By Osa Amadi, Arts Editor
Normally, an event of this magnitude – the 60th birthday of the Editor-in-Chief and General Manager of one of the leading national newspapers in Nigeria, a two-term President of Nigerian Guild of Editors, Provost of the foremost journalism training institution and more – ought to have been planned at least six months ahead of the event. But because it is a well-understood norm at Vanguard that the Editor-in-Chief, Gbenga Adefaye, like the publisher, does not celebrate birthdays, nobody was prepared for what was coming.
At very short notice, the Arts Department led by the Arts Editor, and Cartoon Department led by the Cartoon Editor, Dada Adekola, was charged to produce a book on Gbenga Adefaye and a painted portrait of his image. Actually, the term, “Cartoon Department” is a mix-nomenclature, because the Cartoon Department of Vanguard is deep into paintings, sculpture and music.
For a few agonizing days that seemed like an eternity, from the initial sketching by the master of the art, Uncle Dada Adekola, to the application of the first layers of paints on the canvas, it seemed as though nothing was happening.
From time to time, the Arts Editor went to the studio to see what the Cartoon Editor was doing. Seeing lines and strokes on the canvas that appeared meaningless, the Arts Editor was tempted to ask the master, “Are you sure you are painting Gbenga Adefaye?” But recalling the event around 1494 when the Duke of Milan had commissioned Leonardo Da Vinci to paint The Last Supper in the refectory of the Dominican monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, the Arts Editor held his peace.
According to military historian, Paul Strathern in his book, “The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior” which narrates the intersecting lives of Leonardo Da Vinci, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Cesare Borgia (see pages 24-25), Leonardo Da Vinci took so much time completing The Last Supper that the prior of the monastery became worried and complained to the Duke, Ludovico Sforza, that it was taking Leonardo too long to finish the painting.
Prior to the above incident, people had been watching Leonardo as he worked on The Last Supper. Matteo Bandello, a novice at the monastery gave this graphic description of Leonardo Da Vinci at work on The Last Supper:
“He would arrive at an early hour, climb unto the scaffolding, and start working. Sometimes he would stay there from dawn until sunset, not once setting down his brush, forgetting to eat or drink, and painting without ceasing. On other occasions, he would go for two, three or four days without taking up his brush, but spending one or two hours a day standing before the work, arms folded, scrutinizing and assessing the figures in his mind.
“I also saw him driven by some sudden urge, set out from the Corte Vecchia at midday when the heat of the sun was at its height, without seeking the shade…and come straight to Santa Maria Delle Grazie, clamber up unto the scaffolding, take up his brush, add one or two strokes, and then go away again.”
And so, the duke summoned Leonardo before him to explain why The Last Supper was taking him too long to complete. Leonardo explained that he had almost finished the painting; that what remained was the face of Judas Iscariot, because “despite searching through the most notorious streets and taverns of the city, he had yet to find a face imbued with sufficient perfidious evil.” However, Leonardo said, if the prior who was complaining that the painting had not been finished was ready to present his face as Juda’s, the painting would be finished at once. At that, the duke burst into laughter to the chagrin of the prior.
What Leonardo did not disclose to the duke and the prior, however, was that he was experimenting on a new painting technique called fresco and that in painting, a layer of paint applied on the canvas needed to dry before the artist can apply another layer on it.
So, bearing all these in mind, on many occasions when the Arts Editor went into the studio and met Uncle Dada standing afar and pensively studying some seemingly meaningless strokes of paint he had made on the canvas, he would leave him alone and go away.
One day, however, he came into the studio and “caught the master in the act.” Lo and behold, Gbenga Adefaye had emerged on the canvas! The Arts Editor pointed the lens of the camera built into his phone at the scene. Click! And the result is the picture we have here!