Day Three – Monday
Artist – Ola Balogun
Age – 40 years
‘What do you think he asked?’ as he unfurled the canvases.
There were two fairly large canvases.
We would occasionally have these talks; whenever he was experimenting with something new. I guess he liked to get a different viewpoint.
‘This I really like,’ I said, pointing to the first canvas. It was an oil painting of the boys one sees in Lagos during fuel shortages hawking fuel on the road, in jerry cans. The artwork had a sort of procession of these boys; jerry cans and funnels in tow. I’d always wondered about the fuel in those cans. I usually bought them rather than spend hours queuing, but there was always that feeling of disquiet.
What if the fuel was mixed with something else so the guy could make more money? There was no way of telling. And there wasn’t much anyone could do if the fuel was actually bad. After all, it wasn’t like you could locate the guy the next day and take him to court or something. You’d be lucky to find the same guy at the same spot two days in a row,and even if you did find him,then what? Nothing. You couldn’t do a thing to him really, except yell. And yelling doesn’t fix cars. It might satisfy your soul. But its usefulness is definitely limited. Yet nothing had ever happened to my car after years of happy association with these mini fuel stations. Well, not yet anyway.
‘There’s something wrong with the other one,’ I said. I hated to criticize artworks. But with Ola it was different. He expected honesty and could deal with it. He scrutinized the work thoughtfully for a while.
‘Tell me what you see,’ he said.
Sometimes when I don’t like a work I can’t say for sure why. There’s just a feeling of not quite connecting with the work. This time though I sort of knew why.
In his earlier works in the series, he used a more limited palette. The works were more urgent, more energetic, the character leapt out at you dragging you into their existence. The work I was looking at was more subtle, more painterly, more restrained. I thought that in contemplating the work more and spending more time with it he had somehow done too much – drained the life out of it almost.
He looked at it again. We looked at the older works in the series. He nodded. We left the works and got some drinks from the fridge.
‘What’s happening with the group’ I asked?
Years ago he had, along with some other artists, set up Defactori studio in Ebute-Metta. I quite liked the camaraderie they had at the time.They had all dispersed though. Well, most of them had.In the past year or so they’d been trying to get the group working together again.
I thought it was a great idea.
‘We’re still on it,’ he said. ‘It’s just taking time to get things together.People are used to working on their own now, then there’s the distance to the studio.’
He didn’t sound very hopeful.
I thought it was sad though. There was something to be said for working together for artists, I thought. There was more energy, the benefit of ideas and inspiration shared, and useful critiquing.
I suppose, there’d also be bickering, petty jealousies and suspicion.
But still … It seemed like such a great thing.