His works may be highly sought-after by local aficionados, but David Dale (who recently turned 69 on Tuesday) seems to have been swept aside in a tide of mammon-driven frenzy, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke observes
Finally, someone in the hall got “Children at Play” for the hammer price of N3.7 million! The 2013 glass beads on board painting was only work by David Herbert Dale featured at the November 14 Arthouse Contemporary Limited auction, which held at The Wheatbaker Hotel in the upscale Ikoyi neighbourhood of Lagos.
That, at least, was a respectable price for the work. A lone observer in the hall was consoled by this fact, as a wave of relief rippled through him. Of course, he was not unaware of the possibility that the auctioned work belonged to a collector. And that the artist Dale was probably oblivious of this sale.
Really, the Anglo-Nigerian artist has earned his seat of honour among the leading lights of the contemporary Nigerian art scene. His stained-glass depiction of religious themes adorns Our Saviour’s Church close to the Tafawa Balewa Square in Onikan, Lagos. Then, his mosaic works for St. Agnes Church in the Lagos Mainland neighbourhood of Maryland, Chief Razak Okoya’s estate along Lekki Expressway and a mural for the MTN Building in Ibadan, in addition to other works at the State House, Marina and the Shell and the Nigerian Stock Exchange buildings.
Dale, who turned 69 on Tuesday (November 22), was born in Kano as one of the eight children of an English father – a quintessential “colonial gone native – and a Nigerian mother of the Itsekiri ethnic stock. To these bloodlines, he owes his strong creative influences.
He was just two years old, he recalled, when he was sent off to join his aunt Johanna Ernest in Burrswood, England. In this community, founded in 1948 by the Christian healing visionary Dorothy Kerin (1889 -1963), the impressionable mixed-race child developed a predilection for horticulture which has endured till date.
But the sudden death of his English-born dad in Lagos in 1963 led to his abrupt return to Nigeria to comfort his grieving mum. Back in Nigeria, he completed his secondary education at the St Gregory’s College in the Obalende area of Lagos. It was this school that he studied under the tutelage of the master artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya.
He would later enrol at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria for an undergraduate course in fine and applied arts. On graduating from this university in 1971, he became actively involved in studio practice. During his early post-graduation years, he was among a coterie of Nigerian artists sent by the then Federal Military Government on a six-month tour behind the then Iron Curtain on a visit to a number of Eastern European countries. Besides visiting the former USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), the tour saw them traipsing through the then Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania.
Dale’s standing in the visual arts community earned him a place as the graphic consultant of the second Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture (also known as FESTAC ’77) art exhibition. It was that same year that he would resume at the University of Lagos as a lecturer. He taught architecture students in the university art as it related to their course of study.
Of course, taking up this appointment didn’t mean he abandoned his studio practice. Nor did he abandon a concurrent appointment with Akrel Advertising. He would later leave the advertising agency in 1984 and the teaching appointment since 1990.
Dale’s sterling career in the visual arts had several luminous spots apart from bead-painting. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka-based art historian Professor Ola Oloidi once extolled the artist for working successfully in 23 different media. His stained-glass paintings as well as his mosaic designs, etchings, charcoal and water colour paintings and metal sculpture remain prized works among aficionados.
As age crept in stealthily on him, he also recently suffered from the debilitating effects of Araldite fumes, which he inevitably inhaled as he worked on his large-sized bead paintings and a mild stroke just as he was creeping into his 60s.
Of course, Dale knew the hazards of working with Araldite. Still, he couldn’t help reassuring himself that this was where he earned his living from. And if he turned out later that it would kill him… He shrugged.
But he never imagined that the danger lurked closer. Right back from the time he was churning out commissioned bead paintings in his former Surulere-based studio cum residence, he either didn’t see it coming or he simply ignored the damage it could inflict on his health. It struck when he least expected it and he was compelled to abandon the paintings to seek urgent medical attention in the US. Lagos-based Mydrim Gallery had commissioned him to produce 30 works for its auction and he could only complete six.
He would return to Nigeria to continue the treatment, relying on the herbal prescriptions of two Finnish doctors. Unlike the orthodox help he had received during his medical evacuation in the US, the remedies prescribed by these doctors – kelp and eucalyptus oil – had no side-effects. He owes a debt of gratitude to one of his most enthusiastic collector Omooba Yemisi Shyllon for his help in procuring kelp during one of his visits to the US.
While he was in a Lagos hospital, after suffering a stroke that plunged him into a 12-day coma, he recalled the regular visits paid him by his recently-deceased big-time collector Sammy Olagbaju and another collector, Femi Majekodunmi. He also recalled the kindness showed him by Olasehinde Odimayo, who owns the Africa Treasure House Gallery, and Arthouse Contemporary Limited’s Kavita Chellaram and her staff.
Virtual inactivity and poor health – Dale now suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes – now cast a pall of gloom on his days. Oh, how he wished he would produce works the way he used to!
Another recently-deceased collector of his Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, whose final Islamic burial rites (Fidau) was held on Friday at his Ikorodu-based country home in the outskirts of Lagos, was moved with compassion to organise an art soirée in his honour at his office in Southwest Ikoyi. At that event, which was his first outing since he suffered a mild stroke, 21 new works consisting of foil paintings, bead paintings, stained glass and engraving were featured alongside 30 other works culled from the collections of Chief Gbadamosi, Olagbaju and Odimayo.
Still, this man who has held over three scores of exhibitions both within and outside Nigeria – in countries like the US, the UK, the former USSR, Cuba, Japan, Sweden, Germany, France, Holland, Spain, Canada and Australia, among others – now languishes in penury. Old age and arthritis are slowing him down and gradually steering him away from strenuous media like etching. Currently, he neither has works of his own he could present for an auction nor works he could sell to a collector. For most, if not all, of his works are in private and public collections.
Yet, not even in his current circumstances would he consider soliciting for the help indiscriminately from those who previously mocked him.