I am a painter’s son. From childhood, Baami imbued in me the love for paint and brush. I saw him mix paints of different colours to get a different hue. I watched him sing as he climbed the ladders to paint storey buildings and high ceilings. I joined him cut stencils to make imprints and signs.
I risked standing beside him as he pours lime, efun, into the water, resulting in a hot boiling mixture that bubbles, to whitewash or do preparatory coating. He taught me about the scrapper, the sandpaper, the thinner, the turpentine and the poly filler.
Painting is about beauty, about aesthetics, bringing out the finesse in a bare concrete. A home finishing is as fine as the ingenuity of its painter whose sense of colours and their combination often guides the house owner.
He also imbued in me another form of aesthetics, the love for nature as he planted beautiful flowers in disused containers, placing them delicately on the windows of his rented congested parlour at our residence located in downtown Oke Foko, Ibadan, the Oyo State capital where I was born.
He lives most of his adult life in Ibadan working as a painting craftsman at the Maintenance Department of the University of Ibadan, between 1957 and 1978. He enrolled me in Abadina, UI in 1973 where I schooled like the son of a scholar although he was an artisan. But people salute him as the Doctor as he himself referred to himself as a philosopher. He died as a pensioner in 2000, while I was struggling as a writer in the dead Concord.
While he lived, I found in him, love for the printed word. Though he never attended a formal western school in his life, he schooled himself in the three R, reading, writing and arithmetic so he could fit into his environment. He read Imole Owuro, Gboungboun and Isokan, and he also bought me Atoka and Aworerin, all these Yoruba vernacular publications of the latter part of the last century.
As I rummaged through his piles of old papers and brochures in those days, I found flowers and fruits and faces to cut to fancifully deface our parlour. He found no fault in my creative fervour. He also bought me crayons and watercolours, and he was most especially interested in my books. He missed no item on my list of books as each new school session approaches.
In 1978, he took me Asero, the parlance we call Egba High in Abeokuta where I was grounded in the Arts subjects. He saw me go to Baptist High School, Adeke, Iwo where I sat for papers in History, Economic and Literature. Just as he taught me the prayer, robbi zidnin ilma wa fahamana, (My Lord, increase me in knowledge and understanding) written on my jeleosinmin slate to memorise in my primary one. He prayed for my success at the University of Lagos where I studied Mass Communication and graduated in 1988.
He was always assuring me that my name would ring in all corners of the world for good. Throughout his life, he never stopped teaching me from the Quran and sharing insights on human aesthetics with me. From him and my mother, also late, I took lessons on how the minds of men work and how their character is soiled and straightened, how not to impugn others and how to preserve honour, how to attract friends and keep them and how to make home and living, or strengthen the family bond.
They also taught me to love my root, Abeokuta, although Ibadan is where we lived and thrived, where my mother died but brought to Abeokuta sleep finally. So in spite of their death, we hardly miss Ileya, Hari Raya Qorban in Ikija at the root of Olumo Rock.
In this colourful upbringing, I have come to understand deeper the dimensions of aesthetics beyond the paint and the brush, beyond mixing colours, beyond the ordinary written word, sometimes cold and lifeless, beyond the mere sound of music, the cacophony of drum beats and the fluidity of the body gyrating to the symphony of flutes, strings, cymbals, tones and tunes.
Arts is not merely about revelry but should be spiritually elevating, invigorating, energizing, inspiring, fulfilling and consoling. When we consider the aesthetics of words and sounds, of pieces from the soul, we want to see colour and elegance, we want to see the order in their organisation and presentation.
We want to see the mood of the speaker or the writer. We want to see simplicity in flow and cadence, its content and context for its meaning to make an impact. We want to see realism and surrealism, we want to gauge its reach, perspective and depth.
When we listen to music, we are not only interested in the sound or beat or the arrangement of its composition; we want to feel its elevating strength, we want to see the mood of the composer and connect with his world and how he connects with ours. The aesthetics of an art piece is in the personality or character of the producer. It comes from his soul, with his vision, his experiences, feelings and values.
It comes with his spirituality. The true and faithful artist makes meaning from the madness of the moment and tries to bring order into it with his talent. He sees colours and beauty from the darkness of the world and with his fervour brings out hope. He also sees bullet, blood and tears from the carelessness and impunity around him and cautions on their danger.
When the artist, as a man aesthetics, gets disoriented and loses vision, his work loses meaning and beauty. Today, I see no meaning and beauty in many artworks I come across whether as painting, music, sculpture, drama, film, poetry or essay. I read books now and I see the depravity of the writer’s mind. I watch drama, movies and films and see deviance in their producers.
I see paintings, sculpture and some graphics and observed disorder and madness in the brains behind them. I ask why? Has the modern artist lost human essence and so is now empty? Is the modern artist a lost soul? Does he no longer possess intellect, character and spirituality? What is the motivation of the modern artist?
In their themes, I find only intoxicating wine, lurid picture, obscene women and obnoxious wealth. I see bestiality. I see beauty now bloodied by the worms of the flesh, cancer of the brain, infections of the heart and afflictions of the soul. Most of today ’s artists are in need of a messiah, in need of a redeemer because when you come across them through their works, you see them as sons and daughters of Shaytaan, chained by the shayaatins and the jinns.
So, they need ruqyah, to exorcise them of their afflictions that are also infecting our world with noxious notion and value of human beauty.
The true worth or beauty of a man, as an artwork of the al-Khaaliq or the Potter, Allah lies in the purity of his soul, the perspicacity of his intellect, and nobility of his character.
It is to be measured by his sincerity of intention, the depth of his faith, the firmness of his conviction, the richness of his thoughts and the correctness of his choices, decisions and actions. Now, most modern artists and their artworks in prints, canvass, clay, stones, wood, panels, picture and cardboard, oil on canvas, pencils, photography and films, are empty of noble themes, forms and aesthetics. They are living for fame yet dead in soul, brain and mind.
Pity most of today’s artists.
By Abdulwarees Solanke, Assistant Director Strategic Planning & Corporate Development @ Voice of Nigeria