Escaping from time, space to Ogakwu’s illimite-II in Enugu

By freeing his art from the shackles of norms and traditions, Chinedu Ogakwu appears to have strengthened his visual vocabulary, so suggests his new work, which is an attempt to broaden the technique he launched four years ago.
‘Status Symbol’ by Chinedu Ogakwu
‘Status Symbol’ by Chinedu Ogakwu

By freeing his art from the shackles of norms and traditions, Chinedu Ogakwu appears to have strengthened his visual vocabulary, so suggests his new work, which is an attempt to broaden the technique he launched four years ago. In 2015, Ogagkwu unveiled a technique he tagged Illimite in Lagos, his first solo show in the cityHaving pushed the technique into the consciousness of art aficionados, Ogakwu has returned to the exhibition circuit, this time with Ilimite-II.

Holding from December 6-13 2019 at National Gallery of Art, Enugu, the show interrogates a borrowed French word, ‘Illimite’, which means unlimited, but adapted by Ogakwu to enhance his mixed media works on canvas.  The new exhibition is set to highlight Ogakwu’s dexterity in mixed media, a concept he says is “unhindered by space or time.” With cracked canvas that is textured in aging technique, Ogakwu brings themes from different contemporary cultural genres to spice his works.

On roughened canvas of partly reflecting textures, the artist, in a group of figurative titled, Matters of the Moment , coalesces pseudo-silhouette style with cracking technique. For some parts of the cracks, the artist creates spots in painting, perhaps, to decode dialogue among the converged figures.
Quite a number of the works heading for the exhibition highlight fashion trends alongside socio-cultural statements. Such pieces include, ‘Conviviality’, ‘My Lady’, ‘Family Picture,’ ‘Headgear’, ‘Owambe’ and ‘Status Symbol’.Softening textures from the cracked and aged canvas techniques is ‘Status Symbol’, a mixed-media painting that derives its beauty from the cubism he employed.

From the figure’s haircut to the two-piece suit, a grand fashion statement is revealed,,, as the background enhances the texture of the composite. As an art piece, the painting speaks volume across contemporary cultures.

Incorporate and hip-hop taste, ‘Status Symbol’ represents a blurring line being generated by the digital age, so suggests the cubism technique that also radiates semblance of reproduced robotic imagery. With the intimidating and rising profile of other visual genres such as installations and others that are avant-gardist in form, which has made some painters to be more bold and loud in contemporary expression. And the refuge for such expression is usually the application of loud materials.

For Ogakwu’s Illimite technique, which obviously derives its strength from the artist’s lavish application of materials, there is more statement to his themes beyond the heavy layers of mixed media. He noted how “intense passion and immense love of nature” has been the pedestal on which his art is mounted. The strength of the materials applied is generated from what he listed as wood bark, ropes, ‘camouflage canvas, nets, wallpapers, jute fabric, among others.

“These materials compel me to combine diverse sources; inspirations from my background, culture and life experiences to create feelings that scratch the walls of my being in an attempt to escape into the natural world.” From his thoughts on values comes ‘Family Picture’ series, in which the artist stylises figures to depict three persons that represent father mother and a young adult. Ogakwu’s style and technique add strong value to the bond that exists in an ideal family. Again, there is something about every theme of the artist that carries fashion statement along, so explains the ‘Family Picture’ series.

Also, in ‘Conviviality’, the artist brings similar style and technique to continue his celebration of people in bonding,Ogakwu further brings his thought on fashion trends onto canvas in quite a number of pieces. Among such is ‘Head Gear’, in which a lady’s moulded head wear, her sunglasses and blouse combine to show an urban pop culture of contemporary Nigeria.

The mixed media piece indeed celebrates the importance of ‘gele’ (head wear) to most Nigerian women. When pronounced application of materials becomes an artist’s passion, there comes other value beyond aesthetics. “By this transformation, natural materials and sometimes wastes, are given new relevance,” Ogakwu explained in his artist’s statement for Illimite-II. “One can discover endless little details, and to me every new piece is a challenge.”

He argued that using objects on most of his wall pieces goes beyond creating a “3D structural quality to the compositions, but also questions what time really means when one is lost in it.Ogakwu had traced the trajectory of his cracked and aging canvas techniques to a project themed ‘As Old As Man’.
The concept, he recalled, set him out in experimenting with naivety of how ancient artists generated their forms and proceeded to appropriate such into contemporary space.The experiment in ‘old’ forms would later create what he termed as the timelessness of his focus, interpreting of a subject matter to transform “into rich, vibrant, radiant, bold and uplifting colour that timelessly awaken the soul of the viewer.”Every artist has either a commercial or critical emotive attachment to a particular piece of art. Sometimes, the emotion attached is hard to let go.

For Ogakwu, its about “elation, contentment and ultimate satisfaction of the feelings I experience on completion of each work, which further fuels my drive and zeal to begin yet another one.” Still on his art ideology or philosophy, as regards Illimite, Ogakwu said: “I believe that comfort zone kills, opportunity dances with those on the dance floor, the worst of you is today and your best is tomorrow, and your limit in life is within mind.”

Ogakwu set out as a self-taught artist. He recalled that his self-taught background prepared him for a Higher National Diploma programme in Painting at the Institute of Management Technology (IMT), Enugu. Currently, a full-time studio artist based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Ogakwu’s artist statement, stresses: “His works often engages an impulsive combination of forms, color, scale and perspective, calling into question how the viewer processes visual information. He uses visual metaphors as platform from which he not only investigates daily life and challenges of man, but employs colours in a native aged style to express his idea. This gave room to one of his successful project titled ‘Stone Age’ (As Old As Man.)”

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