Patterns Of Order

The Drawings and Paintings of Victor Ekpuk

“Fish Pond”, © Victor Ekpuk, 1993

Is it possible to discuss recent Nigerian art and artists without a recourse to schools, groups, movements or ideological clusters and formations?  In the case of Victor Ekpuk, who trained at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, can one really distance himself from Onaism or Ona Artists, that articulate, purposeful coterie of young artists who initiated Kurio Africana, organised a number of group exhibitions and whose oeuvre is marked by strong patterning, employment of indigenous pigments (earth colours) and strong surface texture?

Pattern, repeated and linear marks, simplified forms, rhythm, counter-change, tactile texture.  These are central to Victor Ekpuk’s practice.  Whereas, under a less gifted and competent hand, patterning can easily get out of control and deteriorate into monotony and disorder, under a disciplined and assured practitioner like Ekpuk, repetition is tightly controlled, pattern is reined in, ordered.  Part of Ekpuk’s strategy is to create contrasts, to counterbalance, say muted intricate background patterns with bold, single motifs as in Fish Pond (1993) or The Lizard That Fell from the Iroko Tree (1993).  In these works, no matter how lacy the patterning, the composition is revolved into a harmonious motif:  background or positive/negative relation.  The positive/negative balance is also visible in the handling of colours.  One must mention especially the skillful manipulation of white, a very difficult colour to work with. 

It is very refreshing to encounter the drawings of Ekpuk at a time when many artists shy away from drawing or are simply incompetent in the crucial area of art.  The high quality of his paintings may not be unconnected with his strong drawing ability.  Ekpuk’s drawings are outstanding technically and thematically, and place him immediately in the company of such distinguished masters as Uche Okeke, Dele Jegede, Chike Aniakor and the much lamented Gani Odutokun (1946-1995), Kevin Echeruo (1946-1969) and Gift Orakpo (1953-1979).  These are artists who have taken drawing in the modern Nigerian context, beyond the usual confines of the preliminary, subordinate or supportive to that of a viable, recognizably independent genre. 

In terms of draughtsmanship, consistency in the quality of work, discipline in the handling of medium, depth of subject matter, Victor Ekpuk is clearly one of the more exciting and professional of the younger artists working in Nigeria today.  His journey from Enchanted Forest (1988) and the drawing published in Kurio Africana (1989), the short-lived Ife-based art journal, through the 1993 works like Fish Pond, Dark Night of Soul, Mami Wata’s Mirror, to the most recent works like the drawing, Prisioner of Conscience, reflects a marked sense of direction, seriousness of purpose, self-criticism, confidence and visible development.

In much the same way that order can be discerned in the incredible maze of lines, forms, patterns and structures in nature, there is order behind the intricate configurations presented by Ekpuk.  They may also signify the patterns of order in life and experience. 

Obiora Udechukwu. MFA.

May 1995

From Victor Ekpuk’s exhibition catalogue: WindSongs; at French Cultural Center, Lagos Nigeria, 1995


Udechukwu is Dana Professor of Fine Arts at St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY, USA, and Professor of Fine Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.


© 2007 Victor Ekpuk, All rights reserved

Obiora Udechukwu
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