07 Sep Toying with Love

Nsikak Essien … Toying with Love

Nsikak Essien’s studio is a bit more cluttered than normal. Which is quite something because it usually is quite cluttered. Not in a terrible way though. In a mad tinkerer sort of way with artworks in various stages of creation all over the place, experiments and the instruments of these experiments strewn about and bits of things lying around waiting to be attached to the right multimedia work.

Today there are artworks all over the place. His exhibition is in September so he is in the thick of things. He tells me all the artworks for the exhibition will be ready at the end of the month. I believe him– but only because in my experience he says exactly what he can do. It would be tough though, I think. There are so many artworks requiring attention. He says he’s up for the task. He gets here in the morning and leaves at night still brimming with energy. He’s in that zone, I suppose where things just flow – energy, ideas, passion.

He’s doing all the artworks at once he says. He does a bit of one, then another calls to him and he dashes to that one to add to it, and then another one calls urging him to see something. Sometimes serendipity plays a part. He looks at an artwork and finds a pattern, then he goes with that pattern to uncover the work within. He shows me an artwork – a painting of a woman. That morning it had been a hodgepodge of colours on wood, then he walked past it and saw the hint of a woman and set to work to uncover this women. It’s an interesting work – lots of background colour and the outline of a young woman. He starts to add to it as we speak. I worry that he might ruin it. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about him it’s that he isn’t afraid to experiment. He might ruin it. But, so what? If he does he might retrace his steps or go on a whole different path or leave it for a while to find its direction. But he will keep trying things – experimenting, cobbling things together, finding new connections.

There are three crosses in this exhibition. No, not an ‘x’, the sort of cross Jesus was nailed to. He says his wife suspects there might be too many crosses for one exhibition. Possibly. They’re all different though and interesting. One is of a person playing the cross like a guitar. It’s not finished yet. The guiter-cross is in place. The temporary outline of the man is there but the steel outline is still being constructed. He says the idea of this artwork is God’s love as the best love song ever.

The other cross is an old wooden cross with plants growing from various point on it. It’s a bit like an old abandoned tree with new growth. It’s the idea of the cross as a symbol of constant renewal of faith. It’s a weird and wonderful cross, I think. I like the idea of renewal, and not just in a religious sense.

This exhibition is about love songs. The love parents pass on to children to make them whole and to create a sense of self-worth. There is an artwork with two large feet and two tiny ones on top of them. It’s a man carrying his young child. All you see though are the legs and feet of father and child. This idea of love between parents and their children is one he has explored in the past. He takes it further here though. The parent-child love for him is a metaphor for God’s love for man. Many of the artworks, from the obvious crosses to the not-so-obvious feet express his idea of God’s love; a love that, as he describes it, is based on trust and ease without anxiety and fear.

Another artwork, ‘The return of the prodigal son’ expresses this unconditional love. The idea of the return of the prodigal son from the bible is one he has done before. This one is different though. There’s the father hugging the prodigal child. He shows me a convoluted cardboard roll he intends to attach to the artwork so it goes from the boy’s hand unto the floor; something the prodigal child has written to his father about all his sins; something the father doesn’t care about. He just wants his child back.

I like the idea of the love between man and his creator as a focal point, I say to him. I’m not sure if he notices that I say the creator instead of God. Maybe not. Yes, I’m Christian but still there’s the part of me that wants to be all-inclusive. I’d like a Muslim to feel comfortable with these pieces as well. There is something universal about what he’s creating. A search for humanity, truth, goodness and love. Love in its best sense. A search for something true and eternal.

As I look at the different pieces I can see the connection. Even when it’s not so obvious. I think the artwork ‘I don get alert’ is brilliant. It started out years ago as a truck pusher in the big city, lost and despondent, pulling his truck full of goods, toes sticking out of worn-out shoes. It was a story about being down and out in the big city. Then, he says, he looked at it one day and realised the truck pusher didn’t want to be sad. Life was tough but he was full of spirit. So he changed the truck pusher’s head position, he wasn’t looking down anymore. He was looking to the skies. He put a smile on his face, gave him an earphone: a Beats by Dr. Dre, no less. Everything changed. The city wasn’t so bad anymore. The truck pusher had become buoyant, joyous. A sort of renewal. I like the idea of getting an alert. Dr. Dre would be proud, no doubt.

There are the smaller, free-style artworks. Those are my favourites, strangely. He says he does them when he wants to get away from the serious artworks. They’re playful, easy and experimental. I like the lack of structure and artifice.

I think all his artworks are playful in some way – even the serious ones. They don’t seem to torture him. They come to him and he finds them as he plays. It’s going to be a busy few weeks for him. But he looks like he’s keen on it. He’ll discover some more connections and find a few new expressions of love. Maybe I should get him a Beats by Dr. Dre earphone I wonder as I leave his studio. Maybe not. He’s as apt to use it for music as stick it on an artwork.

Dozie Igweze