Lagos-based artist, Mavua Lessor re-affirms his individuality and credo in a forthcoming comeback solo exhibition, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

Before the artist’s inner vision unfurls a mosaic of experiences…
True: Jonathan “Mavua” Lessor owes his ascent up the ladder-rungs of reckoning to his diligence and tenacity. Yet, it is these experiences that have earned him his seat of honour among the front-line artists of the Lagos art scene. Even so, three decades of art practice have taught the 1986 Auchi Polytechnic graduate one valuable lesson. And that is that he still has a lot to learn.

“With every work I produce comes a new experience and a new lesson,” he explains in his Artist Statement. “This, after all, is one journey that has no destination and cannot be completed in a single earth life.”
It is for this reason that his forthcoming solo exhibition – titled Impressions of Reality – should elicit the Lagos-based aficionados’ curiosity. Perhaps, curiosity is not the word since Lessor’s patented depictions of cluttered landscapes are not unfamiliar to the art public. Surely, keen devotees of his paintings would welcome any opportunity to engage with these condensed impressions.

Recall that these are the paintings that earned him the recognition in the talent-glutted art scene. First earning a living as a freelance artist between 1987 and 1993, he had worked with metals and sundry materials for interior and exterior decorative purposes.

Later, he would finally settle down to a full-time studio practice in 1993. That was when two things happened almost simultaneously. He first focused exclusively on his area of specialisation: painting. Then, he tied the nuptials with the Signature Art Gallery in Lagos, Abuja and London as the platform to exhibit and market his works. This collaboration with the gallery, which he deemed “cordial and rewarding”, lasted for 14 years – that is, until 2007.
In 1998, a year after his first decade of art practice, Lessor had his first solo outing in Lagos. The exhibition, titled Consciousness of Form, formally introduced him to the Lagos exhibition circuit. Encouraged by the art public’s reception of his works, he had followed up with another solo show, titled Colour Amidst Squalor, in 2001. After another exhibition (Tones of Light) in 2005, the subsequent outings followed closely on the heels of each other as biennial shows – Art on the Rooftop in 2006, The Stages of Time in 2008 and Bond Across in 2010.

He would break this biennial tradition in 2011 with his foray into the American art scene. There, he held a solo exhibition, titled Glimpses, in Montserrat, Fort Worth, Texas. That exhibition, it turned out, was the open sesame he needed to further opportunities in the US. More importantly, it earned him a listing in the third volume of an annual publication for international contemporary artists called International Contemporary Artists. Till date, he remains the first and only Nigerian artist listed in that publication.

Back to Nigeria in 2012, Lessor wormed his way back into industry’s consciousness with the solo exhibition, Vitality in Diversity. This show, in which he exhibited over 100 paintings, evoked an unprecedented interest in the Delta State-born artist. Among the fallouts of the show were local commissions, which were mostly private, as well as several international invitations for exhibitions. In addition, there were publications by museums and galleries across Europe and America. One of these publications was from Hidden Treasures Art Magazine Year Book, in which he was listed and in 2014.

The following year saw the artist, who turns 57 on November 26, feature at a dinner cum art salon organised by the Deutsche Bank at the Eko Hotel and Suites’ Sky Restaurant sometime in March 2013. At that event, his works were discussed and reviewed before a distinguished international audience.

In 2014, he made a spirited attempt at returning to his biennial tradition with the exhibition, Amidst the Mire held at the Alexis Galleries in the upmarket Victoria Island neighbourhood of Lagos. This was while Nigeria smarted from the attack of Ebola. That show eventually became a metaphor for the collective resolve of Nigerians to stamp out the dreaded deadly disease. It was not surprising therefore that Patty Chidiac, who runs the Alexis Gallery, had declared her outfit “very excited and privileged” to feature the artist.

There are good reasons for her sentiments, which are widely shared among the local cognoscenti. That Lessor’s works are among the most sought-after among collectors explains why they have done so well in three editions of the Arthouse Contemporary Limited auction. This is besides the fact that he has earned his stripes as one of the most referenced artists of the Lagos art scene.

So, Lessor’s next solo exhibition – coming up on Thursday, October 19 at Wings Tower along Ozumba Mbadiwe Street in Victoria Island – is one aficionados are bound to look forward to. This is not because the offerings at this show are radically different from those of the previous ones. Rather, aficionados seem to be enthralled by the intensity of their depictions of the artist’s visions.

Therefore, call these works – as well as his previous ones – the artist’s visual opinions of his environment. This is an environment he virtually encounters and fantasises about daily. Sharing his perception of this world with his viewers is an arduous task. “My works are not exactly a copy from life but my opinion about life as defined by my nature,” he corroborates. “In truth, as we have it today, most of what surrounds us is anything but beautiful. Ugly forms dominate our world and we are shrouded and enmeshed in it. This is the challenge. With my works, I attempt to subscribe to the ideal and stimulate reflections. My primary motive is aesthetics, since all human endeavours can be summarised in beauty.”

This struggle to wring beauty from out of the prevailing chaos around him is evident in the works “Business Energy”, “Shadow of a City”, “Buzzy Night”, “Faces of Depression”, “Heartbeat of Lagos”, “Piping Light” and “Gold and Crystals”, among others. Burdened with the material density around him, the artist laments the inability of his sensibilities to soar up to the lighter and more luminous spheres.

Also, with the exhibition, which ends on Wednesday, October 25, the artist hopes to reaffirm his credo and assert individuality in the noxious torrents of the corrupting influences around him. In the desperation to claw his way from out of the stifling cesspit of this material consistency, his spirit cries out for more light…
This, the viewer, discerns in his works….