He is my cousin, and I have been friends since my time in Nsukka, when he was studying at University of Port Harcourt. Ikechukwu Francis Okoronkwo, aka IkeFrancis to you aka Kindred to those who know him from Oguta has come a long way. The fifth of six children- two daughters and four sons, he had a humble and noble beginning in life. He ended up doing a Master’s degree program in Painting under Professor Chike Aniakor, and has since become Aniakor’s favourite son and prodigy.
IkeFrancis was called Kindred (pronounced Kin-Dread) in my village by his peers and had dug deep roots into Rastafarianism. He and his friends formed a three man Reggae singing group and they performed in the early eighties at Charley Boy’s Oguta Studio and bar. They even released an album produced by Charley Boy. That album brought fame in our village circle, but not beyond. At some point then, he would visit me in our country home and we would gist while I painted on the balcony of our two-storey building on 59 A.C. Nwapa Road, Oguta. His house was on the same street, a few compounds away. Then, he was enamoured with the scrap metal sculptures that pervaded the growing Art School at University of Port Harcourt, Choba, Rivers State. I also took note of his multi-coloured palette of pastel-coloured oil paintings executed alla prima with a palette knife.
We often discussed the artistic climate in Nsukka- Aniakor, Udechukwu, Chika Okeke, El Anatsui etc. I was pleasantly surprised to hear of his admission to gain a Master of Painting Degree from my alma mater. He investigated the power of Visual Language, and combined it with Poetry in his paintings, creating a Morph that totally delighted Professor Aniakor, who was still at Nsukka then. Ike Francis’ mural still adorns the outer wall of one of the Art History classes in Nsukka.
It was at Nsukka that he met then Sri Lankan female painter Sukanthy Visaggaperumal, my contemporary in the Art School. IkeFrancis has done well as a painter, and featured in many art exhibitions here, and abroad. It was in his paintings that I saw the use of circuit boards for the first time (I could swear that he introduced this element as a medium in Painting even before the renowned Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya, but this would distract from the intention of this essay, which is to showcase the Nigerian artist that signs off as IkeFrancis).
Ike Francis has also had his share of accolades. He won a Painting award from the Spanish Embassy in Nigeria; and more recently, won the third place prize at the last Lagos Black Heritage Festival organised with sponsorship from the Catalina de Medici Foundation, Italy, two years ago. I visited his hotel by the seaside in Oniru, Lagos, where he and about twenty-nine other shortlisted painters were lodged by the organisers of the LBHF Art Competition. I had been among the hundreds of artists interviewed prior to the beginning of the contest, at the Civic Centre, Lagos. I was not lucky to be nominated as one of the finalists, though I was pleased to have participated in some artistic event alongside other artists.
Another interesting relationship in his life, and work, was the long-term friendship between him and Sam Ovraiti. Both artists’ works share great similarities in their composition and execution of female figures- the tall slim figures with hair falling across their faces, all formed in broken kaleidoscope of colours. The major differentiating factor in their works, for me, is in the use of media- Ovraiti is a master of Watercolour while Ike Francis works mainly with Acrylics.
Ike Francis is truly my brother, a kindred spirit that has shared life, laughter and Art with me. I recall how nicely he cooked some catfish we caught trapped in some abandoned fishnet at the nearby stream in the village. We have strategized together about making it big, chased after women together like every other full-blooded jolly fellow, gone fishing at the stream, slept and eaten together. In fact, he left for Port Harcourt from my house today. He is Professor Aniakor’s first son, and still visits Aniakor in Calabar to receive mentorship and fatherly advice on sundry matters. Hail, Ike Francis aka Iyke-kindred aka Ikechukwu Okoronkwo, you are one of us, Umu-Uli.
We are still making plans to make it big as Artists someday soon. Our paths still criss-cross. Presently, he teaches Art in University of Port Harcourt and is struggling to finish a Doctorate Degree program there as well.
The artist IKE OKORONKWO aka IKE FRANCIS aka KINDRED