gabriel.
“My aim is to change the impression from read and laugh to decorative art”, Osawe explained ahead of the show’s opening. “When I produce, I look at how aesthetics, decorative and laugh can go together; so, you can keep it and laugh over it as a display in the wall”.
He noted that the paintings and drawings tell everything about Nigerians’ sense of humour. Most of the paintings and drawings, Osawe disclosed, are recent, but “basically there are more new works on acrylic on canvas.”
Osawe’s exhibition of Pa Johnson & Gabriel was the fourth show from the New Possibilities series of Weave and Co. “Just like any other art, cartoons too can be appreciated beyond the jokes, and I feel excited about this,” curator at Moor House, Ora Ataguba stated. “I remember falling in love with the ‘Pa Johnson’ character such that I used to cut them out for clips on my wall”.
Beyond the political satire and other issues, “cartoons could be more useful to the society”, curator of the exhibition, Moses Ohiomokhare agrees.Three decades outside Nigeria is quite a long time for an artist who actually vanished with his work from the art scene. And coming straight into the mainstream art market appears like a huge task, or so it seems.
“Yes, things have changed from when I left Nigeria,” Osawe stated on the growth of the Nigerian art market. “Before I left Nigeria for the U.S., it was difficult to have full time studio artists. But now so many artists are doing well.”Perhaps the artist’s pulling of cartoons from the pages of newspapers and magazines onto the canvas of mainstream art market has the possibility of breathing freshness onto the art scene.
“I am very positive that there are collectors that would like the works,” he assured, based on the fact that “the market is very large.”He hopes to have a follow-up of the exhibition with another show of paintings and drawings, as Ohiomokhare explained, “Since he has been away for a long time, we thought that it is better to link his past to the present. It is not unusual to see cartoons at exhibitions; we need to stimulate collectors’ interests in cartoons.”
While arguing that cartoon exhibitions have future in innovation, Ataguba said, “we need to play on our strength as a people who make jokes of everything.”Osawe started as a self-taught secondary school job seeker in the 1970s when his cartoons got the attention of editors at Sunday Times. As the son of one of the carvers at Kakawa, Lagos Island, of the 1970s, he had earlier took his cartons to the parent title, Daily Times. He recalled how he got directive to go to Sunday Times, where his cartoons started featuring in Fun Times.