Rom Isichei, Mutations and the Gilded Apostle 2015 is one of works in Someday. Installation of 18 panels 96x144in. Image courtesy of the artist
REVIEW: Rom Isichei’s Someday Is Today reflects the relevance of hope to human existence
LAGOS, NIGERIA- When Someday Is Today opened at the National Museum in Lagos, Nigeria, art lovers, artists, and art professionals got the opportunity to see Rom Isichei’s recent works. The new works are not the full stop in the artistic career of this enterprising contemporary Nigerian artist but rather a continuum.
Anyone who has followed Rom’s artistic career will appreciate his artistic growth. From 1997 when he decided to become a full time studio artist, Rom’s creative adventure has been marked by constant flux. From trying to follow in the artistic traditions of his professors at the Yaba College of Technology, Rom has developed a style that is uniquely his.
Over the years, the flat surfaces of Rom’s paintings have developed into rich colorful impasto. Works like Tom, Dick and Harry, Convergence, and No One Knows explicate how Rom has continually navigate the complexities of artistic traditions to arrive at a unique artistic identity. So well–known is Rom’s approach to his works that they are easily recognizable locally and internationally. As it is often said in the Nigerian art circle ‘When you see a Rom, you will know it is a Rom.’
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The collection of new works in Someday Is Today on display at the National Gallery in Lagos are indicative of Rom’s restless artistic pursuits: The never ending urge for a rebirth of ideas couched in new ways has continued to manifest in innovative and creative endeavors. That originality is evident in his new works. Exploring found objects such as corks, wires, plastic, clips, cleaning mops, plaster, corrugated zinc, beverage drink cans, fabric, magazine tear-offs, spray paint, oil sticks/bar, plastics, among other obsolete and disused everyday objects, Rom elevates his paintings with sculptural relevance.
For Rom, there is always a connection between form and content. The contending issue for him, therefore, is not what you paint but how you paint it. It is for this reason that process is extremely important to him artist than end result. Consequently, concerted effort goes into style, technique and the substance necessary to captivate the viewing audience.
While viewers are not privy to Rom’s creative process, the end product tell a lot of stories. Rom likens his creative approach to the modern human experiences and the effort to grapple with the ever changing modern technology. He describes his process thus:
This human process is synonymous with the process of making, which is fundamental to my studio practice. The body of works on display references my sustained engagement with materials and conceptual experimentation. They are conversations across media that explore ideas of painting, sculpture and drawing beyond their established convention.
Someday Is Today , the title of Rom’s current exhibition is reflective of a transition from hopelessness to hopefulness. For decades, the saying has been effectively used to engender hope. For cancer patients, Someday Is Today is the slogan that brings hope for an urgent cure.
Religious groups have also adopted the Someday Is Today slogan to emphasis hope for immediate spiritual healing. Hope is an integral aspect of human existence and spiritual wellbeing. Gary Carver put it succinctly when he noted that ‘Without hope we die from the inside before we die on the outside.’ For him, ‘Without hope we neglect, crumble and dry up like prune.’
For many Nigerians, the slogan Someday Is Today resonates powerfully as call to hope. In a country where optimism is ever fleeting, it is absolutely important for people to seize hope by the forelock. After years of countless postulation of ‘Things will be Better Someday’, the quest among Nigerians now is Someday Is Today. Couched in the the urgency of now, the title of the exhibition expresses the need for immediate results.
While hope is essential for human existences, it can sometimes be trapped by illusions. It is not unusual for people to take a flight of fancy even as they reach out for reality. Such fantasies, often nurtured by slogans like Someday Is Today, are evident in this show. In Mutations and the Gilded Apostle, 2015, Rom narrates the desperate desire of people to project hope by wearing tee-shirts that reflect their thoughts.
Mutations and the Gilded Apostle, 2015, an installation made up of 18 panels measuring 96×144 in, reveal the need to project hope in the face of hopelessness. In the installation, images of men and women are dressed in the most fashionable way. While some wear oversized goggles, strange hairstyles and costume jewelry, others are dressed in tee-shirts with inscriptions that are mimetic of their feelings. Some of the inscriptions read: ‘Your Opinion Is Not My Reality’, Gaiety Favors The Brave,’ and ‘Loathe The Game Not The Player.’ This cosmetic finish accentuates not just global fashion trends but also the fact that the body is the site where history is reposed and fantasies play out.
Rom continues to borrow from everyday ideas for his painting and relief sculptures. What uniquely distinguishes these recent artworks are the antidotal stories they bear. The stories are reflective of everyday experiences of the human struggles in a highly contested environment saturated with deeds and misdeed.
The relevance of Rom’s recent works permeates our social fabric. The stylistic variance of the new artworks in Someday Is Today is an addition to Rom’s well-established tradition of exploring colors, scale and rich impasto to create enterprising works. The figurative works bear the signature of a painter with high color sensibilities. Creative compositions, paints and colors are innovatively explored to externalize the internal emotions of the people represented in the works.
Someday Is Today is a factual indicator of the progress made by this young enterprising Nigerian artist. It is not surprising that Rom Isichei is one of the most celebrated young contemporary Nigerian artists today. At the auction, his artworks are attracting significant auction prices. With his art and progress in the global art market space, Rom has positioned himself in a way that whenever the history of contemporary art is written, his name will make the mark.
In spite of his success as an artist, Rom still considers himself and artistic career a work in progress. Born 1966 in Asaba, Delta State, Rom Isichei studied in the late 1980s at Yaba College of Technology in Lagos. After obtaining an Ordinary National Diploma in Fine Art (OND), he went on to get a Higher Nation Diploma in Painting (HND) also from the Yaba College of Technology. For three years, Rom worked at various advertising agency before deciding to embrace full time studio practice in 1997.
Since going fulltime, Rom has been unrelenting in his quest to establish himself as one of Nigeria’s top contemporary artists. He has had over seven solo exhibitions and more than twenty joint exhibitions in Nigeria, Germany, Switzerland, London, Greece and the United States.
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