Family Portrait of GERRY NNUBIA
“Unlicensed”, an exhibition of acrylic and mixed-media paintings by Gerry Nnubia, opens soon at the Omenka Gallery Ikoyi, Lagos, writes Mary Ekah
Arts, for Gerry Nnubia, a contemporary artist has to be conceived from your inner recess and the result has to be something that is rather unconventional or unusual.
So the exhibition billed to run from July 7 will highlight a near-total disregard for licensed conventions and techniques of practice. Here the artist offers critical possibilities for painting, and explores the tensions between form and formlessness vital to the tenets of modernism. The show will attempt to explore the artist’s working methods tagged “acrylic flow” technique which is the artist’s unique product of a ten-year period of hibernation and experimentation.
With Unlicensed, the artist is trying to deviate from the conventional techniques of arts. “Most of the time, when we talk of creative arts people don’t really understand what it means. There are also representative arts, where you draw something you find in nature and then replicate it in painting, but creative arts is that which is not found in nature. However, here, you can take a clue from what you see in nature but push it a little further to create something unique. Sometimes, you can even do away with that which is given and summon it from your innermost recess to create something extraordinary.
“But from the classical days, art has always been representative in the category of naturalism, realism and all that until the era of the modern arts, which gave way to abstraction, stylization and the like. But you find out that art collectors and enthusiasts, complain that in the galleries and amongst the Nigerian artists, they see the same kind of art every day. So, basically, from my own point of view and out of my own orientation, arts has been groomed to be that which you must find yourself and your style; you must have to be yourself and also be able to carve a niche for yourself. This the way I have always seen arts.”
Such mindset gave birth to a lot of experiments, culminating in “Unlicensed”. “I have experimented for decades in my art career and the results of the experiments are what I am about to show,” he said. Nnubia describes himself as a “master of all media”, and prefers acrylics as a medium of expression while once in a while he experiments on mixed media, like mixture of acrylics and oil.
Describing the uniqueness of his works, the artist said, “I have tried working with a lot of materials, most of the times they are acrylics-based materials. Right from the time I got very much acquainted with watercolour and when I actually left school in the late 80s, I was in love with watercolour a lot and I painted a lot of watercolours but getting to solidify my art, I came up with my own unique style of art which I call Acrylic Flow.”
Nnubia who has also taught briefly in 1988 at the Auchi Polytechnic where he researched the use of colour in painting, despite his closeness and interaction with his contemporaries in Lagos, mainly from the strongly figurative Yaba School, found it necessary to seek alternative forms of expressing reality.
With Unlicensed opening at the Ikoyi Crescent venue of the Omenka Gallery, artists, collectors and scholars alike will once again have the opportunity to view first-hand what will become a major reference point in modern and contemporary art discourse in Nigeria.
It must have taken Nnubia years to put together the 30 works he is showcasing in this exhibition. Here in Nigeria, most times artists begin to work when they have exhibitions but it is not exactly like that with Nnubia because in the “Unlicensed” collections, one can find works that he did from 2008 till date.
“I wouldn’t say that it took me all these years to prepare for this exhibition but in my career, along the line of working on this experiment, knowing some day I am going to show them, at very point in time, I select a few of the works that I may have to use for an exhibition as it is today,” the artist
Nnubia whose last and second solo exhibition was held in 2003 in Lagos held his first solo show in 1988 in Enugu soon after his higher national diploma. “I try to prepare very well for my exhibitions because I don’t want to be like some artists in Nigeria who in their quest to just come out, do not spend time to make their jobs perfect before coming out. So when you take a look at the works that I am going to showcase, you would see that a lot of time and creative energy have been put into it,” he noted.
Apparently, those were years of experimentations and now that he has found a unique style of his, he may not have to stay that long any more to hold shows, particularly when he has new things on board.
Born in 1966 in Enugu, Nnubia hails from Ihiala in Anambra State. As a child, he drew on the walls at home with charcoals and sketched in the sands with sticks for the lack of proper art materials at his disposal shortly after the Nigerian Civil War in 1970. At secondary school, he distinguished himself in designing banners, drawing cartoons and illustrations used as teaching aids. Nnubia studied visual art at the Institute of Management Technology (IMT), Enugu, where he was not only taught the fundamentals, but how to improvise to communicate meaning. This laid the foundation for what would become the hallmark of his art – the tendency to deviate from the norms.
Nnubai said his art is mostly inspired by nature. “I key into nature because I grew up in a very natural environment in the Eastern part of Nigeria.” He was however quick to point out that Ihiala, a community in Anambra State where he was brought up then as a young boy was particularly not a village, even though he was surrounded by nature. “Growing up, we were attuned to nature and wandered into nature, the forests, to look at birds and trees and that has given me ample inspiration. If you look at the range of works I am going to show in this exhibition, you would find a lot of things akin to nature.”
Little was known of Nnubia before his 2006 group exhibition, Diversity, organized by Total which featured his early unique flowing paintings. These earlier experiments addressed environmental issues – the radical flux and unpredictability of the medium lending to the tensions created by natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions, tsunami, hurricanes and dust storms.
His recent canvases however engage the beauty of nature and deep human experiences like family and togetherness. At other times, Nnubia exhibits uncommon dexterity, pushing and diverting his paint in defining form. Whatever inspiration underlies his themes, the bold execution betrays a strong universal appeal in refusal of an ethnic framework.
Nnubia’s works are not only influenced by nature but also by the socio-economic situation in the nation. “Nature here is verse, but I am not always political. I have had a few works that you can term political but most of my works like the exhibition I did in 2003 was titled, ‘Issues of the Environment’, was an exhibition put together to bring to our consciousness once again the fact that our environment was deteriorating. So exhibition was to showcase the environment as it used to be, so then I had showcased brilliant colorful flowers and flower forests not rendered in realism but in a suggestive manner. So when I say my inspiration comes from nature, it is not that it comes from only beautiful part of the nature; but it also comes from the dilapidating aspect of the nature. For example in this exhibition I have a work titled, the ‘Raging Planet’, ‘Age Long Love’, ‘The Raging Sea.’”
On his expectation, he said: “I know there is a particular class of the society that is disposed to the art. They are obviously a very special class of people in the society and the truth s that wherever good arts that are unobtainable in any where and so unique and unconventional, is shown, like a flower draws butterflies and insects, so also would good art attract special art collectors.”