Tag Archives: African artist

African Art – A Portrait of Nigerian Artist Yusuf Grillo

Recognized throughout Africa for his contemporary artworks, Yusuf Grillo has clearly made strides in the world art scene throughout his extensive career. As one of Nigeria’s most distinguished artists, his international recognition came during the 1960s and 1970s as he exhibited a collection of early works that would later become his legacy. Demonstrating his long-held commitment to education, Grillo served as the Head of Yaba College of Technology’s Department of Art and Printing for more than 25 years. An enthusiast of contemporary African art, Tunde Folawiyo is amongst the many fans of Grillo’s African-inspired works. Tunde’s website contains more information about his enjoyment for artwork and his other interests. These works continue to inspire art lovers throughout the African continent and well beyond.

Dubbed one of the founding fathers of visual contemporary art in Nigeria, Grillo experienced with a variety of techniques until he found those that best fit his artistic perspective. His mosaic and stained glass creations grace the walls of several important buildings throughout the country of Nigeria, including universities, churches, an International airport and government buildings. Grillo’s ties to Nigeria are deep-rooted. He is a member of the Zaria School, most commonly known as the Zaria Rebels. Here, he joined others to form a style of art previously obscure.

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Born in the Nigerian city of Lagos, Grillo attended the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria. Here, he earned a diploma in Fine Arts, in addition to a post-graduate diploma in the field of education. In 1966, Grillo left Zaria to begin study at the Cambridge University academic hall. Later, he traveled to the United States and Germany, where he acquired new techniques that would later play a significant role in his works.

Grillo’s training in western art can be seen in many of his paintings, which combine western techniques and Yoruba sculpture. Amongst the most distinguishable characteristics in Grillo’s artworks is his frequent use of the color blue throughout his natural settings works. Their prominence has been likened to the resist-dye textiles utilised in Nigeria.

Nigeria experienced a great revolution of visual art during the decades of the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, Nigerian art styles made a transition from ancient traditions to new concepts utilising western-style techniques. This new, exciting time in African art was dubbed “New African” and represented a mixture of modernism and tradition. Later, this concept developed into one called “Natural Synthesis” that became the philosophy by which Nigeria’s Art School was based. It was later renamed Ahmadu Bello University. The school’s students included popular artists such as Yusuf Grillo, Demas Nwoko, Jimoh Akoho and Uche Okeke, who later spread out to various schools upon graduation. They established what is now known as the Zaria Art Society.

Meticulous in his craft, Grillo has been known to take months, even years to complete a painting to his satisfaction. Whilst the subject matter of many of his creative works are based on human activity, Grillo also drew inspiration from the Yoruba world. The artist was also said to draw inspiration from famed sculptor Paul Mount, who specialised in large, wooden sculptures during the late 1950s, then moved on to abstract, bronze and cast-iron works during the 1960s and beyond. A respected art teacher, Mount accepted a position in Lagos, Nigeria in 1955, where he was in charge of establishing an art department at Yaba’s technical institute.

Inspired by various genres of art, Grillo formed a style of technique that proved to be distinctive, so much so that it was copied upon the growth of his success. The figures in his paintings are often elongated – a representation of the artist’s contemporary ideals of beauty in urban settings. As such, the figures are easily identifiable, evoking grace and elegance. With African motifs and a prominence of the color blue, Grillo’s paintings evoke his personal qualities, as he is often referred to a man of great character – a leader, a teacher, an inspiration.

A man of humble beginnings, Grillo’s contributions to contemporary art in Nigeria and Africa as a whole are recognised throughout the country, but less widespread internationally. One writer, T. A. Fasuyi, described “Grilloism” as an art style that has influenced a number of artists in Nigeria. Perhaps more notable than his various artistic talents has been his unwavering commitment to education, one that has impacted countless students during his time as an esteemed teacher.

Whilst Grillo is now retired from teaching, an artist’s work is never done. The 80-year-old continues painting, though he has had to cease sculptures due to the physical demands of such work. His art continues to inspire new generations of African artists and collectors alike. Tunde Folawiyo is amongst those with an appreciation for the creative works of Grillo. With his paintings and sculptures scattered throughout museums and other institutions throughout Africa, Grillo’s distinctive creative characteristics will live on for centuries to come.


Contemporary Art and Artists in Western Africa

Tunde FolawiyoLiving and working between Nigeria and Ghana, El Anatsui is currently creating some of the most striking sculptures in the world. His sculptures, large and often adorning walls rather than free-standing, feature bottle caps from liquor bottles and other items most often identified as trash, showing a good eye for use, reuse, and the power of context in creating meaning. At a 2013 show in New York’s Brooklyn museum entitles “Gravity and Grace,” Anatsui displayed sculptures in wood and metal impressive in both their scale and their delicate capturing of feeling and motion. Huge sheets of bottle caps hang from the ceiling, looking rich but telling a story of poverty and conflict as well. Anatsui creates his pieces with the help of many assistants, as the bottle caps by the thousands must be flattened and manipulated to work in the sculptures. He stated in a 2013 interview that the work of many hands transforms the caps, once only suited to be discarded, into objects full of human energy, raising their status to art, and showing something about the fluidity of their nature.

