9 February 2013

Nigeria: Eghosa-Henry - An Eccentric Visual Theorist


Adedayo Adejobi, Writes On Osaretin Eghosa Henry An International Nigerian Artist, Illustrator, And Painter Who Is Best Known For His Drawings And Paintings Of Shakespearean And Victorian Subjects

Osaretin Eghosa Henry was born in 1981, in Oba-Yanthohor, Ikpoba-Oka Local Government of Edo State. He studied art at the prestigious Auchi Polytechnic, Auchi where he graduated in 2003 with National Diploma in Painting and General Art, while in 2006 he bagged a Higher National Diploma in Painting. Osaretin began as an illustrator, producing numerous illustrations and sketches individuals and various magazines.

In 2005, Henry painted a number of murals and other artworks for high profile individuals, which were displayed in Omega Gallery, Abuja. His works in the gallery include allegorical medallions representing nature, life on the street, motherhood, art, justice, and religion. His works have been exhibited regionally, nationally in juried exhibitions.

Cleff, as he is fondly called, was elected to the Songs of Gold Exhibition in Spain in November 2009, where he displayed a sizable collection of he's works, which explored the relationship between the etchings and paintings. On show were nearly 70 etchings juxtaposed with 21 related paintings and five drawings, plus three etching plates.

At his FCDA, Area 11 Studio in Abuja, watching Osaretin work, one cannot help but notice the fact that he does not make an etching from a painting, but rather creates them as separate works. His works set him apart as a renowned painter with a frank scrutiny on any figure he etches or paints, whether just a head or a full nude. But like so many painters, Osaretin's etching is an established part of his artistic practice too.

Visiting his studio has provided the opportunity to study his works in these two mediums together, particularly where he had done both a painting and an etching of the same model. Sometimes the etching precedes the painting. He uses the same painterly and gestural approach in both, creating bunched, feathered, and hatched lines to convey the feature of an individual. He simply has developed a style of his own.

Among Osaretin's typically dark, mysterious works are some of the most meticulously executed paintings ever made. The lace curtains or splintered wood, which are usually recreated using brushes of a single hair often, require months and probably years to complete. Osaretin focuses on few themes through most of his works, particularly life on the street, nature, death, life, the material and the spirit, and the effects of time.

He paints very complex works, and their titles match their complexity. He does not name a painting until it was complete, at which time he would come up with several possibilities, more poetic than descriptive, before deciding on one. Such an example is Poor Room - There is No Time, No End, No Today, No Yesterday, No Tomorrow, Only the Forever, and Forever and Forever Without End (The Window), the last two words actually describing the painting (it was as such the painting is generally referred). Another painting, And Man Created God in His Own Image, was called God Created Man in His Own Image when it toured the South.

Speaking on his works on oil on canvas, one can't help but come to the understanding Osaretin's realistic, but exaggerated, depictions of decay and corruption makes him very well suited to undertake such a project, as he depicts the present Nigerian political terrain with ease. On life and work as a painter, Osaretin says, "I have made my own paints and charcoal, and carved my own elaborate frames. I am a stickler for detail, creating elaborate setups for paintings before starting work. I am obsessive about lighting to the point that I painted my studio in colourful shades," he enthused.

An expressionist advocate, Henry, who also loves photography, shares a very different point of view with regards to the symbolic value of a conventional form of arts widely known as expressionism. He says, "Though I'm sure some art-history buffs are likely to say otherwise, from everything I've read about expressionism, it seems the individual artists now labeled as expressionists largely made it up as they went along, following their instincts as to what colour to use, when and where.

The 'breakthrough' was that colour didn't have to be realistic. While reference is made to colors having symbolic value, again it seems to me that this symbolism should be largely determined by individual artists, and not governed by a rigid set of pre-existing rules." Osaretin postulates. Osaretin believes "the invention of photography had released painting from the need to copy nature", leaving him free to "present emotion as directly as possible and by the simplest means."

Osaretin tries to explain his approach to interpreting paintings: "Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use colour more arbitrarily, in order to express myself forcibly. I should like to paint the portrait of an artist friend, a man who dreams great dreams, who works as the nightingale sings, because it is his nature. He'll be a blond man. I want to put my appreciation, the love I have for him into the picture. So I paint him as he is, as faithfully as I can, to begin with. But the picture is not yet finished. To finish it I am now going to be the arbitrary colourist. I exaggerate the fairness of the hair, I even get to orange tones, chromes and pale citron-yellow." the painter explained.

