Use of Materials
Material use is one of the most riveting, spellbinding and authentic qualities of Nya’s work.
Following is an inventory of the unorthodox materials employed by the artist together with a critical analysis that aims to disclose how his use of materials varies with the work of select African contemporary artists and a distinguished group of critically acclaimed European and American artists working in different genres.
Nya’s habitual exposure to animal blood from his youth gave him a profound appreciation of the hazardous material. Through observing the pliancy, density and the exsiccating proclivity of this precious fluid that circulates in the principal vascular system of human beings and other vertebrates, an opulent reservoir of unorthodox ideas were indelibly impressed on the memory of the budding artist. And to date, Nya′ adroitly synthesis animal blood with modern materials in his laboratory to create insightful, didactic and emotive pieces that are tactile, prismatic, diaphanous, yet veiled in a superlative ambiance where, as Nya′ puts it, “the coherent and amorphous converge.”
Unlike his western contemporaries, whose use of blood is overtly ostentatious and deftly contrived to garner public attention and boost museum attendances, Nya’s use of blood is conscientious and, in most paintings, allude to the authoritative, covering and defensive qualities of Jesus’ blood in relation to the revelatory message in the piece.
In “Tablet of Prosperity,” an opulent single streak of lamb’s blood mixed with crimson hues patiently cascades from the roof of the picture plane to represent the righteousness, peace and joy, essentially the Kingdom of God restored to Mankind through the sacrificial blood of Jesus. In “My Boathouse,” imperceptible daubs of blood around the destiny bound boat allude to the abiding peace, the abounding Grace and the boundless mercy that prevails in the journey of a Holy Spirit led and faith-filled visionary.
In “Blueprint of Grace,” the imperceptible lamb’s blood mixed with deep crimson hues to partially blanket the inscribed Scriptural text on the foreground of the painting allude to the untold suffering and supernatural Love of an Omnipotent and Omniscient Father who had already designed a plan to bring His children back into His rich inheritance long before they transgressed and declared independence.
In essence, the words piercing through the deep crimson hues alludes to God’s voice that Moses heard through the mercy seat in the Tabernacle. To that end, the blood of Jesus speaks, and as the title of the painting suggests, His blood proclaims Grace, forgiveness, mercy and pardon for Mankind. As a matter of Truth, Moses could not hear the voice of God until the blood was applied on the mercy seat. In other words, it was the redemptive work of Jesus that reunified Man (humanity) to the commonwealth of Heaven, enabled Man to receive and be filled with The Holy Spirit again, repositioned Man as citizens and no longer illegal immigrants in the Kingdom of God and reconciled him to now have a relationship or fellowship and communication with God again.
Apart from His sacrificial work of restoring The Blessing of God to Man and giving him back the dominion he lost when the first human on earth sinned; the blood of Jesus also exonerated Mankind from the judgment of God and took away his fear of Him, enabling him to call Him not only King, but Father.
Unlike his aforementioned paintings, in which blood was sparsely applied, and only detectable upon a careful study of the work, a distinguished painting by Nya′ in which blood was applied across the entire plane of the canvas is a painting he completed in 2004 entitled “Yonder of Eternal Excellency.” Nya′ amalgamates synthetic colors with a potent cocktail of lamb’s blood, broken glass and sand to create a composition that is immediately captivating and rich in biblical imagery. The young sheep’s blood, rendered in various resplendent tones alludes to the precious blood of Jesus that was paid as a ransom for the redemption of Mankind.
In essence, it was the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross that paid the price for the sins of humanity. As the rich chunks of paint that looks like flesh strewn across the foreground suggests, His spilt blood and torn flesh brings life to any Man who accepts Him as Lord and Savior. Even though it is intellectually impossible to comprehend the vicarious sufferings of Jesus in order to salvage Mankind, religions that do not accept His atoning work have undoubtedly become visionless spiritual clubs void of power, impact and influence as partially alluded to in the work by the heavily soiled Braille and sackcloth close to the roof of the picture plane.
To show that Jesus is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world and that His death and shed blood paid the price for sin once and for all, the entire canvas seems to have been dipped in a dish containing lamb’s blood resulting in disparate shades of scarlet as the natural red pigments, dyes, oils and the blood dried.
While for his contemporaries, the use of animal or human blood is primarily a calculated ploy engineered to bring attention to the artist or enunciate personal or societal disgust to a contemporary issue or perceived injustices, Nya’s use of the material shows no sign of sensationalism as clearly indicated in “Yonder of eternal Excellency.” In fact, just as blood is indispensable to the body, Nya’s intention is to reveal how without the blood of Jesus, the body of Christ or His Church is dead.
In essence, Jesus is the Word of God manifested in the flesh; hence His blood typifies His Word. In other words, Jesus is the Word that God feeds His Church, and His blood purges the conscience of every member of His Body from dead works to serve Him - The living God.
