The career of the painter Aina Onabolu

Tunde Folawiyo Being from Nigeria, Tunde Folawiyo has no doubt heard of Aina Onabolu. Onabolu was a Nigerian painter and teacher who was famed not only for his own contributions to the art world, but also for the role that he played in integrating the arts into Nigeria’s secondary school curriculum. Onabolu also helped to get Kenneth C. Murray into Nigeria for the purposes of teaching the subject, an action which had a profound effect on the quality of art made in Nigeria throughout the early 20th century.

In his own work, he favoured true-to-life drawing over abstract, and during his early career, made a name for himself through creating portraits. Heavily influenced by his missionary education, he rejected traditional Nigerian art techniques in favour of Western European methods. This was unusual, as at this point in time, many of Onabolu’s contemporaries – including Picasso – were developing fascination with the power and simplicity of West African art.

Onabolu was born in 1882, in an area called Ijebu Ode, and began to paint during his early teens. He drew inspiration from many sources, but was particularly entranced by the Western art that he was exposed to via missionary religious books and Nigerian magazines. Although he remained passionate about painting, he was unable to study it at Caxton House School, and thus ended up working as a marine clerk after completing his secondary school education. However, his love for art did not wane during this time, and he continued to spend his spare time learning about European painting techniques.

Art lovers like Tunde Folawiyo may know that at the age of 38, Onabolu left his homeland, and spent several years living in France and England. Whilst in these countries, he finally had the opportunity to take courses in art, at Academie Julian in Paris and St. Johns Wood School in London. He excelled in his studies, and finished his courses with a teacher’s certificate and a diploma in fine arts. He then returned to Nigeria, and focused his efforts on integrating art into the school system.

In addition to this, he continued to create and exhibit his own work, and serve as a teacher at CMS Grammar School, and King’s College in Lagos. His teaching focused primarily on watercolour techniques, anatomical proportions, and the science of perspective. Onabolu passed away in 1963, at the age of 81.



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