Following is a critical analysis and commentary of the work of contemporary artists that have influenced Nya′s oeuvre, particularly his series, “Divine Inspiration”
THAKOR PATEL, INDIA
The profound depth of the work of Indian born artist, Thakor Patel, rendered with a dose of purity, clarity and precision of intent can be described as “an encounter of rhythm and tension on a spatial field where only the quintessential elements abide in harmony.”
Thakor introduces color by incessantly splattering finely composed brush loads of paint onto his carefully chosen ground resulting in a build-up of rich, dense and mellifluous colors deftly orchestrated in esthetically pleasing geometric and organic shapes.
His multifarious palette ranges from deep oranges, cobalt blues, violet, cadmium reds, zinc whites and varying shades of electric purple. In his large-scale canvasses, the immensely gifted Indian born African contemporary artist applies his paint not just to the front of his panels, but also to the sides, which are often extended with wood slats, filling down the corners so that they appear rounded.
The tension in Thakor’s paintings, created by overlapping and interacting areas of flat color with amorphous or geometric shapes evokes memories of the 1950’s color field painting movement. However, unlike the work of Mark Rothko, Kenneth Noland, Paul Jenkins, Norman Lewis and Clyfford Still, American painters considered “masters of color field painting,” Thakor does not fully embrace the movement’s principle of “emphasizing the flatness of the surface.” Instead, he creates a three-dimensional illusion in most of his distinguished pieces as well as refer to objects in the natural world, thereby revealing his emotional state of mind, a keen sensitivity to African cultural aesthetics.
Thakor’s ability allow the viewer to leap into the expanse of his enigmatic colors in his paintings can be attributed to his ingenious deployment of the principles from the color field painting movement, particularly the following;
creating an air brushed illusion
treating his surface as a field of vision
making his paintings less about the actual process of making the work
As one stands close to his pictures, his colors extend beyond your peripheral vision,
“like one is looking into a lake or an ocean, and instantaneously, you feel the sensation of the colors and comprehend the essence of the key elements shrouded in the piece.”
The curved and angular forms, monochromatic and brightly colored paintings of the Indian born and one of Africa’s foremost contemporary artist conjures memories of the work of another Indian Born British artist, the sculptor Anish Kapoor.
The latter’s gigantic sculptures, many of which have carved apertures and cavities, often alluding to and playing with dualities, e.g. earth and sky; darkness and light; good and evil; spirit and matter; male and female; body and soul are simplistically rendered. However, they possess an overwhelming calmness, peace and tranquility that one feels in the presence of the chimerical paintings of Thakor Patel.
In 1960, with the intention of “uncovering the mystery of form,” the Spanish Catalan painter, sculptor and ceramicist, Joan Miró i Ferrà painted a large format picture entitled (“Blue III, Oil on canvas, 270 x 355 cm, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Center Georges Pompidou, Paris). The painting, which was part of a triptych is similar to Thakor Patel’s 1984 work, “Untitled” (Gallery, The Art Magazine from Gallery Delta, No 29).
Both artists applied large portions of the color blue with an astonishing degree of sensitivity so that the hue evanesces into the soul of the picture. This makes it a spiritual color, and in keeping with Romantic color symbolism, “a symbol of the internal and ecumenical night, of spiritual purity and enduring liberty - the color of visions.”
The two artists, working in two entirely different continents with over two decades separating the consummation of the two paintings, both enliven the color, depicting only a few essential elements and open up an infinity of imagination to the viewer.
Thakor’s use of line, “graceful and delicate in movement,” is economical and brings awareness and attention only to the essential elements on his picture plane.
In his earlier works, e.g. “Musician 1975” (Gallery, The Art Magazine from Gallery Delta, No. 31) his adroit use of organic line to depict grotesque skulls and parts of a human torso is contrasted with the soft rendering of the violin, crutches and other various elements displayed in the paper grounded black ink drawing. In his 1995 piece, “Skin,” (Gallery, The Art Magazine from Gallery Delta, No 31) line is sparingly deployed to accentuate the definitive constituents of his canvas while chaperoning the viewer’s eyes throughout the painting field.
Key elements akin to both his adopted African and native Indian heritage, e.g. African neck beads, cowrie shells, letters from the Hindi Alphabet or Devanagari Script are presented in an ethereal tone that eloquently captures their invariable nature.
He also creates a variety of textures and some of his paintings have a sandpaper-like surface, whereas some are flat, and still others in their swirl and pockets of texture resemble the undulating terrain of the African continent.
