There are artists that make big noise and produce very little. Uchay Joel Chima is not one of them. This morning, taking advantage of the Christmas holidays I visited him at Ebute-Metta. I was surprised by the large number of works he has in his small flat…
Like a few other artists, he stretches several canvases and works on more than one piece at the same time. Works at different stages of completion were all around. Unfortunately, there was no electricity, so I couldn’t see any of his video works, only the mixed media panels that he favours since a few years back.
Uchay has come a long way since he left IMT, Enugu more than a decade ago. His recent works are only vaguely figurative but the influence of Nsikak remains there. The concern for materiality and texture are the driving force of his pieces. His one month stay in Amsterdam in September has definitely broadened his approach to art, but his personal identity remains strong. He is one of the few young artists in Lagos whose works you can identify immediately in a show.
For many months he has been experimenting –this is a word that came up frequently in our conversation- with ropes, thread and strings. Sometimes they intertwine heavily and form a flat background on which one can barely recognize any form. Other times, particularly since he started using fibre sacks and white glue, the surface of the work is strongly textured and acquires a three dimensional quality that provides greater depth to the human forms he sketches.
After many hesitant attempts he is finding his way. His recent works have a serenity that was lacking in the previous ones with threads and strings. His palette has also become more subdued, earthier, with less pink and more ochre pigments, and this has also helped.
He is full of plans for 2011: another stay abroad, a solo exhibition in Lagos, a few more experiments with new media. The inclusion of one of his works in the Bonhams auction in New York last year was a high point of his career. Some other works are presently in London and in 2011 he would like to continue expanding his visibility abroad.
Few collectors or galleries in Lagos have his works. Perhaps this is an indication of how little inclined to experimentation the commercial artworld in Lagos is. The easy realism of the markets scenes, durbars, dancing Benin maidens, etc are still ubiquitous in exhibitions and shows. I hope Uchay is not discouraged by that.