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At Home With The Art Connoisseur, Rasheed Gbadamosi

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At Home With The Art Connoisseur, Rasheed Gbadamosi


Rasheed Gbadamosi2

The circumstances surrounding our meeting that morning is not in any way unnerving. It is a Saturday morning and the atmosphere at his Parkview home is serene while the Lagoon cool breeze gently sweeps across landscape in the hot March sun.

At exactly 9am, the appointed time, I arrived at the big gate in front of his huge mansion. As expected, after few minutes of interrogation, the Maiguard at the gate calls the main house to announce my arrival. He led me to the elevator which took us to the second floor. A steward met me at the door and ushered me into the living room. It was stunning that all manner of paintings from the first generation of masters to the second and budding artists were hanging on all the walls of Rasheed Gbadamosi’s home. Right from the foyer downstairs, to the living rooms, dinning areas and bedrooms, everywhere smelt visual arts—paintings and sculptures.

While I was trying to take everything in, his daughter, Morenike walks in. “Are you the photographer and journalist?” she asks me. “I am the journalist but the photographer will join us much later,” I answered. She is warm and friendly and we get talking immediately. She has a degree in graphics hence her interest in visual art. She knows everything about the techniques used by the artists.

Much later, Gbadamosi strides in bubbling as ever. His countenance, warmth and friendliness give him a youthful look. “Sorry for keeping you waiting,” he says as he settles comfortably in the sofa next to me. “Your prediction was right. It’s 10 am already,” he adds jokingly. “We have a long day ahead but before then I must renew by strength. “Care to join me at breakfast?” before I could answer no since I don’t eat so early in the morning, he adds: “You don’t have a choice anyway because going around the house looking at all the works will be a tiring exercise. You have to eat to have the strength to go round.”

The artistic instinct in Gbadamosi will not let him be as he turns back from the door to introduce the line of paintings on the walls in the living room before we exited to the dinning area. A huge work of David Dale, acid etched mirror stained glass, lays on the far right of the wall. It is a creative work that probes the imagination of anyone who sees it for the first time. The same could be said of the drawing with ink by Krdyz Ekwuemesi.

“Look at the perspective,” he says of a painting by Olaku A.O. “He takes his time. He is included in the next generation of masters who will succeed Grillo, Uche Okeke and others. He owes it to the first generation.”

The aesthetics and the painstaking way the artist has captured his experience on canvas is one of the attractions for Gbadamosi. For sculpture, it is the use of the chisel and hammer. “I just can’t decipher it,” he explains with glint in his eyes. “The aesthetics must have been an impulse initially and then I look for other qualities, the use of light and shade, texture and colours. I ask myself if I will still be pleased with the painting in 10, 20 years to come and sometimes I buy out of sympathy to up and coming artists. There is also rationality, economic preferences, an alternative use of money. It’s a kind of fulfilment you cannot capture it in words.”

The works of Grillo, Kolade Oshinowo, Ben Enwonwu and that of his son, Oliver, Dotun Alabi, Olojo K.K, Oshin M.A among others are among Gbadamosi’s collection. There are several others on a side of the expansive living room waiting to be hung.

“When I bought the painting,” he explains while pointing at one of the rare Ben Enwonwu. “I thought it should be guided jealousy and I decided to frame the like this.”

As a master collector, Gbadamosi knows the name of the artist by mere looking at the work even from a distance. He knows the traits which characterise the works of any artist, the finesse, neatness, the use of colours and all the details. One of such artists is Zinno Orara whom he says has this unusual neatness about his works.

However, his favourite of all is Awopa by Grillo. “I have a weakness for Awopa procession. If we give him N20 million to make another, he’ll say come back and let him think because it contains not just the canvas, the composition and use of colours but it has a spiritual angle to it. It’s my childhood, my cultural heritage, my mother’s background and things I’ve actually visualised and it had a terrifying impact on me as a small boy growing up at Isale Eko and it is an image I cannot erase in my head. This is my soul, my mother’s heritage which speaks of my royal lineage at Isale Eko. Look at the imagination, it is awesome.”

Gbadamosi’s journey into art collection began in 1963 when he was a student at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. At the time, university education is not only about the pursuit of academic discipline but students are also encouraged to live life to the fullest by joining several societies and engaging in social activities such as politics, horse riding, hitch hiking, mountain climbing. Gbadamosi found himself in the arts —music, drama, arts, literature. In his spare time, he was going to the drama department, art galleries to appreciate arts. That little interest in the arts 47 years ago has birthed Gbadamosi’s huge collection at his Parkview home, office and the Grillo Pavillion at Ikorodu.