To that end, as the disparate navigational like markings in “Yonder of Eternal Excellency” suggests, it is Jesus blood that cleanses His Church or every born-again believer just like how blood in the human body facilitates cleansing of the system. This cleansing is not an event or an altar call but a perennial process that is vital for keeping His Church or the citizens of His Kingdom healthy, vibrant and replete with life. Furthermore, as the 15 squares along the length of the canvas representing all the cities Paul travelled preaching the Kingdom of God suggests, it is faith in the Lord’s blood and not elected governments or another human that brings the total package of salvation which includes a sound mind, perfect health and economic prosperity to every Man, household, community and or nation.
Additionally, through the cleansing of His precious blood, vital faith nutrients indispensable to the quickening or restoration of every member of His Body to his/her position of leadership in the fields of their calling is facilitated; similarly, to how the plasma of the blood carries hormones, proteins, enzymes, salts and vitamins throughout the natural body to keep it agile.
It is also important to note that in every painting by Nya’ where he employs blood, carefully selected Scriptural references will also be noticeable in the composition and in distinct elements on the picture plane.
SALVAGED MATERIALS & FOUND OBJECTS
From the age of 10, when Nya′ migrated from the country to go and live with his mother in the city, he soon began to manipulate discarded wires and shards of metal obtained from abandoned factories into toy cars and guns. This was coupled with endless pilgrimages to garbage yards in search of different materials that included plastic containers, beer bottles, pieces of cloth, empty cigarette packets, broken parts of stereos and rusted wire.
This early introduction to found objects, scrap metal, electrical chords and disparate industrial textures left an indelible mark in the budding artist’s psyche as clearly evidenced in his oeuvre. His adroit use of wire, metal, salvaged materials and other found materials is incontestably overt in practically all his compositions from his “Divine Inspiration” series, the key being “Epistle of Breath” and “Tablet of Prosperity.”
In these two pieces, Nya′ intricately employs an irresistible blend of exquisite virtuosity and conceptual freedom. Materials redolent of his childhood which include wire, rustic metal, charcoal, animal blood, beads, river sand and animal dung were masterfully ingrained into the compositions with meritorious precision. Additionally, the aura of youthful exuberance and sublime embryonic aesthetics reminiscent of his juvenile toys emanate from the two enrapturing masterpieces.
The relief in “Tablet of Prosperity” is comprised of earth, sackcloth, rocks, metal, salvaged foam board, rugs and Braille to represent the untold sorrow of leaving in a cursed earth and the strife, confusion and fear of living a carnal life void of the Holy Spirit and barren of God’s Word.
In “Epistle of Breath,” the bridge responsible for permitting the light is comprised of rusted wire, river sand, salvaged corrugated paper and lamb’s blood. By using different textures of wire, Nya’ was able to distinguish the architecture of the bridge in “Epistle of Breath” and The Word piercing through the hardened earth to transform the environment in “Tablet of Prosperity.”
Another key composition in Nya’s Divine Inspiration series in which wire, metal and other found objects were used is his panel grounded work entitled “Escort of Wisdom.” In this work, the doorknob plate void of the handle alludes to the high cost of true wisdom, which, like the doorknob plate is accessible to every Man, but like the missing door handle, demands you to diligently pursue it until your hand is divinely guided to locate the handle requisite to enter its treasure-laden rooms.
Another outstanding African contemporary artist who uses wire, shards of metal and other found objects in his riveting compositions is the Zimbabwean born artist, Keston Beaton.
Utterly rejecting local expectations of western art materials and prejudice against trash yards, Beaton assiduously sifts through perilously discarded, broken and displaced bits and pieces, combining them to conceive ingenious sculptures that are immediately captivating and pulsating.
In his critically acclaimed series of musical instruments, Beaton used a variety of materials which include corkscrews, remnants of a kettle, spoons, bicycle saddles, stones, curtain hooks, bottle tops, wire, calabash, bark and broken exhaust pipes to create forms that allude to disparate types of musical instruments, e.g. electric guitar, harp, saxophone, violin and trumpet. Their rhythmic and organic shapes play on this allusion while the various elements create stimulatingly rich visual correspondences with sounds.
Whether it is a massive saxophone mouth, the tightly drawn strings, the calabash resonance boxes, the spoon toning keys, the ballpoint bridges, the wooden necks or the beaded frets, every part evokes melodious symphonies.
The African contemporary artist’s use of metallic, organic, a hint of psychedelic and industrial colors is also a reference to sound. Interestingly, once the viewer is immersed in the mellifluous aspect, every piece from then on overwhelmingly conjures an assortment of musical equivalents. This is more evident in his pieces, “King David’s Harp,” “Wind Instrument,” “Bugle,” and “Instrument with Kettle and Corkscrew.”