Sokari Douglas Camp is counted among the first female artists out of Nigeria to be internationally recognised for sculpture. She was born in Buguma and educated in California, at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, and at the Central School of Art and Design in London. Her late-nineties solo show at the American Museum of Natural History exhibited her predominantly steel, human-sized sculptures which reflect conflicts from her homeland. A sculpture held in the British Museum collection entitled “Asoebi, or Lace, Sweat and Tears” depicts five steel figures representing women from the Niger delta. The work serves as the centre attraction for the museum’s Ground Force Africa Garden, and is also a water feature. Camp received the honour of becoming a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2005, and received a bursary from the Henry Moore Foundation, as well as many other awards and prizes throughout her career.

Many foundations, nonprofits, galleries and individuals are working today to promote the future of emerging artists in West Africa. Leaders in politics and business are working to cultivate interest in this field, and many citizens, such as Tunde Folawiyo, are very interested in bringing native artists to a worldwide audience. Online articles from Tunde Folawiyo have more information on his work in the arts, business and elsewhere.

The life of Sudanese artist Ibrahim Salahi

Born in Omdurman in 1930, Salahi attended the Gordon Memorial College’s School of Design in Khartoum; by the time he graduated, he had mastered both perspective techniques and figure drawing, and had learned a great deal about the history of art in the Western world. Following the completion of his degree, he moved to London, in order to study at the Slade School of Fine Art. It was here that he became familiar with Western modernism. At the age of 27, Salahi decided to return to Khartoum, in order to work as a teacher at his old art school.

In 1975, he became a political prisoner, and was incarcerated in Sudan for one year; whilst this was a devastating experience, Salahi has said that he learned a great deal from it. Shortly after his release, he left his homeland, and after a brief period in Qatar, ended up moving to the UK, where he has remained ever since.

Tunde FolawiyoNow in his eighties, he has continued to paint and exhibit his work. Art enthusiasts like Tunde Folawiyo might remember that his most notable exhibition in recent years was held at the Tate Modern; entitled ‘Ibrahim Salahi: A Visionary Modernist’, it was the first ever retrospective of an African Artist in this gallery. Exploring the idea of African Modernism, the display featured 100 of Salahi’s pieces, most of which were created during the last five decades. The exhibition offered visitors insight into his artistic evolution, showing them how he developed a style which so masterfully combines Western, Arab, African and Islamic art techniques.

Throughout his career, Salahi has had his work included in a number of major exhibitions, and many of his paintings are now on display in several public spaces, including the National Gallery of Victoria, Hampton University Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of African Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. Salahi has also been the recipient of honours such as the 2001 Prince Clause Award and the 1964 Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship.

Folawiyo has been a collector of art for some time now. Information about Tunde Folawiyo’s interest in art is available online.

Tunde Folawiyo | Meschac Gaba & The “Museum” of Contemporary African Art

The world of contemporary African art is complex with its numerous definitions, derived over the years from a variety of publications, museums and institutions alike. Utilising various mediums, from sculpture to oil painting, contemporary African artists are as distinguishable as night and day, with each possessing a unique gift for interpreting the world that surrounds them. Fans of African art, including Tunde Folawiyo, may be fascinated by the work of artist Meschac Gaba, who with his exhibit at Tate Modern, has revolutionised the way museums display works of contemporary African art.

Tunde FolawiyoBorn in Benin in 1961, the year after the country gained its independence from France, Meschac Gaba is married to a Dutch curator and thus, spends half the year in Rotterdam with the other half spent in his native Benin. It was here that he began creating art, using his everyday life as inspiration. After using decommissioned bank notes to portray a theme of money and politics, his work was acclaimed both locally and abroad, skyrocketing his popularity among art fans throughout the world. He was invited to showcase his works in neighbouring African countries and at the Musée des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie in Paris in 1992. Hoping to break free of preconceived notions of the scope of African art, Gaba went on study art in Amsterdam.

As his art progressed, Gaba became frustrated by the lack of gallery space available for the conceptual art he and other artists alike were creating at the time. It was during his second year at the Rijksakademie that Gaba first had the idea of his now famous “Museum” exhibit. An epic five-year project, “Museum” was constructed from 1997 to 2002 and showcases 12 rooms, each containing what Gaba deems his version of contemporary African art. Whilst one room may contain ceramic chicken legs, another showcases the tale of his wedding day, creating a striking and rather amusing balance that draws in audiences with its provocative nature. Gaba refers to the museum as his “fight to make a space for African art”. Housed at London’s Tate Modern, the exhibit is amongst one of the most unconventional demonstrations of contemporary African art, a testament not only to Gaba’s power as a leading African artist, but to the varying scope of contemporary African art in existence today. With his cultural impact ever present, Meschac Gaba continues to inspire millions of art fans throughout the world, including Tunde Folawiyo and countless others with a passion for native African culture.