Sope Olorunfemi is a younger painter whose dreams are to own an art studio and use her arts to find expression for women, writes Ugo Aliogo
Sope Olorunfemi sat on a white plastic chair; her hands stretched on another on a chair higher than the one she is sitting on. Her eyes are glued to the textbook and notebook she is clutching. She is reading to prepare for an assignment before the next class. At intervals, she reaches for the black wireless phone kept in her bag to know what time it is while at the same time reads and replies messages on Whatsapp (a social media application). Three things are utmost in her mind currently; the painting lecture, the unfinished art history assignment and the interview with a newspaper journalist she met on facebook (another social media channel).
The painting studio where she is sitting is filled with many beautiful oil on canvas paintings. Some are hung atop the wall of the studio, while others are kept on the floor, leaning on the concrete wall. Some painters are seen sleeping on the window ledge and others had their heads bowed to a desk, after working through the night. While some are busy with their different painting works.
Toriola is one of the student painters in the studio. Unlike others, she is not painting; she is seen stretching her canvas (a piece of white fabric placed on a wooden frame) with a tacker and gun nail before the seizing stage on the canvas (a process that involves mixing gum and emulsion together) after which she would allow to dry for specified hours, then prime.
The reporter who walks into the studio to interview Olorunfemi watches in awe as Toriola does this with ease, he doesn’t understand the process. Olorunfemi who noticed this confusion on the face of the reporter explained the process as thus, “After stretching your canvas with the tacker and gun, you mix the glum and emulsion together, then seize on the canvas. Seizing depends on the individual, some artists don’t seize, while others do.
“But the important thing is to ensure that you prime well. The main reason for seizing is to quicken the priming process. There are some holes on the fabric; so seizing will make them to close up quickly. After the seizing you then dry for a specified number of hours depending on the individual.”
Olorunfemi is a student of Fine and Applied Arts at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. Her dream was to study the course, to satisfy an intimate longing in her soul, “My love for colours and how they can be applied to draw the human figure inspired me to study Fine Art. Studying Fine Art is a very interesting experience. This is from a personal observation,” noted Olorunfemi with a smile.
Like an emissary on an assignment, the fair skinned lady’s desire is not only to study the course to impact society and the world. But also to use the discipline as an avenue to help women find expression for themselves.
“After school, I will like to be a fulltime painter, but with the harsh economic realities I’m scared. So I think of lecturing on painting for sometime, after which I can decide to own a studio. I would like to use my art to pass two messages; the first is breaking boundaries and foresight. Foresight is about ladies, most ladies feel they don’t have important reasons for existence.
“So through my work, I will encourage ladies that there is a lot they can achieve if they decide to work on themselves because God has given everyone potential to survive. Also, I will have seminars and exhibition works with them,” stated Olorunfemi.
She explained that most ladies who have seen her works are usually impressed that such outstanding works could be created by a woman. She is however sad that one of the major challenges confronting female painters in the country is marriage, lamenting that it puts a stop to their career, “most female artists don’t usually get married because of their career.”
Despite this seeming challenge, the young female painter is optimistic that there are numerous opportunities for young female painters to make giant strides.
Motivated by a growing list of role models such as Susan young, Peju Alatise, Abiodun Olaku and others, Olorunfemi is gradually etching her place in the painting hall of fame, with the exhibition of her works at a few exhibitions shows. Undoubtedly, this is a great start to a budding career for the youngster, but she is not resting on her oars.
“I have attended many exhibitions but I have exhibited two of my works. In the first exhibition, I exhibited two works and in the second one three of my works. I didn’t exhibit all my works because I feel I can improve on what I have on ground.”
In art generally, there are different styles and movements. Each era comes with its own unique style, making it impossible to criticise the work of a particular artist or period. Most artists hide their deficiencies by stylising their works.
“Art has a set of basic principles and fundamentals which it is built on. It is therefore imperative that every artist is guided by these principles. The renaissance artists have applied this to their works. This is why their works are still relevant today despite the style of their work used, it is still very fascinating.
“The reason why African art works are not really fascinating to most people is that many don’t understand the big stories behind those works.
“African arts do not just exist; they are there to convey a particular message. What most artists should do is that they need to involve passion into what they are doing; they should expunge the habit of just working to earn a living (commercial art). Commercial art is something so rampant in Nigeria. This is what cuts us apart from the Europeans who invest their time and resources to come up with something unique and impressionable.
“In painting, I prefer impressionism and realism. What I have noticed about the Nigerian painters and the European painters is that the Nigerian painters look up to the European painters. We look up to them, even our masters here in Nigeria; they still have masters who are white. The Europeans have been in the system for years, but currently the Nigerian art industry is growing rapidly because the white appreciates our work and contribution. In painting, there are different movements and styles impressionism, realism, expressionism and others.” noted Olorunfemi.
One of the challenges confronting a painting student according to Olorunfemi, is the high price of painting materials. She explained that currently it is overly expensive, “oil colour was sold for 1,500 before, now it is over 2,000 and we have different colours to use for our work.” She appealed to government to help address this challenge, through price reduction and improving the quality, “government should also provide opportunities by building industries that can produce some of these things for us. This will help reduce the heavy reliance on Europe.”
Some of the works she has done are landscapes, portraitures, and figure moulding. Since 2014, when she started painting, the journey has been very rosy for her, but she has made remarkable headway with her wonderful paintings.
Olorunfemi is quite optimistic that there is a bright future for the study of the discipline in the years ahead, especially with more girls embracing the study of the course, “before now, the study of art was dominated by boys only, but now more girls are coming into the discipline. There is continuous re-awakening and I see progress.
“Most boys are threatened when they observe that a female painter is making headway, they just have the belief that girls have very little to offer. But this has been proved wrong as more girls are going into painting. So for me, it’s keep working and building on myself.”