The power of art to elicit discussion is often the best proof of its value, says Ndubisi Ahanonu, the founder and Chief Executive Officer, International Institute for Cultural Development Centre (IICD-Centre), and curator of Samuel Onyilo’s ongoing show, Diary of an Alchemist, at the IICD Centre, Abuja.
Onyilo’s solo show features 16 pieces of artworks that capture the reality of human existence. The artist’s preoccupation can be gleaned from the titles of his works, which include, The Giant Pygmy in the Shadow of Modernity and Advancement, Spirit and Matter, Contemplation (Blue Reality), Fire Demystified, Shredded Humanity and the Geometry of a Fallen Specie and Contemplation. There is also, Transmutation of Joy and Pain.
While some are realised on mixed media, others are made on paper clip and melted polyester on canvas. Yet, virtually all the works centre on man and the true essence of humanity.
Onyilo, who has featured in several joint and solo shows, sys that he is more concerned about the non-material aspect of man in the current show.
The state of humanity, which Onyilo attempts to transform, is captured in the confusing and deep emotional looks on the faces of figures that run through most of his paintings. Another amazing aspect of his paintings is the gigantic size.
Beyond the looks, the artist captures the unanswered questions bordering the heart of man in strokes, patches, spits and conflict of colours.
For the artist, the show took him over two years to package from conception to completion. According to him, his paintings capture “the essence of man and the core value that is shredded.”
He adds: “Man has to be more introspective and begin to subscribe to values. Man should hold on to a value of equilibrium where every one has a spirit of discernment.
“I think seriously about value reorientation, lofty values that are believed in and cherished across the world, that which transcends fate or religion”, he said.
Onyilo believes that what gives life to an art piece or object is the spirit.
He said: “It is the encounter of the artist’s spirit with an object that brings about transformation.”
Ahananu, who spoke at the exhibition opening on Saturday, said the true essence of the works are in the content and size.
For the curator, the sincerity of Onyilo’s artworks, ability of his ideas to elicit dialogue and his practice of dealing with the synthesis of the mundane and eternal always inspire and engage him on a personal level.
Onyilo is an artist that is not entirely devoid of the influence of technology. Rather, he works from digested personal experiences and has developed into what we regard as serious artist.
“It is evident that he is no adventurer striving for momentary notoriety, considering the strangeness of his beliefs and philosophy.
“In one of my conversations with him, he told me that he will never paint a rose just to adore a wall but he would rather bow to the divine reality in a petal of a rose.”
Ahanonu noted that the alchemy as an art style is beginning to gain importance as the ancestor of modern chemistry.
“Alchemists were notorious for attempting to make synthetic gold but their goals were far more ambitious. They tried to transform and bend nature to the will of an industrious human imagination.
“Alchemists’ efforts to discover the way the world is made have had an enduring impact on artistic practice and expression around the globe.
“Inventions born from alchemical laboratories include metal alloys for sculpture and ornament, oil paints, effects in glassmaking and even the chemical baths of photography.
“The mysterious art of alchemy transformed the visual culture from antiquity to the Industrial Age and its legacy still permeate the world we make today.”
Ahanonu further described Onyilo as an artist who makes the rules for his materials and a modern master of alchemic elements, who transformed and transmutes materials to obedience.
Onyilo has done several solo shows, and his first was in 2001 at the French embassy and another in 2002. His 2004 and 2006 shows were under the title, Spirit and Matter.
In 2010, Onyilo represented Nigeria at the Cairo International Fine Art Biennale, and in October 2018, he participated in the exhibition of Nigerian Contemporary Artist organised by Nigerian Embassy in Singapore.
The exhibition runs till April 17.