Day Four – Friday
Artist – Sam Ovraiti
Age – 52 years
The one thing I know about Sam Ovraiti is that I can’t seem to leave his studio in a hurry. I go there planning to spend thirty minutes,then I’m there for two hours. It’s not that he chains me to the door or anything remotely diabolical. It’s just that he talks. And talks. And talks. And he is really interesting. He’s knowledgeable, in an easy self-deprecating way. Like his water colours, he seems uncomplicated, unassuming yet wise. In all the laughter and self-deprecation there is a fount of knowledge about art and life.
This time though I knew I was going to be able to leave early. He had an appointment so we could only meet for about fifteen minutes. There were books scattered everywhere in his studio. If you didn’t know you’d wonder if this was a studio or a book store. Most of the books were self-help books. He liked to buy and sell these books. But I always got the impression it wasn’t a business for him. It seemed like it was another way to connect with people and share something.
‘This man!’ someone sitting at the end of the studio hollered. I peered at the person, noting again that my eyesight wasn’t what it used to be.
‘Oh, Peter,’ I hailed. It was Peter Ohiwerei. ‘Long time! Ah-ah, very long time.’
I hadn’t seen him in something like ten years, he’d moved to America a while back. I heard he visited occasionally. But we hadn’t met.
‘What’s going?’ I asked him.
‘I have a show in a month,’ he replied. I’m here for like three months. You look exactly the same man, no difference, at all – apart from your head. You’re going bald.’
I smiled. I’d just had a haircut. If he could tell I was balding right after a haircut, from a sitting position,then I was well and truly balding. I was officially a balding middle-aged dude. I had three artworks with me.
‘So what I can do for you?’ Sam asked as I unrolled the works.
‘Well, this is the first one,’ I said as I unrolled a large canvas with large yellow Lagos ‘Molue’ buses.
He smiled. ‘You brought it back,abi? I warned you and you didn’t listen.’ I smiled. ‘I know.’
‘What happened?’ Peter asked.
‘I was still doing the work when he came in and decided the work was okay as it was and he wanted it immediately. I signed it but I told him then o. You’ll soon come back and ask me to finish it. See am now.’
‘You were right,’ I said, hoping if I looked suitably chastised he might not ask me to pay for the extra time he’d spend on the work.
‘The more I looked at it the more I could see why you had said it wasn’t finished then. Just the small things. You were right.’
‘You’re paying for the extra work.’ he said.
‘No no!’ I knew he had a point but still … this was my main man.
‘Ok ok, no wahala.What’s the problem with this one?’ he asked. We looked at the second work; a small canvas of a sleeping model he had done in the nineties, it had started to crack in some areas after I had it stretched.
‘You stretched it again?’ he asked, running his finger across the line of the crack.
‘Water should fix this,’ Peter offered. ‘Just soak the back.’
‘Maybe,’Ovraiti replied. I’ll look at it later.’ ‘I may have to apply some colour on it. That’s okay?’ he asked.
‘Sure,’ I said. ‘No problem.’
I brought out the third work – a water colour of a sleeping woman. ‘Ah, that’s the work, eh?’ he said.
This was the main reason I was there. I’d bought the work about a year ago. At the time, he had scribbled some notes on the water colour paper; nothing to do with the artwork itself. He’d basically used the watercolour paper as a notepad one day and a while later decided to paint on it without bothering to erase the earlier pencil scribble. When the work was done, you could see the scribble underneath the wash of the water colour. Since the scribble wasn’t part of the work I erased it when I collected the work. And that was that. Then one day, a year later, I took a look at the original photograph of the work I’d taken before erasing the scribble. And I knew I wanted it back. They may not have been a part of the work, but looking at the photograph, I knew they belonged there. It was almost as if, on some level, those were the woman’s words or maybe her dreams spelt out on that sheet of paper.
The scribble certainly belonged with the woman; and I had to get her scribble back. But, how to get it back… I spoke with Ovraiti about this.
‘I can’t remember what I wrote on the paper,’ he explained.
Luckily I still had the photograph and we agreed I’d bring artwork and photograph.
‘So where’s the picture,’ he asked. ‘Aghh!’ I’d forgotten the photograph. ‘I had it on my desk this morning,’ I explained.‘In an envelope. All set. Then I left in a hurry.’ ‘No problem. We’ll work something out,’ he said. ‘But I have to start getting ready to leave.’
He’d called his appointment to reschedule for an hour,but he still had to leave soon. I remembered I had a bunch of pictures saved on my phone.. I started to do a search for ‘Ovraiti’ hoping I’d find the image.
‘Okay, I’ve found a way,’ I said after about five minutes. ‘I have the picture on my phone.’
‘Just send it to my email and we can look at it on my ipad,’ he said.
I did. Thank God for technology, I thought,as I heard the new message beep on his ipad.
‘Okay, I remember now,’ he said, ‘it’s the BODMAS Theory.’
‘Ok?’ I encouraged. ‘I was explaning the BODMAS theory to someone that day so I had to write it out to make it easier to understand.’
I still looked patiently blank. ‘It’s a wealth creation theory,’ he explained. He started to scribble furiously on the water colour paper as he explained.
‘It’s the old rule, you know … bracket first,then multiplication and so on applied to wealth creation. You start with the bracket; you have to put all your resources in a bracket.’
I stopped listening. At this point the only bracket I knew was ensuring the scribble turned out right. And I was worried. ‘Too dark,’ I said hesitantly. He was using a really dark pencil. He changed pencils and continued to explain as he wrote. My brain refused to listen and just stayed with the writing. I was either really focused or I didn’t possess a multi-tasking brain.
‘It’s really about how life works,’ I caught him saying.
Ovraiti liked to talk about life, wealth-creation and, I suppose, joy-creation. He’d always talked about the self-helpbooks he read. ‘That’s it,’ he declared. ‘Is it okay? Are you happy?’
‘Almost,’ I hesitated. ‘The lower section is darker than all the rest.’
‘No problem.’ He grabbed something that looked like an eraser.
‘Hold on, what are you doing?’ Peter asked. I was glad someone else was as startled as I was.
‘No, it not an eraser,’ he explained. ‘It’s just old dry glue. It will lighten the marks a little.’
He dabbed the glue on the dark shades.
‘Just right,’ I agreed.
‘Should I fix it?’ He reached for his can of fixative.
‘Sure,’ I said.
‘No o!’ Peter cut in. ‘This man might come back in two months and tell you he doesn’t like the pencil marks anymore. Just leave it so you can erase it later if you want.’
‘Well,’ I said. I didn’t think I was going to change my mind, but I could see his point. ‘Just leave it.’
‘Okay, time to go,’ he said.
I’d taken enough of his time. I was happy. The water colour woman had her thoughts back. Would she have known about BODMAS Theory? I doubted it. She seemed … well, not that educated. Rural, almost; yet wise and peaceful. No… she wouldn’t have known about BODMAS. But maybe she needed it. Maybe I needed it. I was ambivalent about self-help books. Sometimes, I thought they were useful. At other times, I wasn’t so sure. But still useful or not, the BODMAS words looked good on her. I walked out the door with my water colour woman.