By Okechukwu Uwaezuoke
A hundred works is indeed a huge collection for any single show. Mavua Lessor drives home this point in a recent e-conversation with me. Yet another one of his many biennial solo exhibitions, Vitality in Diversity, opened yesterday at Nike Art Centre along Lekki Expressway in Lagos.
Featuring in this show are recent works contrived with such found objects as aluminium metal sheets among other materials. He crows about “[a] wide range of new subjects, diverse mediums and techniques...” These, in addition to the large sizes of the works, mark the difference from the previous shows.
Of course, there is also the fact that the 1986 Auchi Polytechnic graduate has attained a level of proficiency in his use of these mediums. Lessor, a lone wolf of the talent-glutted art scene, owes no allegiance to any artistic creed or master. “With many years of practice, I have come full circle. I now have a style that is uniquely Mavua Lessor’s. I now influence many young artists,” he declares.
Trained originally as a painter, Lessor has moved on to other forms of artistic expression. Like tendrils, his well-braced mind gropes about for inspiration, which crystallises into colourfully exciting works. “It does not matter to me if my creations or forms exceed the boundaries of my original discipline: painting. Some of my works in this collection are already stepping beyond the boundaries of painting.”
Curiously, Lessor seems to enjoy more patronage from white expatriate collectors than from Nigerians. Does he have plans to expand the circle of his patrons to include more Nigerians? He does. Already, he believes his works appeal to both Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike. Yet, he admits that the non-Nigerian collectors are more in number. There are, indeed, many among them who he does not even know personally. “They are attracted to my works,” he says. “On the other hand, the circle of Nigerian collectors seems smaller and overwhelmed by a large art market. This sent several artists soliciting for patronage. As for me, I strive to produce works that attract patronage.”
In this exhibition, which has entered its second day today, Lessor attempts to respond to the changes around him and in the global scene. “We are now lost in a world between the present and the past,” he muses in his exhibition catalogue. “As these new realities dawn, a new challenge full of contradictions and contrasts is also created. This outing is an attempt to strike this balance. A blend of contemporary inspired works and works motivated by natural, social and traditional concerns form the body of this collection.”
He has invested two years of hard work on this current project and describes his experience as “very rewarding”. To each of his works, he ascribes an individual charm as well as a collective significance.
A new realisation also creeps into his psyche through each new work. He describes this new consciousness as the “knowledge of the silent whisperings of beings all around us, helping to unlock the secret of colours”.
“In fact, it is either my vision is getting sharper with maturity in the practice of art or the dynamics of art is unveiling more and more secrets which I simply just download,” he adds.
In this turning point show, Lessor seems intent on wring out the vitality in the diversity of the subjects, mediums and style. “I can feel it, it envelopes me and could be intoxicating.”
The Delta State-born artist, who took a headlong plunge into fulltime studio practice in 1993, has left a long trail of landmark exhibitions behind him so far. Between 1993 and 2007, he was exclusively exhibiting and marketing his works at the Signature Gallery outlets in Lagos, Abuja and London. A warm relationship expectedly developed between him and this gallery.
When he stepped out with his first solo exhibition in 1998, he had the backing and moral support of the gallery. The success of this first outing egged him on to hold the subsequent one in 2001. Riding on the crest of these two shows, other shows followed in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Having now come to terms with the idea of holding biennial shows, Lessor sought other ways of expanding the market for his art beyond the shores of Nigeria. Thus, 2011 became an interregnum period for taking his art to the USA. A fallout of that experience is his inclusion in an annual publication, International Contemporary Artists. He remains the first and only Nigerian artist so listed and published till date