Peter Akinwumi on His Dot-Beaten Metal Path
by Ireho Aito
July 26, 2017
Peter Akinwumi is one of the few artists taking that bold step to defy conventionalism as he develops his own ideas, sets his goals, and builds the courage to run them on forms that are uniquely his.
In October 2013 to be precise, Nigerian-born artist, Peter Akinwumi was preparing for his first solo exhibition at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos brimming with confidence. The show would define his unique style of repousse art known as the “dot beaten metal technique.” It went well as it was successfully executed by Akinwumi and the Terra Kulture curatorial team. Unfortunately, a year later, he was burying his father in Badagry, the man who took him through life’s odyssey. His Ghanaian mother stared at the grave with tears trickling down while Peter Akinwumi’s younger siblings rallied round her. It was one blow he had to take but his childhood friends and old school mates were present to support him.
Moving on with life, he immersed himself in a romance with repousse art, which has won him great recognition. He maintains being underground does not mean he is locked in a tunnel as the light continues to shine on him – the concept he claims informs his process that is gaining the attention of the international art community. He has since won the heart of collectors and clientele freedom as exemplified in the several commissions for blue chip companies such as Nestle Foods Plc. Indeed, more than 90% of commissioned works at the corporate headquarters of the food and beverage firm were executed in the technique – either in oil painting or aluminium repousse. There is also the royal insignia of the Awujale of Ijebuland, the 100th Holding Horse in the United States, as well as works at GTBank headquarters and in the private collection of Jack Chagouri.
Peter Akinwumi was born into a family of artists but is influenced by the culture and traditions of Bida artisans. “I got introduced into the business at a very early age and haven’t done any other business apart from art business. Despite the fact that I had other choices, nothing could compare to my love for the arts. It has built my confidence to face the daily challenges of life. I feel complete and proud of being an artist,” he revealed. His motives speak for him and the works churned out show sophistication. Staring at some of them such as Celebration 1 and Celebration 2, Maiden Dance, Dialogue of the Wise, The Acrobat, Victory Dance, and Reflection of Passion, are enough testament to what the proponent stands for. His romance with digital painting also shows how one can draw inspiration and carve a niche through innovation. Peter Akinwumi began his romance with digital painting from his laptop and has made a success story out of it. It is often said, ‘stay in your comfort zone, and then you can never be jarred or provoked to succeed.’ Indeed, anything familiar is not creative. Akinwumi’s confident approach has inspired such innovations like Face to Face, Survival of the Fittest, Entangled, and The Observer.
His mother’s step-by-step training gave him the edge to make progress. She is Ewe from Holue in the Volta region of Ghana. She also apprenticed under her older brother, a foremost artist and one of Ghana’s earliest art teachers at the prestigious Kwame Nkrumah University. Peter Akinwumi got acquainted to the family business by selling terra cotta miniatures aged 7 while studying at Command Secondary School, Ojo, Lagos. Here, through sheer providence, he met another seasoned teacher called Folu Folorunso, at the same time spending most of his time visiting some notable galleries. “I ran into art connoisseurs and their galleries in Lagos. I mean icons such as Felix Idubor, Fred Archibong, Fred Akpomuje and Songhai Heritage,” to mention but a few. In 1990, Peter Akinwumi gained admission to study what he loved most, fine art at the University of Benin in Edo State, Nigeria, where he graduated with a distinction in sculpting in 1994. Twice, he won a scholarship having been adjudged the best art student in 1990 and ’91.
Peter Akinwumi’s steady rise to international fame seems to be a worthwhile experience for the cerebral artist. He commented, “Honestly, I have a high sense of satisfaction, especially, when I am able to set goals for myself and receive fulfilment, as well as meet my clients’ objectives through quality exploration. My concept revolves around the day to day activities of man, irrespective of differences in culture, age, norms, and values. I strive to use my art to communicate, create a bond between my enthusiasts and I.” With the commissions received so far and the calibre of clients that continue to contract him for ideas, he duly appreciates venturing into a profession that hitherto was unexplored and undervalued.
Characteristically, driving around gives the artist rare opportunities to recreate and improve on his ideas and concepts. Being an apostle of a medium that is technically tasking could daunt the faint-hearted but not Akinwumi, as he explains, “When I left the university, there was a need to find a medium of expression as a sculptor. Then, there were few media open to Nigerian sculptors. Fortunately, I had been playing with repousse art, which was sparingly practiced. It was not available in the curriculum of art schools in Nigeria. To compound this, there were no tools for it in the art market.” However, there were works by the renowned Olatunde Ashiru and the people of Bida, a city famous for its brasswork, glasswork, metal and cloth-weaving. Quartz which is useful to glass production, is available in Bida. Here, in brass beating, the reliefs are very low, because they employ the hammer-in-technique without fully beating the metal spread from both surfaces.
Traditional art gave Akinwumi the fillip he needed to break from the norm of being stereotypically classified as another painter. His ability to rethink, retool and recreate has contributed to his avant-garde approach and reputation as a leading contemporary Nigerian artist. His reinterpretation of traditional forms lends them a contemporary importance in our art, ideas and ideals. He explains that he gained much from this experience, and was motivated to take repousse further by varying surface textures; the concave and convex contours, creating a 3-dimensional feel. These experiments took him many painstaking years to achieve. Through continuous research and studio practice, he was able to modify his “dot-beaten metal” technique, allowing him to manipulate metal plate as if it were clay. “My technique simply employs repousse and chasing with several dots from punches of varying knives to create relief forms on metal spreads. Aluminium is the most common metal I work with, because it gives a constant surface appeal; never losing its lustre.” Over the years, he has included wood carvings alongside aluminium repousse to imbue his assemblages with an African feel, as well as oil paintings to enhance the 3-dimensional effect.
Peter Akinwumi is based in Abeokuta, Ogun State at the moment, but attributes his acceptance and international appeal to the power of Internet-driven social media. Though an unfamiliar name on the Lagos exhibition circuit, Peter Akinwumi’s clientele base grows steadily through an immense online presence. It has been almost 4 years since he first appeared on the scene with his ground breaking exhibition of repousse at Terra Kulture. Enthralled by the quality of his work, the media, collectors and enthusiasts alike await another fine showing.
Ireho Aito is a freelance journalist, content creator and documentary filmmaker. He holds a degree in the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and has for over 10 years, worked on advocacy drama for radio and television, penned and blogged on art, culture and lifestyle with a focus on Africa, while equally engaging in media marketing. This year, Ireho Aito has simultaneously filmed 3 documentary projects on the worship of Orunmila, the 20th century entrepreneur Sanusi Adebisi Idikan and foremost cartoonist Josy Ajiboye.
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