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An artist cannot really put a price tag on his work – Onu

By Ebele Orakpo

Mr. Uzodimma Onu is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Uzotex Arts, an outfit dedicated to various works of art like sculpture, painting, designing etc. Recently, the consummate artist who has his head office in Onitsha, Anambra State, spoke to Financial Vanguard on his work. Excerpts.

Speaking on how he got into his line of business, Uzodimma Onu who stated that he dropped out of school from form three due to stubbornness said: “Well, I did not go to any school to learn this business, it was just the talent given to me by God right from birth. I dropped out of school having stopped in Form three in secondary school. So what I am doing today is just pure talent.

Mr Onu(left) with some of his staff

When I dropped out of school due to my stubbornness, I stayed idle for a while. Then one day, I thought to myself, ‘let me start something worthwhile instead of staying idle. You know, it is said that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop so with an initial capital of N700 about ten years ago, I began this business in the compound where I was living then.”

According to Onu, he bought a table and stool for N200.00 and used the rest of the money (N500) to buy saw and some other necessary equipment for the job. “I would produce some artworks and carry them round the city for people to buy and they were buying. Overtime, I was able to raise some money to rent an empty space. I erected a make-shift wooden kiosk and worked from there until I got a shop and from there, I raised enough money to open my present shop,” he said.

Mr. Onu who stated that he is into molding, painting and designing, said he can design cloths and also the human body (tattoo). “I also do sculptural work for beautifying the environment like roundabouts, banks, hotels, eateries etc. These are some of the things I am into.”

Answering a question on how many people he has been able to take out of the unemployment market, the artist said: “I have trained so many people in this business and some of them are now running their own outfits. You know artistic work requires talent so some of the trainees who are really talented stay for only a short period to hone their skills before they leave to set up their own outfits. Now, I have just four workers with me.”

On how he sources his materials and jobs, Onu stated that all his materials are sourced from within the country, saying some of them are ordinary, everyday materials that people may overlook or may see as useless but to the artist, such materials are very useful. He said some people even come from outside the country to buy some of the materials.

Onu's artwork

“The jobs I do now are mostly outsourced to me from artists. They are all over the place. What happens is that when they get contract jobs, they contract me to do it. As you can see, my shop is kind of hidden, it is not in a strategic location so when these artists get jobs, they bring them to me because they have confidence in my work, they know I know my job very well.

Also, sometimes, I produce and supply some customers in Abuja, Lagos, Awka, Enugu and other cities. Right now, my shop is virtually empty because some people came last week to collect the works I did for them. So that is how I get jobs,” he said.

Speaking on his turnover, the Uzotex boss had this to say: “I can’t really say but I know that no matter what happens, I am able to take care of myself and my family very well.” On further prompting to put a figure to it, he said: “You know sometimes, in a month I can make up to N200,000 and some months, I make about N30,000 so it’s not really stable.”

Going philosophical, he noted that an artist cannot really put a price tag on his work. “I do what I like with the work. It is something I enjoy doing. It is those who trade in art works that put a price to them.” Pointing to a small painting, he said “a seller of artworks could sell it for N350.00. For instance, I may supply a trader some artworks for N1,000.00 and he may decide to sell each of them for N20,000 but as the artist, I just give it away at any price my spirit tells me to but I know I must make some profit. If the cost of producing the artwork is ten naira, I must sell it for more than ten naira. That is my belief.”  Speaking on how much he charges for some of the contract jobs, he said: “Example, for one of the sculptures at the roundabouts, I got it through an artist who got the contract. I later heard he got the job for over N1 million but we agreed he would pay me N400,000. He bought the materials and I did the job. If I had gone directly for the contract, may be I would have charged between N800,000 and N1 million. Right now, I have a job I am doing for a hotel. I got the contract myself.”

On partnership, he said: “ I tried that sometime ago with one guy living abroad. I do the job and ship to him to sell. We did this for sometime until he defrauded me. That landed me in serious trouble. Since that incident, I find it difficult to get into any such agreement. Some people have been coming to me to go into such partnership but I am afraid.”

More artworks

But when reminded that the kind of partnership we are talking about is for the partner to invest some money in the business and at the end of the day, they share the profit, he said: “Well, I would love that but the thing with this job is that we are dealing with a God-given gift. If I get a job now, and give to somebody else to do without being there to supervise it, the job may be damaged. Again, in such a partnership, so much may be expected of the artist in terms of production and turnover and as an artist, I know sometimes I can work for a whole day non-stop and at other times, I may not have such inspiration to work so hard and the partner may not understand it if he is not an artist,” he said.


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