VIYÉ DIBA, SENEGAL
In his virile and enthralling compositions, Viyé Diba employs an array of indigenous and felicitous materials that include tree bark, shards of metal, fragments of wood, sand, recycled objects and woven strips of cloth.
These unorthodox materials, salvaged from the cities of Senegal are dexterously amalgamated to create communicative pieces that integrate the discipline of painting and the robust movement of sculpture.
Viyé Diba renders his line in a thick and primitive style, reminiscent of the crude chevron and organic motifs found on old Tonga doors. However, unlike the Southern African found doors, his line is carefully considered and incorporated into his complex compositions without any decorative aesthetic appeal or a scent of sensationalism.
Viyé uses an extremely earthy palette that can be described as “distinctively organic and intrinsically evolving.” His colors seem to develop in a manner analogous to the natural growth and evolution characteristics of living organisms. Burnt oranges, scorched browns, ash black, foliage greens, nebulous blues and tainted whites are the predominant colors that veil his distinguished work mainly grounded on wooden panels.
In one of his most celebrated series, “Materials, rhythms and compositions,” which deservingly won first prize at “Dak'art, the Biennale of Contemporary African Art, 1988,” Viyé consummated his distinguished body of seven paintings on wooden planks covered in mud cloth.
This was ensued by tying and joining sections of the lumber and painting them in an apathetic reddish adobe pigment giving the impression and immediate feeling of the flatness, aridity and hardships of the Senegalese hinterland. He then fashioned canvas sachets that resemble Shona or Tsonga snuff bottles of compressed spherical form. Upon filling the sachets with black soil, he rhythmically tied them on distinct sections of his compositions to create a heavily textured relief surface.
Inevitably, the resultant form resembled a Malian Dogon granary door that a father would dutifully construct and present to her daughter after her first menstrual period, thereby acknowledging “the dawn of womanhood.” According to Malian tradition, the young woman was required not to relinquish her priced possession and retain it after marriage. Therefore, Viyé’s composition could be alluding to puberty with the sachets depicting a budding girl’s breasts.
Another African contemporary artist whose use of color and form is similar to Viyé’s compositions is the Ivorian sculpture, Monique LeHoulleur. Her purely organic forms, which echo Viyé Diba’s work resemble discarded fragments of corrugated metal that have been mounted on meticulously carved wooden blocks.
Her bronze castings, which, like Viyé’s paintings, resemble old Dogon and Tonga doors are consummated in crude shapes, with a distinct majority embellished with African motifs, particularly the chevron pattern. The glass pendants hooked to most of Monique’s sculptures and left to swing within the hollow carved space in the middle of the sculptures resemble the Zulu horn shaped snuff bottle of cylindrical form affixed to Viyé Diba’s distinguished paintings.
But even though both artists use organic colors, Viyé’s palette is warm and rich, whereas Monique LeHoulleur’s organic colors are a combination of russet and untreated grayish tones.
Other African artists synonymous with affixing variant materials on their surfaces, thereby creating conversational pieces that resemble ancient altars include Tiébéna Dagnogo from Côte d’Ivoire. His two works, “Mossi Kro” and “Porte Céleste, (Gallery, The Art Magazine from Delta Gallery, No. 18, front and back cover respectively) is similar to Viyé Diba’s work, especially the blunt affixing of wooden branches and the irregular, heavy and hard outlined form.
However, unlike Viyé, who hardly uses text or indent words on his wooden panels, Tiébéna’s work is fond of text that is either “liberally” scribbled within the picture plane or carefully engraved within definitive spaces in his compositions.
Viyé Diba’s surfaces are coarse and arenaceous, resembling the rugged Senegalese mountains of Toukanaya, Kédougou and Sandoundou and the procumbent terrain of the Sahara and Kalahari Desert.
The gritty and dusty colored ground of his surfaces awaken memories of the dusty roads of Dakar and variant cities in Senegal and Africa. The aura of mystery that veils his work is heightened by the sculptured elements affixed to his panels that resemble magic portions, gourds and fetishes synonymous with religion, witchcraft, rituals and practices of ancestral worship.
The revered African contemporary artist discourse extends beyond the confines of aesthetic expression. His works explore the mysteries of communication and the relationship between the natural and esoteric world. His use of raw and recycled materials also raises a litany of social, political and environmental issues.
Through his work, the viewer is challenged to look and analyze materials from a cerebral perspective and the difference between sculpture and painting is eradicated to conceive a unique dialogue inherent to the African narrative.