Passion for art and life
January 02 (THEWILL) – Art history is full of stories of child prodigies who begin to doodle very early in life. Pablo Picasso is a famous example. It is said that the world-famous artist of Iberian origin started drawing as soon as he could put his little fingers around a pencil. Of course, he was guided by his father who was a teacher at an art school in Malaga where Picasso was born.
Abayomi Barber, who died aged 93 last week, was unlucky with a father who was an art teacher. But like the Spanish legend, Barber started drawing very early on. According to him, he frequented the sanctuaries of Ile Ife in his youth – not to consult the gods on what will be the future, but to learn and admire the works of art of these temples.
For an entire week, children from his school visited some of the shrines and saw the sculptural pieces.
“During this week,” Barber recalled in an interview once, “school children were taken to shrines on the island of Ife where we saw sculptures by former Ife artists. one of the kids visiting the shrines Teachers showed us the deities and their names That’s where I got interested in carving I practically learned how to make carvings on my own.
After his informal artistic education in the sanctuaries of Ife, the young artist began to carve and sculpt. He started by attracting those close to him: his father, for example. Dad was still impressed. He also immortalized some of the village elders on paper, willingly showing off his portraits of old people. Next was his uncle who would later become the Ooni of Ile Ife, Oba Adesoji Aderemi.
As any horny preteen would, the young boy breathlessly showed his uncle the portraits he had made of him. He rewarded him accordingly, a piece or two for his pictorial effort.
Like the restless spirits that they are, most artists are sometimes on the move, never settling in one place for too long. The budding artist from Ile Ife was a sort of peregrine, sometimes forced to take the road by circumstances beyond his control.
In Ife, his uncle thought he was becoming a pampered kid. He therefore urged him to go to Ilesha, a town about 39 km from Ife. Barber painted and continued his painting, mostly of elderly and well-to-do citizens.
We can say that it was in Ilesha that the artist experienced a turning point in his nascent career. “When I was in Ilesa my uncle helped me secure a warehouse which became my first studio,” Barber told an interviewer in 2017, when he was 88. “I became popular in no time because I made sculptures of great people in the city.”
It is not only the adults of Ilesha who have noticed it. The daughter of one of the seniors fell in love with his paintings, a prelude to love at first sight for the painter himself. “In Ilesa, there was this beautiful girl who frequented my studio to contemplate my works of art and be amazed,” he said in the same interview with Taiwo Ojoye of Punch. “Over time, I got closer to the girl. His admiration for my work also led to an admiration for me. We became close friends and fell in love.
Her father didn’t want it. But her daughter was so enamored with the painter that she could not leave him. What to do?
Send the painter out of town. (It is just possible that the wealthy Ilesha, a reluctant in-laws, by the way, would have marked his daughter for the son of another prosperous citizen like himself and not a young man hanging out with brushes, paints and a easel.) And so, Barber, once again, found himself on the move, this time to Lagos where he enrolled in the Yaba Technical Institute and quickly distinguished himself. Of course, his instructors took note, with one admitting that his student could outdo him.
Picasso has also been said to pay little or no attention to his lessons while in school. Abayomi was also inclined to Yaba Tech. He left school to set up an Abayomi Barber Studio where he continued to paint and sculpt. At that time, by his own admission, he frequented Lagos Marina and nostalgically imagined himself in one of those ships sailing to Europe.
One day, he and a friend approach a sailor and tell him that they want to follow him to Europe, to London to be precise. The only way the two young people could travel was as stowaways. Okay, save some money and get your passports ready, the sailor told them. They did it. But, first, the young man had to inform his mother. Her mother, in turn, told her older brother Oba Aderemi Adesoji, who served as governor of the Western region from 1960 to 1962.
Of course, the great man was outraged, but the hopeful traveler was unaware of the harm he had caused his influential and well-connected uncle. As they say “wetin de for Sokoto de for so ko to” which means that what you are looking for from afar could be near you. It turned out to be so because his uncle only had to mention his nephew’s desire to travel to Obafemi Awolowo. This is how Barber won a scholarship to study art in London.
In a tribute written by Okey Uwaezeoke in THISDAY of November 10, 2019 on the occasion of a book published on the artist, the journalist had this to say about his desire to travel: “His legs and his restless mind would see it later. derive from a studio in the Obalende area of Lagos, where he carved thorns, at the Lagos Grammar School, where he had to deal with recalcitrant students, as well as at the Yaba College of Technology, where the professor British art praised his mastery of portraiture.
Born in September 1928 to the first child of an African representative father of GB Olivant, a European-owned goods company, Barber confessed early on that “my life has found meaning in drawing, painting and sculpture. . People say that I am one of the greatest Nigerian artists. I don’t know if they are right or wrong. All I know is that I have produced some fantastic works of art.
So true! Some of his paintings worship the salons of prominent Nigerian collectors such as engineer Yemisi Shyllon and other private collectors. But there are some that are exposed to the public. The main one is the bust of the former military head of state, Murtala Mohammed in Lagos and another of his late uncle Oba Aderemi in Ife.
There are also dozens of paintings, mostly oils on canvas. Pipe Dream, showing a traveler with his cane and obscuring the air with puffs of smoke from a long pipe squeezed into his mouth is one of his favorite works. New Dawn depicts a day that just ended with vivid hues dominating the canvas.
The Barber art students trained at his school are just as important as the works of art he left behind. There are Muri Adejimi Muri Adejimi, Olumuyiwa Spencer, Adebisi Alade, Olubunmi Lasaki, Archibald Etikenrentse, Adebayo Akinwole, Femi Adewolara, Ato Arinze, Olatunde Barber and Conrad Decker. They themselves have become accomplished. And last year, when their instructor / mentor turned 92, they were all on hand to celebrate it at the National Gallery of Art in an exhibition called “Abayomi Barber: An Artist Born and Made”.
Senior journalist and former Guardian arts editor Ben Tomoloju said of Barber that day. The artist was “clearly part of the surrealist movement in Europe, an attribute that has its signature in his works … The driving force of surrealism is to allow the unconscious of the artist or the writer to express itself with a total freedom of creation. With such freedom at the subliminal level of the human faculty, the hairdressing school legatees will tend to branch out for air in various directions, even though it is obvious that they are springing from the same stalk.
Barber wasn’t content with just being an artist. He was also a musician who played the saxophone as seriously as he focused on his works of art. In fact, he was so good as a tenor saxophonist that he became “the best tenor saxophonist in colonial Lagos”.
Why wouldn’t he do it after appearing in the musical groups of David Bamigboye and Victor Olaiya?
In a remarkable profile of Picasso published in 1957 in the New Yorker, Janet Flaner wrote about the prodigy thus: He apparently started life already intact – being precociously ready and functioning to begin with – rather than proceeding from classic way through the usual experimental and qualifying stages of development of the average very young human being.
Although Barber did not have the international influence and traction of the enigmatic Spaniard, it is possible to assume that he began his life as a ready-born artist who was also created during his very rich creative output.