Fisher’s For Art’s Sake, a trove of artistic treat
The life of a collector is always a challenging subject for biographers. Never mind that the materials they need are readily available. However, it is impossible to know, which works to include and what not, especially when the early stages of collection comes to mind.
Ask any collector how it all began, and you will hear stories ranging from collecting marbles to rare coins to stamps. Yinka Fisher is not different.
What started as a hobby many years ago collecting marbles, has blossomed into a 40 year journey collecting and acquiring pieces of modern and contemporary African art. Some of which are documented in his debut book – “For Art’s Sake.
And to put over 250 works from a massive collection together, the biographer and his subject must have worked so hard to identify works that not only represent the variety, but also the breadth of his collection.
The book, For Art’s Sake, which Jess Castellote co-edited with Akinyemi Adetunji and Lanre Fisher, offers a well-curated visual feast of artworks — a blizzard of beautiful pictures. Its chapters breeze through historical landmark periods and events, offering useful insights into the evolution of art in the country within the last 60 to 70 years.
The book is divided into eight chapters with acknowledgement, preface, introduction and index of artists. From the first page, which is a portrait of the collector standing in front of books by Segun Adejumo, oil on canvas, 105x72cm (YF@70.2019) to Simon Okeke, Head of a Student, bronze resin, 40cm, (1964) and Abiodun Olaku’s Sogunro Rendezvous, 2013, oil on canvas, 91x122cm, the book tells what shapes his tastes for art collection.
The book, which is considered a portrait of a ‘collector in transition’, traverses different generation of artists and it does a fine job conveying periodic trajectory. It creates a journal of everyday life that defines and explores the daily struggles of ordinary people.
The 272-page book, titled For Art’s Sake and subtitled A Selection from the Yinka Fisher Collection, provides a delightful experience of the collector’s over 50 years in the art.
Though he did not set out to collect artworks as an investment, nor did he consider them as such, the collector’s engaging narrative reveals his passion for promoting and preserving Nigerian modern and contemporary art.
The book, no doubts, is a product of a well-thought-out pet project of the Foundation for Contemporary and Modern Visual Arts (FCMVA) — The foundation, which the collector Yinka Fisher co-founded with Castellote.
The foundation started as a result of the passion to give context and legacy to the art scene and the artists in Nigeria. Since its inception in 2014, the FCMVA had, according to Castellote, who is also the director of the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art, been focused on documenting and giving greater visibility to Nigerian art.
As part of its efforts at giving voice to the Nigerian art, it had conceptualised a documentary series, Hidden Treasures, which focuses on the lives and works of various Nigerian artists and collectors.
FCMVA has produced two categories of documentaries — the full production Hidden Treasures and the spotlight miniseries. The series are insightful documentaries on prominent artists and collections. The series captures the essence of an artist and the uniqueness of a collection. Kolade Oshinowo was the subject of the pilot documentary. Other productions featured Yusuf Grillo, David Dale and the collections of His Royal Highness Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha.
The spotlight miniseries can also be viewed on our YouTube channel. The series has documented Duke Asidere, George Edozie, Olumide Onadipe, Phillips Nzekwe, Dipo Doherty and Tega Akpokona.
In his acknowledgement, Fisher disclosed that three people played a significant role in his decision to publish the book — Castellote, Lanre Fisher and Ayona Aguelle-Trimnell. He also acknowledged the significant role of contributors such as Professor Jerry Buhari from the Ahmadu Bello University’s fine arts and Sotheby’s head of Modern and Contemporary African Art Hannah O’ Leary as well as those of a leading collector and expert on Ben Enwonwu’s works Neil Coventry, the National Gallery of Art’s former acting director-general Simon Ikpakronyi and Rele Gallery’s founder Adenrele Sonariwo.
Still on his collection, Fisher describes artworks in the watercolour medium as his ‘first love’ and among these artworks were depictions of all forms of human activities and landscapes.
He says: “My first love was artworks in watercolour. I find this medium vibrant, brightly colourful and most attractive. In the late 80s and 90s, the Art School in Auchi, Edo State, produced some brilliant watercolourists. I was also fascinated by landscapes. They draw me next to nature and situate me as if I am part of the artwork. Landscapes, in different mediums, feature prominently in my collection, as well as works on paper. Parallel to my love for landscapes, my eyes were fixated on the expression of human forms by different artists.
“This attraction was not just about works featuring studio models, but also portraiture and all forms of human endeavours, activities or crowd scenes. I am also fascinated by market scenes, the movements therein, the hustle and bustle of the crowd and the rainbow of colours of the goods, umbrellas and market stalls.”
On his impressive collection, which houses over 500 artworks, Fisher says, “It never crossed my mind that I would end up having over 500 pieces of art, and still counting,” he writes in the book’s preface.
“I often wonder when it will stop! The eyes of a collector would always see an artwork that speaks to him, and he would acquire it. This is a fact of life and I have resigned myself to that.”
He continues, “My love for landscapes and human forms turned my attention to works in the oil medium. I started to pay attention to the effect of the brushstrokes and styles of different artists in the medium. I was attracted to the realism slant in the works produced by artists coming out of Yaba College of Technology.”
He is also drawn to works produced in the oil medium and relished the realistic paintings produced by artists from the Yaba College of Technology, the surrealistic works of the Abayomi Barber School.
“In later years,” he continues, “I began to see beauty in works of other mediums. Subsequently, sculptures started to appeal to me. I saw life in wood and strength in bronze. I, thereafter, plunged myself into the acquisition of sculptures, so much so that a friend recently walked into my sitting room and asked what I was doing with all these ‘ere’ (idols).”
Then, there is his fervent acquisition of works by the legendary Ben Enwonwu, most of which are works on paper. The book captures his first encounter with art. “I remember was an artwork that the late Prof. Ben Enwonwu gifted my late father in the late 50s.”
The Yinka Fisher Collection showcases Enwonwu’s principal themes and techniques whilst simultaneously providing a view of the chronological and stylistic development of Enwonwu’s art covering six decades of production.
Through Yinka’’s collection, the reader is able to view the ‘history’ Enwonwu referred to in his 1942 statement, from his early concepts via his sketches, to masterpieces of sculpture such as Anyanwu. “I acknowledge Ben Enwonwu as a versatile artist in most mediums, but I personally find something special in these works, especially in watercolour.”
Ignore the glut of grammar books out there, pick this one. Not only because it is a coffee table book, it is a celebration of vibrant colours. It represents in a defined creative perspective that could be regarded as philosophy.
The importance of this book should not be underestimated, not only because of the beauty and breadth of the works in it, the number of artists included and the insight it provides into the evolution of art in Nigeria over the last 60 to 70 years but also the high standards of the quality of the images and the commentary inside it. It stays true to what it set out to accomplish Fisher’s goal of preserving the continuity of the art ecosystem. In his own words Fisher said ““I hope by the publication of this book, I have brought out some hidden treasures in my collection and contributed to provenance.” “All these and more For Art’s sake”.