By Prisca Sam-Duru
Kolade Oshinowo is perhaps one of Nigeria’s most important artists. He has had about 22 solo and over 90 group exhibitions of his works in and outside the country. Some of his works are currently on display in the exhibition hall of Terra Kulture as part of Nigeria’s anniversary celebration.
The foremost artist here, shares memories of what it was like when he first became a professional artist as well as tales of his numerous achievements. Enjoy it.
How has it been as artist?
I was born in Ibadan, capital of Oyo state in 1948, though am an indigene of Ikorodu in Lagos state. I first graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1972 with a specialization in painting. I was head of the Fine Arts department, Yaba College of Technology in 1986, director of the School of Art, Design and Printing in 1990, deputy rector of the college between 1992 and 1996, the national secretary of the Society of Nigeria Artists between 1972 and 1980, fellow of the society in 2004 and was the president between 2005 and 2008.
I retired in 2008. I am also a recipient of the National Productivity Order of Merit award of the federal government of Nigeria, 2004.
My works generally are creative expressions which are inspired by a summation of my visual, emotional, physical and even spiritual encounters and my innermost feelings on a particular issue. I often try to capture human activities and moods in nature like the forest, market square etc, and I pay attention to material exploration.
Your journey to fame, how did it begin?
Very rough, I must say but I am glad I persevered, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking about my numerous achievements and exposures today.
I must not fail to mention here that if I had succumbed to my parents’ advice and dabbled into the profession of their choice for me, I may have been living a miserable life right now. I remember in those days, I used to hide my drawings under the table for fear of being caught by my parents. I don’t really blame them because there was no serious regard for artists in terms of financial success at that period, besides, many were living meaningless lives.
It was a huge battle between my folks and me as they almost broke down in tears when I broke the news that I had been admitted into the University to study Art.
Well, somehow, I managed to convince them that Art was what I wanted to study by all means. I won’t forget the kind of knock we used to receive on the head when caught drawing.
Thereafter, I started lecturing in higher institution and at the same time, got involved in both one-man and group exhibitions as I mentioned earlier. Generally, it has been worth it but I won’t fail to say here that professionally, there were hiccups here and there but I was determined to fulfill my dreams. Otherwise, I will be answerable to God.
Yes! God gave me this talent and if I had left it untapped, someday, when I get back to Him, I will be seriously questioned on what I did with my gift.
Looking at your profile, you have made impeccable achievements. What has been the driving force?
Nothing in particular made me go into Arts. I just knew I was tailor-made for it. So, at a point, self revelation made me start seeing things differently. It was like I saw myself as a genius, even at that early period, because I was able to do what my peers couldn’t do. This motivated me the more and I kept doing something more outstanding during any production so as to be announced and relevant to the society.
One would have thought that monetary reward motivated you?
No, money never moved me. Art, especially this genre, is more about passion, self-actualisation, in terms of being known as one who is creative and dexterous enough to produce sculptures, paintings, print and so on. Money could come in later.
But the prices of all 12 works of yours currently on display at Terra Kulture are in millions.
You are getting it all wrong. And I think that many young artists today are making the same mistake. Fine, Art is lucrative because, of course, it is very expensive to put together and that is why they say it is for the rich. Nevertheless, money must not be the issue, otherwise it will reflect on the works.
And I tell you this: Artists who paint to sell fail because they don’t sell. I also think this is a reflection of what we have today in the art industry. You will discover that there is a wide gap between the old and the young artists. Many works from younger artists no longer reflect the rich diverse cultural heritage of our country.
It looks as if our kind of visual art is endangered. The same thing is happening in the music industry where highlife is gradually becoming obsolete. Once you tune in your radio or turn on your TV set, it is hip pop, R&B and other genres of music. You can tell better.
This is the reason I keep saying that I can never retire. So long as I have strength and my hands are still attached to the sockets, I will continue to hold exhibitions.
At 50, how do you rate the Art industry?
So far so good, there has been a lot of improvement. As you can see, we keep recording an increase in the number of emerging artists, joining the established in exhibitions. Even in terms of quality of works, I can say we are getting there and I’m glad that more organizations are getting involved with art matters.
But I want more corporate bodies to get involved in sponsorship of exhibitions featuring old artists so that upcoming artists can learn one or two things from our works.
They won’t be disappointed in anyway. Just take a look at these works (pointing at his paintings on display). They are pure original. No duplicate, in fact, you can’t beat it. They are quite expensive because I spent huge sum to produce them. Some take so many years like 10 years to finish. So, Nigerians shouldn’t allow us to retire untimely.
How do you relax?
How else is proper for me to relax than romancing with my work tools? I feel very fulfilled when I’m in my studio. It’s no longer strenuous as it has become part of me.