By Chris Onuoha
In what seems like a continuous flow of eulogies by his protégés and associates, Prof. Adebayo Yusuf Cameron Grillo, the iconic visual artist, popularly known as ‘Master of Masters,’ who passed on, on Monday, August 23, 2011, left behind an indelible mark in the art scene in the country.
He was a father figure in the contemporary Visual Art in Nigeria and also a founding member of the ‘Zaria Rebels’ at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; a body of artists. He was the founding president of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), and was also the brain behind the creation of art school at Yabatech, Lagos that has trained some of the very best of visual artists in the country and beyond.
According to Dr. Kunle Adeyemi, former Dean, School of art, Design and Printing, said that Prof Yusuf Grillo, like a colossus, left his footprint on the sand of Nigeria art landscape.
“From close study, it may be difficult for any Nigerian artist in this generation to match Grillo’s passion for practical art training, its philosophy and development. When he was teaching, he used his obsession for visual arts practice to magnetise and engage virtually the best hands in art practice as lecturers to Yaba College of Art School,” Adeyemi said.
Adeyemi mentioned that twenty years after his retirement from active teaching, Grillo’s solid academic foundation in art was formidable and that he maintained genuine abiding interest in what goes on in the art profession, as he spent most of his time and money to develop the visual art profession.
He noted that he was very consistent and committed to the art profession that made Nigerian art became internationally recognised, and he was elected as Vice President of the International Association of Artists (IAA).
“During my tenure as Chairman, SNA, Lagos State, I tapped into the wealth of his experience which he joyfully and willingly gave anytime I visits him. Grillo, a man of excellence excelled in many fields such as; painting, sculpture, calligraphy, home grown stain glass, drawing, mosaic works, education, philosophy, mathematics, survey, map reading, religion building material science and many other areas,” remarked Adeyemi.
Adeola Balogun, Head, Department of Fine Art, Yabatech, said Grillo was one of the iconic contemporary visual artists who left indelible footprint in the visual art space locally and internationally, noting that he was highly instrumental to the prominence of Yaba School of Art. He said that his image was towering, going by his antecedents in the field of visual art, that the school will miss his wise counsel and salient philanthropic supports.
For Alhaji Rauf Thompson, one of his first students at Yabatech, 1974 HND II session, he described Grillo as a mentor he cannot forget easily. “Just few weeks ago, I visited him at his Ikeja home to mark the Moslem festival; he was ever cheerful and accommodates everyone who comes to him regardless of age. The Grillo I know has always put on his immaculate white safari dress, right from the day I met him in school, till this day I visited him last. He will surely be missed for his gentleness and soft words.
Earlier in the week, Prof Bruce Onobrakpeya in a brief reaction to his death described Grillo as a giant who has left behind, his living contemporaries to continue the good work. “His place is such that will be difficult to find someone that will step into,” says Onobrapkeya.
Kolade Oshinowo also mentioned him as a boss and mentor. “My career path is very similar to his career path because we all taught at Kings College Lagos, after leaving Zaria School, although at a different time, before coming to Yabatech. When he was the SNA President, I became the National Secretary. He was a good man and impacted lives,” Oshinowo said.