Evolving a signature style early in his artistic career has paved Emmanuel Idowu’s path to a promising future. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke writes
Who could miss the obvious fact, from just a cursory glance at Emmanuel Idowu’s acrylic on canvas paintings, that he has a thing for the colour red? The 2019 art education graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University affirms that whenever he goes in quest of the colour red, he typically seeks for three different shades of the colour. The colour is so rich in his eyes that he finds it easy to add yellow and orange to achieve a variation. This is in addition to the fact that it sometimes works well with green in a manner that appeals to him.
It is indeed the compelling earthy-redness of his 2023 paintings, “The Stallion Mistress,” “After Dinner,” “Goatherd/Goatherder,” “Evening Meal,” “Young Weavers,” “Dreamers’ Market,” and “Calabash Market,” that first grips the viewer’s attention and invites him to a closer look.
Another feature of these paintings, which becomes evident upon closer contemplation, is their subtle mosaic-like motif, a technique the artist seems to have recently patented. He attributes this technique to his exposure to pointillism literature, through which he learned about the ground-breaking aesthetic features developed by the well-known French painters Georges Seurat and Paul Signac in Paris in the middle of the 1880s. Then he read as much as he could on colour harmony and separation. These became his initial influences, even before he encountered Mufu Onifade’s Araism Movement.
“This exposure allowed me to experiment with a stylistic approach that involved blending small strokes of colour, ultimately leading to my mastering the art of visually blending colours,” he says.
Perhaps there could be no better way to explain the fact that Idowu’s encounter with Araism happened just as he was attempting to domesticate the ideas he had gleaned from his readings than as a deft weaving of fate. “Though I didn’t study under him, I discovered my own means of separating colours with black run-on lines with the skillful use of an acrylic marker and brush. The juxtaposition of these two techniques brought about my current technique.”
Of course, it helped that he was heavily influenced by African folklore, particularly by his Yoruba history, spirituality, and cultural heritage. Nevertheless, he expresses admiration for a number of internationally renowned greats, including Van Rijn Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Frank Tenney Johnson, and Pablo Picasso. As for the local role models, he names Akinola Lasekan, Abiodun Olaku, Mufu Onifade and Jonathan Imafidon.
Then there is his preference for the quick-drying acrylic medium, which gives his works a unique gloss. He occasionally uses it for his watercolour paintings in addition to finding it more handy than oil paint, in part because the latter has none of the latter’s disagreeable scent. Since it is also water-based, like watercolour, all he needs to do is combine it with more water.
So far, the 31-year-old is encouraged by the fact that his works seem to have found favour in the eyes of both local and foreign aficionados and collectors. And with his participation in several art fairs and exhibitions, his inevitable rise to stardom seems to be only a matter of time. Among the most rewarding art competitions and exhibitions he had been featured in, Next of Kin and Life in My City Art Festival (known as LIMCAF) stand out. In the series five of the former, held on March 28, he won the overall best prize worth ₦500,000. His first participation in the latter, which was in 2018, saw him make the top 50 qualifiers. Thus armed with a better understanding of the competition, he won one of its endowed prizes – namely, Dr Pius Okigbo Prize for Technical Proficient – the following year.
Thanks to that LIMCAF award, Idowu was, as one of that year’s top six winners, selected to be part of an all-expenses-paid trip to the Senegalese capital city, Dakar, for its art biennale, popularly known as Dak’Art.
A debut solo show organised by LIMCAF and curated by its creative director, Dr. Ayo Adewunmi, was another perk of winning the award. This was part of a send-off celebration held in his honour at the LIMCAF Secretariat immediately after his National Youth Service Corps programme. “Most of the paintings I produced at the LIMCAF secretariat during the pandemic lockdown were displayed, and many were sold out. The proceeds from the sales helped me set up my studio in Ondo after I returned to the South-west. LIMCAF had been really helpful in the promotion of my career.”
From initially copying Supa Strikers comics at age 8, while he was still in primary school, Idowu easily brushed aside the distractions of his creativity-stiffling environment to emerge as one of the most promising artists of his generation. He recalls drawing on discarded cartons and old calendars and drawing with charcoal and coloured crayons.
Choosing art as a career path while he was still in secondary school, the Osun State native stayed the course until he became a full-time studio artist and illustrator. He anticipates a brighter future career, which would see him hobnobbing with the industry’s leading lights.