Recently evolving a peculiar artistic identity, for Francis Oshorenoya David, is a major career turning point. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
Acrylic, Francis Oshorenoya David, discovered that day is a difficult medium to manage. Unlike oil, the water-soluble – yet water-resistant – and fast-drying paint, made of pigment suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion, does not lend itself to easy manipulation. Then a first-year national diploma student at the Auchi Polytechnic, he was trying to reproduce a photograph of himself, which he had taken with his phone’s camera, on a stretched canvas before him. Much to his chagrin, his brushstrokes dried up too soon – in fact, sooner than he had expected – each time he applied them on a sketch he had drawn on the canvas. Thus, he was unable to achieve the desired effect as he applied the medium on canvas. He had to abandon the portrait in frustration after inadvertently distorting it in his naive trial-and-error attempts. There, he had to start all over again, he decided. Somewhere along the line, one of his seniors whose painting skills he admired a lot, whose name was Peter Agbadu, came to his rescue. After lecture hours, he would visit the latter at his off-campus residence for special lessons on how to paint with the acrylic medium. His skills gradually improved, as his lessons with Agbadu progressed…
This was sometime during the 2015 -2016 academic session…Fast-forward to the present. David lists the medium, alongside oil and charcoal, among his favourites. “I am fascinated with brush strokes, movement and the textural effect it gives on a surface either on canvas or papers,” he gushes.
For the 2018 Auchi Polytechnic graduate of painting, the creative first steps ventured into the realms of expressionism. Then, the idea of using vivid colours to express his seething emotions appealed more to him than depicting forms in objective realism. He soon moved on from this phase to focus on the use of lines. The latter was a technique that was inspired by his efforts at imparting drawing skills on a female National Youth Service Corps member while they both served at the Cross River State capital, Calabar. After showing his former lecturer Kent Onah some of his works developed in this evolving style, the latter advised him to adopt an approach that would be unique to him.
Now, the 25-year-old has settled for a stylised form of expression, which conjures crude forms with geometric from geometric patterns against an intense colourful backdrop. His interest in art, he says, had developed from his love for nature, creativity and colours. As a six-year-old, he recalls doing “the extraordinary” with his hands, which he rates among the “greatest gifts” from his Creator to him. “I have a passion for creativity and creative works,” he declares. “As a child, I engaged my peers by using my works to tell stories of superheroes and my family life. That’s why I chose to pursue my dream by engaging in anything that gives me the platform to express my innermost feelings, desire, concepts and ideas. With art, I am able to speak and express myself in different mediums.”
Over time, he became more and more proficient in his art practice, as his passion for perfection egged him on during his student years at the polytechnic. Not only did he learn from his lecturers, but he also watched video clips of accomplished artists. “Also, I learnt a lot from my immediate environment and society at large. I drew my concepts from things happening around me. [These are] evidently portrayed in my creations.”
Studying at the polytechnic, for the Edo State native, was both “stressful and awesome”. Art, he explains, was not what he had initially planned to study. He had applied to study mass communication, but somehow the tertiary institution ended up offering him admission to study art. If this looked to him like a divine plan, it was because art had been an obsession since his childhood years.
As a student of the Edo State-based polytechnic, he studied under renowned artists like Kent Onah, Adeaze Ajanaku and Paul Ehiezele, among others. “I was immensely blessed to have creative minds as coursemates. They encouraged, motivated and corrected me in so many ways throughout the period I was in that institution. This was despite the fact that it was like a competition to wear the crown as the best student. So, everyone had to put in their best to meet up with the demands of the coursework.”
His workload increased by the time he had progressed to the higher national diploma level. Extra hours at the studio – both during the day and at night – became de rigueur. Indeed, he often spent the night at the studio just to be able to do his assignments within the allotted time for them.
Back home in Abuja, his parents encouraged him. They always did from the onset, in any case. For their first son, they were willing to make sacrifices. And that included giving up a meal to get him the materials he needed for his coursework. As for his two younger brothers, they were also very supportive and encouraged him to keep it on. His friends also offered him their unalloyed support, although some thought about studying art as too expensive. “They love me for what I do and continued to encourage me when they finally discovered how well I was doing later on.”
David first became conscious of his worth as an artist during his internship programme soon after his first year at the polytechnic. The realisation of how much his skill had improved after he followed the advice of his senior colleagues made him feel like a great artist, even like another Picasso.
But, little did he realise that there was still a lot to learn…
Meanwhile, his artistic trajectory was littered with great moments. Among these was a group exhibition in Lagos he participated in while he was in his third year at the polytechnic. The exhibition, which was in 2016, also featured artists like Ken Nwadiogbu and Isimi Taiwo, among others. Selling two of his paintings the following year meant so much to him at that stage of his career.
Then, there were the commissions. So far, he counts over 20 of them. But, he plumes himself more on the fact that he had participated in exhibitions in five different states in Nigeria. Besides being a part of the World AIDS Day exhibition in Abuja in 2015, his works were featured in the 2016 Auchi Artist Convention/ Exhibition. Still, in 2016, he participated in the Bellabeau Art Fair in Lagos. Twice, in 2017 and 2019, he made it to the Life in My City Art Festival’s grand finale in Enugu. Then, his works were also exhibited at the Sparkling FM art exhibition held in Calabar in 2019.
Exhibitions on the global stage are the next in his sights. Currently, he is forced to make do with digital platforms to showcase his works. Through these platforms, he applies for entries for art competitions, searches for art-related news stories, undergoes virtual mentorship and makes contact with art galleries. He also frequents art exhibitions to familiarise himself with the terrain.
He has, over the years, identified a handful of artists, whom he looks up to. Besides his former teacher Kent Onah, whose concepts and usage of colours he is fascinated with, he also reels out names like Duke Asidere, the Ghanaian artist Larry Otoo, Bob-Nosa Uwagboe, Tonia Nneji, Bright Ibiok and Ibe Ananaba as well as the names of such renowned figures as Jean-Michel Basquait, Peter Graham and Pablo Picasso.
His typical day starts with prayers, which is followed by light exercises. After his house chores and shower, his to-do list accommodates such activities as listening to the radio, making sketches and painting, reading books and news stories as well as browsing the social media for updates and chatting with friends. Sometimes, he would simply meditate or take a walk.