In his critical assessment of Keston Beston’s work, the African contemporary art curator Barbara Murray stated;
“Though deeply rooted in the African context, Keaton’s musical instruments share elements with every society, both in their details and in their reference to universal issues of music and identity. Music becomes a metaphor for life, one song consisting of different voices. The influences are both African and western.”
She then concluded her statement by saying;
“The African contemporary artist’s works disturb our sense of order, and the exclusions and divisions we construct to keep ourselves pure.”
Intriguingly, Barbara’s last remark can also be applied to Nya’s use of wire, metal and found objects, as evinced in his work, “Mandate of Dominion” (2004).
In this heavily textured composition, Nya′ amalgamated various found objects from Jewish, African, Middle Eastern and Asian religious cultures which include a Mizpah coin pendant, pages from the Torah and Koran, remnants of a Chinese temple door, Buddhist prayer beads and cowrie shells synonymous with African ancestral worship.
On the foreground of the picture plane, Nya′ used wire to form the words “in search of the Kingdom.” According to the artist’ notes, the painting is a testament to Man’s search for peace, power and purpose which has unfortunately led him to come up with all sorts of “religions” to try and appease his Creator; yet in reality, all that Man is seeking is what he originally lost, the Kingdom of God.
By bounding and tying all the religious artifacts or found objects with the bark of a dead fig tree prior to smearing layers of cow-dung and curing the composition with fire, Nya’s intention is to highlight the depravity of religion as highlighted in a passage from his Kingdom Lexicon which reads;
“Religion reduces a species called Man, created in the image of God and endowed with dominion and authority to a beggarly neurotic; who in his constant self-debasement mien, which he ignorantly mistakes as humility, becomes increasingly filled with guilt. He is then smeared with an unmistakable stench of fear that makes his life a diurnal struggle in a tenebrous valley gorged with torment, sorrow, toiling and wretchedness. Asphyxiating in his doleful state, he contemplates martyrdom and perennially cradles his starved spirit with mentally rehearsed promises of a coming sweet bye and bye…”
Apart from the aforementioned African contemporary artists, an artist who distinguished himself and rose to prominence through his dexterous use of found objects in the 1950s transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art was the American artist, Robert Rauschenberg (1925 – 2008).
Rauschenberg picked up trash and found objects that interested him on the streets of New York and brought it back to his studio where they could become integrated into his work.
In his memoirs, Rauschenberg states;
“I wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to employ the generosity of finding surprises; and if it wasn't a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was. So, the object itself was changed by its context and therefore it became a new thing."
One of his most famous assemblage from his highly acclaimed “Combine” series is a 106.6 x 160.6 x 163.8 cm piece entitled “Monogram.”
The work was constructed using highly unorthodox found objects that include metal, wood, rubber heel, a tennis ball, an Angora goat and tire on wooden base mounted on four casters. Rauschenberg reworked the piece several times before achieving the final version. The powerful assemblage is an incongruous association, a combination of objects, images and lines of paint that do not seek perceptive unity but division.
The goat, despite the tire it wears around its torso, remains implacably a goat and the tire a tire. However, if the tire is a reference to the artist’ living close to a tire factory in his youth, its association with the goat remains a mystery.
Another notable work from the same series is “Odalislk” which the American contemporary artist completed in 1958. Here, the artist used found objects that include metal, glass, pillow, wooden post, lamps and stuffed rooster on a wooden structure.
Rauschenberg’s Odalisk is not only a painting, it is a freestanding assemblage that rests on the floor like a sculpture. The stuffed bird, a recurring theme in his “Combines” series, moves from the global structure of the artwork into the actual space. The rooster is an obvious sexual allusion, the phallic complement to the odalisk figure. The artwork is also covered with collages of images of female nudes from magazine photos and reproductions of erotic paintings.
Again, as evinced in his use of animal blood and dung, Nya’s discerning employment of found objects and materials salvaged from distinctive parts of the world is deeply thoughtful and astutely deliberate. Rare beads, seashells, wire, metal, clocks and locks, doorknobs, zippers, tree twigs and other innumerable and unusual materials are skillfully employed to add tactility and heft to his compositions.
Nya’s use of materials was best summed up by the respected founder of Galley and studio Magazine and former editor of the Rolling Stones Magazines, Ed McCormick, when he commented;
“The power and presence of Nya’s work rests on a deeper, more significant formal armature and an aura of spiritual connectedness; and unlike a score of his contemporaries, whose use of found objects tend to be either whimsical, crude or ostentatious, Nya’s use of salvaged materials and found objects is meditative, erudite and insightful…”
He concluded by stating;
Nya′ amalgamates his materials without the slightest whiff of sensationalism, resulting in compositions that are fresh, powerful and immediate; possessing finesse, maturity and enduring splendor.”
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