Meeting David Dale...

25 Nov 2012

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David Dale

A first-time encounter with the renowned artist David Dale at his residence lifts the veil on the artist and his passions. Olufunke Adepuji reports

So this is David Dale! The renowned café-au-lait complexioned artist, sporting a red shirt, emerges from an inner room to greet his late morning guests. For someone convalescing from a debilitating stroke, the man who clocked 65 on Thursday is doing just fine. Unaided, he moves over to one of the sofas in the cluttered living room, clears away some books and lowers his not-so-tall frame on it. 

Surely, a man with his renown can afford to put on airs! After all, he has paid his dues in the contemporary Nigerian art scene. Indeed, his works are among the favoured ones in the OYASAF (acronym for Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation) collection. OYASAF claims to have the largest collection of his works in the world.

The foundation’s chairman, the gregarious Omooba Yemisi Shyllon informed me that the artist has worked successfully in 23 different mediums. At his home cum museum in a leafy low-density neighbourhood of Lagos Mainland, the artist’s larger-than-life sized bead paintings overwhelm a first-time visitor. Dale, an art critic confirmed later, is proficient in the medium. According to him, the artist couldn’t have produced less than 1000 bead paintings. And this doesn’t include the number in forgotten private collections.

Relocating from the arguably relatively more affluent Surulere neighbourhood to the quasi-rural Akute environment could have been depressing to him. The artist shakes his head in the negative. He’s definitely not complaining about his new environment. “If human beings live here, so can I,” he argues.

A number of his collector friends have expressed concern about his relocation and he had always given the same reply: he is happy where he is. True: his Surulere abode could be described as a horticultural haven. There, he had grown plants from virtually all the major continents of the world. But he could replicate all that here in his new environment, he says.

There are yet other competing hobbies. One of them is philately, which he seems to have given up after selling off his impressive stamp collection in the UK. The incredulous buyers had thought the collection was a bequest from his grand-father. “My first stamp was brought home to me by my aunt with whom I once lived with in the UK,” he recalls, his eyes sparkling with merriment.

The other hobby, coin collection, still subsists. Coins from different countries and periods in history are arranged beneath the glass top of one of the coffee tables in the living room.

But back to Dale the artist! He speaks about the challenges that come with procuring quality beads for his works. First, there is their prohibitive cost. Then, there is the relatively weaker exchange rate of the local currency (naira) vis-à-vis the international currencies. But he is nevertheless consoled about their durability when used to produce art works. Before his stroke, which had plunged him into coma for 12 days, he had had to travel abroad for medical evacuation.  This was as he reeled from the effects of inhaling too much araldite, which he used for his beadworks. 

There are also his etching works, which put so much strain on his wrists even when he complained of an arthritic condition. Dale declares that he has produced over 10,000 of such works. And that seems conservative given the number of these etchings in both private and public collections. Among the most recent of them is a work he titles “King Tortoise”, which adorns Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi’s Parkview Estate residence in Ikoyi, Lagos.

Dale is also celebrated for his stained-glass works. He crows about his stained-glass works at the former colonial church off Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos Island, Our Saviours’ Church. “I was so happy I did that project for God,” he gushes.
But that wasn’t the only one. He also did a similar project for Our Holy Family Catholic Church in Festac Town. There are other individual stained-glass works scattered in private collections.

Almost concurrently, he executed the mosaic project of the St Agnes Church’s grotto in Maryland, Lagos. A first-time visitor to the OYASAF Sculpture Garden is confronted by his mosaic works at the gate house as well as the ones bordering the walkway named after him. Among other mosaic works are the ones he was commissioned to do for Chief Razaq Okoya, the MTN Building in Ibadan as well as other corporate organisations.        

Since his first exhibition in 1972, the 1971 Ahmadu Bello University fine arts graduate has literally plunged his entire being into his art practice. He had led the Nigerian artistic delegation to several eastern European countries, then behind the so-called Iron Curtain. He was also one of the graphic consultants at the second festival of Black and African arts and culture (FESTAC ’77).

Besides teaching architecture in the University of Lagos, he also had a brief stint with a Lagos-based advertising agency, Akrel. All this time, he had kept his studio practice going. It was his pre-condition for accepting to work for the advertising agency.

In 1994, he began his full-time studio practice and has since not looked back. Excellence has been the hallmark of his practice. Little wonder he has earned so much respect among collectors, critics and fellow artists. One thing is certain: he will feature at tomorrow’s ArtHouse Contemporary auction at the Wheatbaker Hotel in Ikoyi. After all, his works have consistently at the previous editions of the auction.

Besides being part of international workshops, he has also made an impact in the exhibition circuit. His latest outing was a special soirée held in his honour by Chief Gbadamosi in Ikoyi.  This event offered an opportunity for his admirers to update their collections of his works.
Born the fourth child among the eight children of an English father and a Nigerian mother, the artist was first educated in the UK under the keen eyes of his late aunt Johanna Ernest. This was before he later enrolled at St. Gregory’s College, Lagos where he completed his secondary education in 1966. At St Gregory’s College, he was taught art by the renowned artist Bruce Onobrakpeya.

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