Last night I chatted with artist Gideon Fasola of Nigeria, who is one of the African artists represented by Amsterdam-based Dr. Keith McFarlane’s international Portraits Africa project.
Portraits Africa is all about the African artists they represent and the portrait art their artists create. All of the portrait art in the Portraits Africa artist portfolios help to brand the project and service. But none more so than African artist Gideon Fasola’s iconic self-portrait Face of Me, of which the artist says–“It’s the artwork that represents everything about my art.”
Gideon was one of the earliest to be curated into the Portraits Africa aka African Portraiture Service. The artist says that he appreciates every effort the service makes to promote his work and obtain commissions for him from clients around the world–“African Portraiture Service is a loving platform for African Artists, to me it’s like making a dream that seems impossible come true so unexpectedly soon to the dreamer.”
His Face of Me self-portrait is also used to help brand the @PortraitsAfrica Twitter account here.
You’ll notice that in this self-portrait (image above) there is a rough division down the center of the face, with the left side painted in color and the right side rendered in graphite pencil. Both sides demonstrate Gideon Fasola’s skill and ability in rendering realism in any media. He says, “I like to be free with my color and rendering, I don’t like following a strict way of painting. The graphite side is simply showing my pencil realism in like manner to the painting.”
Such duality of imagery carries much metaphorical meaning as well, referencing dualities in the life of every artist, while providing a visual summary of the Portraits Africa service of turning flesh and blood faces into drawings and paintings.
Yet Gideon Fasola’s work is not limited to realistic renderings–“I love good music, inspiring poetry and drawings that speaks, so rhythm, words and message always influence my artworks,” he says. “That is why my works are not limited to realism and hyperrealism portraiture and drawings that is common among African artists of this generation.”
The abstract aspects of Gideon Fasola’s self-portrait is in the texture and patterning, which he refers to as Araism. “The background represents two things about my art, the tiny break texture is Araism–a painting movement invented by a Nigerian artist Mufu Onifade. I became a disciple of the movement in 2013 and I am the first artist in the group that is using pencil to render the movement. The second thing on the background is my background pattern that I have been using for the background of my works since when I was in school 2008 till now.”
Gideon speaks the three major languages of Nigeria–Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa, and many dialects under them. He explains that, “Araism is derived from Yoruba (the language of the western Nigeria tribe).” From the word “Ara” which means “wonder.” As in, there is wonder and amazement in the viewer at the lines of “tiny breaks” that come together to create an art piece. Also, the word “Ara” means “thunder,” with the lines that strike across the surface of the artworks like lightning in a thunderstorm. “Ara” (in the Igbo language) can also mean a woman’s breast. Gideon explains that connotation as, “the way the artworks entice people and gives their delightful view and pleasurable experience is compared with womans breasts. So Araism is all African rooted, especially Yoruba.”
His two imaginative works titled HOPE and Virtuous Woman very clearly articulate this “tiny break texture” of Araism–or as Gideon says– “Yes, this are some of my pure Araism works.”
Fasola explains that he first heard about the Araism movement while studying at The Polytechnic Ibadan, Eruwa Campus, Oyo State, Nigeria. “I first heard about Mufu Onifade at school, from one of my lecturers that is one year senior colleague of Mufu Onifade when they are art students. Mufu Onifade is a former student of my school, my campus, he graduated there 1988. I started searching for his name and possible contacts online after I heard about him and saw some of his works. After many trials, I was able to chat with him and talk to him on call. I saw him face to face for the first time when he invited me to the Araism Movement on the 10th of September 2013. It was after then that I joined the Araism movement with two Araism works that I submitted to him.”
In the portrait above, the artist demonstrates his skill for working with the ink from blue, black and red ballpoint pens, common tools in Nigeria. He is especially fond of this ballpoint pen ink portrait of “my only niece, which I treasure as my daughter,” he has demonstrably titled The Adorable One.
Fasola also says that being an artist is a “humble career,” demonstrating his humility via encounters with “old wise artists who have made me a young man with an old mind.” He recalls their advice–“An old artist once told me that art is in your brain and hand, to never let materials silence your expression, but to learn to use whatever can make a mark on a surface to express yourself.”
Fasola thinks that being an artist is “a gift, a privilege, I am not more worthy than other people to have the talent, so I’m using it like a precious gift given to me as undeserved kindness.”
He describes his painting, above, of laughing children– “It’s saying, if the poor can be happy then you can be happy against all odds if you choose to and if you have the right attitude the way you live your life.”