“I collect Nigerian artistes heavily. I did the usual student gigs of the famous international artists like Picasso and the renaissance in England. If anything caught my fancy or if there had been a retrospective exhibition of a famous name, I go out and buy the print. You buy the publications and booklets of the exhibition that was what I collected as a student.”

Gbadamosi’s love for art is also visible in the annual art fiesta, a celebration of the masters, which began last year with a celebration of Grillo at the eponymous pavilion at Ikorodu. This year, we are celebrating Bruce Onobrakpeya,” Gbadamosi tells me. “We shall stop over at the Bruce Onobrakpeya Studio at Matori before we go to Ikorodu. And so, my journey that day did not end at Parkview Estate. “Bruce’s works come with rhyme, rhythm and sequence that you can relate to the 20th century,” observes Gbadamosi while viewing some of the works slated for the Onobrakpeya’s celebration on April 2nd, 2010 at the Grillo Pavillion. At a point, Gbadamosi is so overpowered by the huge number and creativity of Onobrakpeya’s works and he asks Ejiro, Onobrakpeya’s son: “Does he ever sleep?” “I will say he rarely sleeps,” answers Ejiro. “My father has consistently been at work. He has a story to tell about Africa and Nigeria. He moved into this studio in 1976. His desire has always on the board.” Gbadamosi could not agree less that Onobrakpeya tells his story better on the canvass. “Art is substantial tool to talk about development. It is a complete medium for story telling.” Some of the pieces hanging on the dusty walls of Onobrakpeya studio, which he abandoned some years ago, date more than 20 years. Yet Gbadamosi sees a huge business prospect in all of the works which seems to have gathered dust where they are.

Therefore it is a combination of Gbadamosi’s love for visual art and its lucrative nature that birth the idea of the Grillo Pavillion, which is full of all kinds of paintings and sculptures from to bottom. “A Grillo painting is going for almost a hundred thousand pounds which is about N25 million. A Ben Enwonwu may go higher than that and in coming years when they will go hand to hand, it will be more intensified. Grillo is not producing that much, Enwonwu is gone, Bruce is still productive.”

“Art is incredibly lucrative especially works from the old masters. If you had a Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onobrapkeya, it is highly profitable. The auctions that now take place have increased prices four or five times from the acquisition cost over a period of 10, 15 years; that portends something great for the art collection and I am so pleased. So when I get older I may do a decent auction. In economics, money is a store of value but if a piece of painting can also be a store of value, it’s a great thing.” Gbadamosi observes that the original of Ben Enwonwu work titled: Tutu is said to worth N50 million but what is hanging on his wall is copy not the original. “There is only two of it. Enwonwu signed on one while on the other he did not. I wanted to launch an appeal to look for the original but nobody has owned up to having the original. Nobody knows the real model.” Also in the Pavillion is a three dimensional work given to him by Intercontinental Bank. It is 15 years old in his collection.

Gbadamosi speaks of his admiration for the Masters and he never ceased to recall his experience learning how to draw and paint while growing up. “Art was something they felt we should learn which we did once a week. If only they had imposed in us stricter discipline of art appreciation who knows? At least we had some introduction to the rudiments of art appreciation. By the time Ben Enwonwu was making sculptures of the queen of England, it opened a vista for those of us who were young in those days. On the marina, a centre had come in to existence where early artistes were exhibiting their works then the Zaria school had come into existence and this generation will read about them. arts had always been in Nigeria from Benin, Ife, Igbo Ukwu to the Nok terra culture, you’ll discover that we have not been unproductive in arts and if anything left legacies it’s the Ife bronzes, the terra culture of Nok culture even Egungun shrines were embodiments of arts and creativity but it would require that these things will be taken out of the snobbery of religious superiority by colonial masters who called it idol worshipping and recognize them for what they are that people actually sat down and tried to represent with imagery their imagination and aesthetic value and the continuation of historical heritage and the capturing of life force.”

What drives a busy connoisseur like Gbadamosi? Hear him: “Fright that my life is so short so the impulse is to say: ‘what is the next thing to accomplish?’ What can I be fixated on that will give me pleasure? I had the fear of getting old and also the eternal fear of everyone that someday you will shut your eyes and you won’t see all these things again. As long as I have the energy in me I can create positive aesthetics for my environment. Reading has helped a lot too but maybe I am losing the energy and concentration.”

In all, Gbadamosi has a treasure of collection which he says he guards jealousy and is not willing to sell yet although he gives some out as gift when the need arises.

By: Funke Osae-Brown

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