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Mirrored art

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Mirrored art


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Mirrored surfaces are a growing occurrence in the art world, persuasively confronting collectors with their own reflection as they become part of the picture says FUNKE OSAE-BROWN.

A large painting by David Dale sits perfectly on the wall of the home of famous businessman and art collector, Rasheed Gbadamosi. The artwork, 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.

The aesthetics and the painstaking way the artist has captured his experience on canvas is one of the attractions for collectors like Gbadamosi. For sculpture, it is the use of the chisel and hammer. But for stained glass otherwise called mirrored art, it is its functionality.

It is very common to see men and women at art exhibitions looking into the art on the walls adjusting their faces, generally looking at their facial appearance smiling at the paintings hanging on the wall. Though this functional use of art may seem laughable, it is a sign of the growing presence of mirrored surfaces in contemporary art.

Mirrored art, which was pioneered by the likes of Dale in Nigeria, is currently enjoying a growing presence within and outside the country as more contemporary Nigerian artists are experimenting with new media.

While the modern generation of juvenile artists in Nigeria is embracing using mirror as a medium with enthusiasm, it was actually Italian conceptual artist Michelangelo Pistoletto who pioneered the use of mirrors in the 1960s, together with Gordon Matta-Clark, Joan Jonas and Robert Smithson.

It was Pistoletto quest for objectivity in his works that led to experiment with mirrors. To make the background more reflective he tried using aluminum sheets, which he applied to the canvas as it’s the case with his 1961 work, ‘Grey Man from Behind’. Eventually, he identified mirror-finished steel as the best material to give him the maximum objectivity he desired.

Most of Pistoletto’s 1962 works were made of sheet of mirror-finished stainless steel fitted with an image obtained by tracing a photograph, enlarged to life size, with the tip of a brush, on tissue paper. After 1971 the painted tissue was replaced by a silkscreen of the photographic image.

In Nigeria, Pistoletto’s art finds a response in Dale’s stained glass medium. In addition to bead, Dale has established his versatility with the stained glass genre as he adds colour and class to an old technique in a modified medium known as acid etched mirror stained glass.

In one of Dale’s popular mirror pieces titled ‘Multiplicity Makes for Strength’ the artist draws nine hands placed one after the other to form a ring round a moon-like beam. The beauty of the work is better appreciated with fingers nail highlighted by the acid.

The mirror is at the core of Dale’s latter works and composition. The quality of Dale’s works shows his theoretical reflection in which he constantly returns to them to study their meaning in depth and to develop their implications. The essential characteristics the artist identifies in them, are: the dimension of time; the inclusion in the work of the viewer and his surroundings; the joining of couples of opposite polarity, constituted and activated by the interaction between the photographic image and what goes on in the virtual space generated by the reflecting surface; the placement of the mirror paintings no longer at window height, as paintings are traditionally hung, but on the floor.

For collectors, mirrored pieces are an interesting addition to a domestic setting, where they can frame a whole collection of artworks within their single surface. The viewer also has to interact with their own reflection and the inanimate becomes something ever-changing and alive. It may be right for collectors to stare at the works at exhibition halls. However, the potency of mirrored works is that they make viewers confront the act of looking; both at themselves and the world around them.

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“I just can’t decipher it,” says Gbadamosi in a previous interview. “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 fulfillment you cannot capture it in words.”

Gbadamosi who has been collecting art since 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. 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,” he explains further. “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.”

Moyo Alade, a gallery owner says some collectors are becoming more comfortable buying works that require dynamic engagement. According to her, these are works through which collectors can actively see themselves.

Alade says there are many series of mirror paintings that have found acceptance in Europe. According to her, artists are trying to find a new means of acceptance and a search for identity through self-portraiture.

She explains that some recent works by contemporary artists focus on the surface surrounding the figure where an artist uses mirrors to replace the gold. “Artists like Pistoletto created a technique to fix photographic images to the mirror,” she explains. “Some of his imageries are often mundane. They range from construction materials or a desktop computer to everyday figures. However, the mirror gives life to these objects to which collectors can connect easily.”

More importantly, Alade says one of the reasons mirrored art is gaining popularity is because of its ability to change continuously. “There is a sense in which the notion of time enters the work as it reflects the past, present and future. There is a way the mirror could be a portrait of the past as it reveals the present and will be for the future.”


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