Since his early encounter with the works of leading artists, Lagos-based artist Timi Kakandar has clawed his way into the limelight through a combination of hard work, consistency, and research. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke writes
As an unforgettable takeaway from that Sunday, October 30 afternoon’s interactive artist talk at The Fraser’s Suites in Abuja’s Central Business District, Prince Timi Kakandar’s professed love for travel and cultural immersion flares through the mists of memory. He had waxed lyrical about his international travels in front of a group of aficionados—comprising, predictably, both locals and expatriates—who had so far been regaled with the offerings of last year’s Abuja Open House: Convergence, which took place from October 27 to October 30.
The Lagos-based artist, while articulating his creative credo, warmly recommended experiencing other cultures to his colleagues. A cursory glance at his profile, meanwhile, confirmed that, in addition to other countries, he has so far travelled to the United States, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and Turkey.
He had been invited as one of four frontline artists who headlined the four-day fiesta that energised the Abuja art scene, alongside Duke Asidere, Diseye Tantua, and Dotun Popoola. This was one reason why the audience’s attention was certain to be riveted the moment he took his seat beside the convener and the event’s anchor, Nduwhite Ndubuisi Ahanonu. The session, dubbed “Conversations in Colours,” which eventually became more animated as it opened up for questions, also had plans to feature another leading Lagos-based artist, Sam Ovraiti, but eventually settled for a long-distance conversation with him.
Fast-forward to Kakandar’s recently concluded solo exhibition at Ogirikan Gallery in Ikoyi, Lagos, titled Portraits of Desires, Longing, and Search, which opened on Saturday, January 7 and ended on Thursday, February 2. Through his body of work, which consisted of his recent acrylic and oil paintings, the 1999 University of Port Harcourt graduate shared his thoughts on this earthly existence, whose dominant pheromone seems to be the unrestrained and insatiable urge for material acquisitions and pleasures.
Talking about these paintings, whose dominant colours seem to be blue, they hint at the artist’s futile efforts to compress the seething and surging emotions of his finer material environment into rigid, stationary forms. Indeed, it must have taken considerable effort to extract these forms from realms beyond the physical senses’ perceptual capacity. This is even as he places his intellectual stamp on the final product. Is it surprising, therefore, that a semblance of animation and movement seems to lurk beneath the gaudy, and sometimes delicate, tones of the colour of the static forms?
Perhaps it is his emphasis on painterly qualities—even if he does not reject representational, realistic forms—that prompts the cognoscenti to draw parallels between his work and the Fauvist style. He does, in fact, use painting to express his fascination with the human figure, as well as drawing and collage. This is especially true when the challenges, rewards, and social-political issues that arise from living and working in an African space are factored in.
Growing up in a creativity-favouring atmosphere back in the 1970s, he was greatly inspired watching his now octogenarian father, who until his retirement was a Canadian-trained cartographer and architectural draughtsman. “From a very young age, I found myself also wanting to draw, and every drawing I created at the time brought a thrill that excited me to do another one until it became a passion that has now translated to a profession,” he recalls.
Decades later, in the mid-1990s, while his family had relocated to Port Harcourt (despite his being born in Lagos), his father was presented with a Central Bank of Nigeria calendar, which included the works of prominent painters such as Gani Odutokun, Kolade Oshinowo, Abiodun Olaku, and Edosa Oguigo, among others. The four Nigerian artists named above as his first direct local inspirations had a significant impact on him and his artistic approach.
Prior to his encounter with their works, he had fallen in love with works by the Dutch Golden Age painter, printmaker, and draughtsman, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, simply known as Rembrandt, as well as those of the Impressionists Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. This was while he was poring over art books he stumbled upon in the state government public library, which had become his favourite haunt.
Perhaps this was how his predilection for using oil colours came into being and was nurtured, even when he appears to have more paintings done with acrylic. “I guess I love oil more because I learned how to paint with it and did quite a lot of exploration in my learning years through the medium,” he says.
Meanwhile, besides his art practice, his immediate family remains the centrepiece of his best and fondest memories. “My children and their birth processes created memories that shook my core as a human.”
He had also gone through unpleasant experiences, which, according to him, his upbringing in Nigeria helped his mind process. The loss of his cherished mother and older sister was the most agonising of these experiences, he adds.
Back to his studio practice, it pivots on the philosophy that “creativity does not grow or blossom without consistency, hard work, and research.” This, he adds, affects his attitude towards painting, and his work evolves as he continually researches and responds to his environment. Hence his advice to upcoming artists: “Talent is not enough. You need to be consistent in your hard work to grow your creativity, and success in the arts is not instant but organic.”
His average day begins around 5.30 a.m., and he saunters into his four-room art studio by 6 a.m., after a brief intermission of rites. He then does a few sketching exercises and a quick email, WhatsApp, and social media check before dumping his phone at 7.30 am to begin painting. He remains in the studio until 6.30 p.m. before shutting down to spend the evening with my family.
Since his graduation from the University of Port Harcourt in 1999, he has so far held four solo exhibitions and over 30 group exhibitions, which have mainly featured works that swirl around the celebration of human morphology.
If his paintings seem to be predominantly about women, it could be because of his perception of the visually attractive nuances in female physical make-up, which are frequently complemented by her sensitivity to look and aura. The subjects are gorgeous and captivating because of their spectacular hairstyles, elegance, and accessories.
Kakandar, a member of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) Lagos Chapter and one of Nigeria’s most prolific contemporary artists, enjoys a devoted local and international following. His appearances at the Portraits Exhibition at the Bricklane Gallery in London, United Kingdom, in September of last year, along with his inclusion at the Artankara Contemporary Art Fair in Ankara, Turkey, the Art Contact Contemporary Art Fair in Istanbul, Turkey, the InstaLive International Group Art Exhibition in Queensland, Australia, and the Salon Afrique: A Homecoming Reimagined Art Exhibition by Madlozi Art Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa, among others, are just a few examples of shows that helped burnish his international credentials.