Quoting Kandinsky, the signature member of the Society of Nigerian Arts (SNA) says: "The artist must train not only his eye but also his soul, so that it can weigh colours on its own scale and thus become a determinant in artistic creation. As an artist, I don't just see colour, but experience it with my other senses too, such as experiencing colours as sounds or seeing sounds as colour."

Relishing how he got accustomed to expressionism, Osaretin goes down memory lane saying, "remember that a lot of what we're used to was new at the time of the expressionists. When you look at Matisse's Girl with Green Eyes painting, for example, it's hard to believe his contemporaries were outraged by it and regarded it as grotesque. Matisse biographer Hilary Spurling says: "The confident gaze and frank body language of these young women, painted almost a century ago, speak directly to us today, although contemporaries could see little in these portraits but meaningless jumbles of color outlined in ugly black brushstrokes," he eulogised.

Speaking on how he approaches trying to paints in an expressive and painterly style, he says, "I'd start by letting the subject matter of the painting determine the colours I select. I go with my instinct, not my intellect. I initially limit the number of colors I use to five - a light, medium, dark, and two tones in between. I then paint with them according to tone not hue. If I then want to use more colors, I'd start by adding complementariness. I Use the colour straight from the tube, unmixed. At that stage, I don't second-guess myself until I've done quite a bit of painting, after which I then step back and look at the result' 'he held.

Further technically addressing broken colour, a skill used today by some artists. Osaretin Eghosa Henry said, "it goes like this: suppose I have an index card that is a permanent light green color. You can see it from across the room easily enough. That is green all right. Now we take an index card that is half, say, cerulean blue, and half cadmium yellow light. I put a hole in the middle of the card and I spin it, in principle, from across the room you will see a similar green but this time the green has more energy. It is alive. It mixes optically at a distance. That is what broken color is supposed to achieve - the actual sensation of light itself"'. He hypothesises.

Affirming the aforementioned position, he says "But without the point of view in painting, the technique is rather empty and vacuous. It is like the dreadful 'style' where someone who thinks they are using an Impressionist method and simple makes a lot of little dabs to create an effect, albeit a rather dead one at that".

Now, articulating what makes his works different from others, he goes down memory lane, saying, "instead of making smooth paintings that referred to classical literature and history, the Insurgents painted the 'real' life around them from boat parties to shoes to streets to haystacks. It was personal and they wanted their personality to show. Hence, they were hedonistic visual treats for the artists who did the work. They tasted the world through their eyes.

For me, the new form of painting is all about the thrill and delight of the visual sensation, which means becoming intimately involved with the sensation of light. It is about painting directly from nature and expressing the rush of your visual, as opposed to ideational sensation on the canvas in such a way that the activity itself is the point, not the painting.

The young widely travelled painter who wields knowledge in interior painting and design has illustrated several books in Nigeria" " I also love to explore different methods, media, and technique, pastel, water colour, gouache, acrylic and tempera. I believe in colours, as it is what defines me. It is my way of life.

Relishing how he cut his teeth in the art trade, he participated in the Pat-Kairo Undergraduate Art Exhibition and Auchi polytechnic Exhibitions respectively in 2006 while he also took part in the second International Expo in October 2009,a platform where he displayed his works.

In 2009,he participated in "the blossom", an exhibition organised by the Society of Nigerian Artist (SNA) and Song of Gold exhibition themed "Nigeria vs Spain", an exhibition organised by Embassy of Spain. "Treasure of Africa" organised by Egyptian all in 2009 featured his works.

A few other exhibitions he has fully participated are Anatomy of our Independence in September 2010,Nigeria at 50 Enugu, Nigeria at 50 Patriot-portrait awards Lagos amongst others. Osaretin who lives and works in Abuja Osaretin has held over 20 solo exhibitions since 2006.

His work borrows heavily from the pictorial inheritance of Symbolism and Surrealism. There is always a poetic mystery and sense of menace. His works resonate with powerful symbolism, and his landscapes in particular are full of disquieting atmosphere, with objects bathed in half-light and shadows.

Speaking on how he achieves these laudable feats, "for the painting as a whole he selected a range of unifying midtones, especially the blues, greens, and earths, which had similar levels of saturation. By avoiding the most luminous of colours for his brights, which could break the unity, the midtones thus create a subdued flavor to the picture. Osaretin is quoted as saying "when you want to make a portrait, do it in dull weather, or as evening falls."

Henry takes us one stage further though, away from the focal point of the picture, the midtones blend into shadow, colour dissipates into monochromatic darks, much the same as you get on a photographic image with a tight focal range. "I use the Sfumato technique refers to the subtle gradation of tone which is used to obscure sharp edges and create a synergy between lights and shadows in a painting." He speaks.

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