Groping through the Dark

Fortunately I write almost as fast as I think, even on a noisy night distorted by the staccato rumble of a generator acting up like it is coughing its last( Nollywood movie style). Of course there is no PHCN light now. Writing this fast helps ease the pain of having left my laptop in the office; and my BB internet subscription is not working twenty days after I subscribed for a monthly package. There is no way I can connect to my blog to update.
All these circumstances are affective to the creative progress in our times. The internet has taken centre-stage in our daily lives. I keep drifting from the main reason am writing this- I am celebrating having signed and delivered a portrait I started painting three weeks ago! The painting is not so much the issue as the fact of signing off a work as ‘finished’ (reference my earlier post on the difficulties of Signing an Art work)

                              Preparatory sketch for a family portrait.
I got commissioned after a reference from a friend (just the way I like it). I prefer working for people who have some familiarity with my work. That way, they already know what to expect from me, and I also am not working based on a presumption of what they are expecting. My old patron has commissioned me to paint over ten portraits for him in the past, some of which now decorate his world-class law firm in Oniru, Lagos. His family friend now contracted me to paint his family portrait and paid the requisite advance- two-thirds the full amount.
I am not known for my Realism, albeit that I am quite good at it. I may have had better success with Portraiture, than with Abstract Expressionism and Stylisation. I enjoy the head-cracking conceptualism and supremacy of the Idea in Abstract Art better. I only paint portraits like one that is groping in the dark, who suddenly hits on the light switch. Form a recent conversation I had, I adduced that my works would be more appropriately called ‘sketches’. They look and are ‘unfinished (in the sense that I understand how interactions with the viewer will expand the interpretation and assimilation of the Art piece. I continually, revise, redirect and relocate the Art idea. This happens most clearly in my collection of unpublished poems which I have rewritten so many times that I no longer recall the reason, or inspiration for some of the poems. They end up as disjointed words, clues to a puzzle. My paintings are like also bits and pieces; body parts scattered in all directions, or deconstructed landscapes. I relish my audacity and control in Painting.
My charcoal and pastel drawing
Portraiture demands an opposite or a more controlled skill to recreate appearances. Apart from the morbid fear of failing, one may have to struggle to ‘see’ into a distorted, exaggerated or badly lit photograph. The worst things that happened with this portrait was the yellowish lighting the photographer introduced that gave the sitters a bronzed-out look; and the slight distortion of the face of the closest person to the photographer. The hard light softened the linear structure of the smiling faces a bit_ I really would have appreciated meeting the entire family before completing the work; or at least a visit from the man who commissioned me. We seem to live in a place(Lagos) where there is no time for such a ‘small insignificant event’ as a studio visit to critique a small portrait which is worth some hundred thousands, even if it will ‘live’ to see one or two more generations of the patron’s bloodline! Sadly, we get the criticism ‘after the fact’-when we have signed and delivered the work.

It would be easier to get me painting a new portrait than reworking it as the works loses some of its spontaneity with overworking. My difficulty with signing off an art work lies in my destructive nature of ‘killing’ the work with overloads of references, and bearing down with heavy criticisms of my own work.

                                                              Building the faces
Halfway through, an artist friend called Uche visited and was amazed at the portrait( this is the response I get from people who are only familiar with my abstract, stylised paintings) Uche is a machine when it comes to churning out paintings- on a good day he finishes twenty basic abstract paintings. My average is two paintings in three weeks, though I have had my rare moments when the muse sang loud and clear and I finished a painting in a day, even portrait painting. He suggested that I stop off where I was then. Representative work(Portraiture) and Conceptual Art( Abstraction, Stylization and non-figurative Art) all seem to have a life of their own, taking their time to emerge as the artist works the planned, or unplanned accidents of putting the elements of the art work together. Art is difficult to limit to a time-frame. One can only follow a working pattern and expect the moment of illumination when the work is ‘resolved’ in his eyes. I signed off a week after Uche’s visit, and went to deliver.

                                                 Working from the upper left
The time came a week behind schedule. I had my throes and pangs. I suddenly became forgetful of little things (misplaced my iPad and wallet more than once); had drifting spells and despairing sugar binges. I got disappointed by the framer twice, and then had to go through the trauma of carrying the heavy, glassed pastel painting haphazardly through traffic-jammed Ozumba Mbadiwe Road, balancing my iPad and a Vogue magazine on my laps while the okada man carrying me raced like some loony-eyed Jim-high-on-cheap drugs. This form of transportation is better, for my fast-paced life; than crawling under the scorching afternoon heat in traffic, stick in my wife’s Honda Baby-Boy! The poor car’s air-conditioning ‘gave up the ghost’ in the last raining season on the street to my house when it ditched me in the centre of a pool of water that covered the bonnet. I had to swim out of the car through the open window.
                                                           My Work Space
My patron is a Harvard Business School graduate who lives a picture perfect life with a picture perfect family of four. He sent the picture for the portrait via email a few days before Valentine’s Day. I soon started work, first making a free composition of colours in preparation. I then made a precise charcoal drawing on pastel paper (charcoal blends well with pastels), and started blocking in the faces. I worked from the upper left to avoid smudging the painting.
At some point in my work, I realised that working in all the details would have become overkill, uptight and boring; contrary to the light-hearted spirit I wanted to convey here. Also, the pastels would have lost their freshness. I preferred using the side of the pastel sticks to blend in transitions of colour, instead of blurring with my fingers. I managed to snap the painting process with my Blackberry phone, but I am not sure I snapped the work after I signed. Another ‘lost’ work? All well, I may have another day. After all, I am not even sure when to say the work is finished. The viewer, in interacting with the work, will also ‘add’ his own interpretation of the work, thereby expanding its meaning. The artist enjoys such freedoms- a freedom to open new ways of ‘seeing’, and reinterprets the whole idea of ‘being’. It is the freedom of expression that all mankind yearns for.
4:40am, Lent, 2012,
From Badore, Lagos.


2 thoughts on “Groping through the Dark

  1. ‘No food for lazy man’. To this story, Tony himself would have shouted “Nna eh-hhhhh!” You are a gifted writer, Tony. This and others need to be put together in a volume later. They will make very interesting read. Jisi ike-O!


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