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Defining, Refining, and Reliving memories through his paintings.

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

"A dive into Omeh chinemerem's painting:- Reliving memories" 96 x 210inches

By Akwuruoha chibueze Franklin

The artist’s work reflects his childhood, early education, elements of his family, and how they affected him. He jogs down memory lane by digging up childhood pictures in a bid to resurrect feelings that had been buried to bring this work to life.

Through composition, space, tactile yet subtle textures, an undoubted skill in draftsmanship, the artist directs and entraps the viewer’s eye by creating a perfect visual balance and a mental memory world. The work’s large scale gives room for exploration as the artist deconstructs and reconstructs his childhood pictures. The distinct coloration gives it a retrograde feeling which is nothing short of mind-blowing. He invites you to relive memories with him, bewitching you to stay still when facing the painting.

There’s a progression in the painting that borders on a journey, an ongoing journey, and with how large the work is, the artist divides the work into panels to aid mobility. However, the idea of the panels for the artist transcends its mobility and comes to mean stages of development. In the artist’s words, “Life happens in stages.”

The story begins from his childhood, where he felt a disconnect with his early education. A struggle to comprehend what was taught in school, particularly math, made people perceive him as an unserious and not-so-bright kid. It was like a label.

The painting’s introductory scenery shows how the artist implants his feelings into it. There’s a clever interaction of positive and negative spaces. Two kids take up the white space against a retro color landscape. The disconnect in color between the kids and the landscape equates to a feeling of detachment the artist felt as a kid within his school scape. The artist attempts to separate his young self and his brother from the landscape, wishing he was nurtured in a better environment. In the painting where he has control, he tries to do that, but it’s only a painter’s trick.

The movement of colors on the landscape’s atmosphere and its cracked patterns birth an enchanting feeling. The cracks were used as metaphors for change and hope by the artist in his past works. Hatching and cross-hatching strokes latch on the vegetation to give a feeling of tension and discomfort through their provoking and disarray formation.

The strokes build the children’s form. The shorter kid with a cute yet daring expression is the young artist. So, as much as the artist tries to establish a disconnect, the line strokes, which are part of the landscape, entangle the children, which is only right because they were in it. The children’s daring expressions and poses lock the viewer out of the scene like they’re protecting the viewer, sending a signal, perhaps, that it is not the safest space. Taking cues from his childhood pictures, the artist recreates a scene that is not far-fetched from existence —a landscape in time that taunted him as a child. Consequently, when a viewer steps back, they behold a scene that is inviting and yet inaccessible.

The inclusion of his older brother (the taller kid with a smirk) addresses an unmarked feeling. His brother represents what he wasn’t at that time, a stark contrast in educational prowess and character. His brother is calm and collected, the artist notoriously playful. His brother became a constant reminder of what everyone wanted him to be, and it didn’t help that his brother imposed on his choices to refine him or perhaps redefine him. “It was a feeling of being less and constantly walking on eggshells, so I don’t bring shame to anyone.” The artist recalls.

These feelings manifest through his representations and stretch out to a different scene, where we see the continuity of his affliction.

The play of color shades and values alongside crack patterns is prominent in the atmosphere here. The vegetation is darker. Inscriptions of mathematical equations across the surface are utilized as metaphors without care of their functionalities — the artist reflects on how equations flew over his head in classes. The tonal transitioning of the inscriptions makes them appear as if they emerged from the darkness of the vegetation, bringing harmony and mystery to the scenery. In the middle of the vegetation, through a simplification of shape and color contrast, the artist renders a building reminiscing his high school’s entrance and its pathway.

The anxiety that built up walking through that path to school was exhaustive for the artist. The emptiness of the path reflects how lonely he felt walking that path to school every day, knowing how he’d be perceived. The artist, through that pathway, leads the viewer’s sight in and away from the scene’s background. The background bears a semblance of abandonment, like a ghost town. This smart representation, intuitively or otherwise, only makes sense because of how the artist felt about his experiences in school.

Meanwhile, in the foreground, we see the young artist on a ride (the artist affirming his playful nature as a child), but there’s a twist to it. A little to the left, the child, rides away outside the frame like he’s escaping something — his background perhaps — with indifference evident on his face. The placement and size of the child and its alienation from the school’s pathway is something to note. The textures around the path and the child are rough, coarse, and dynamic. The interaction of charcoal and oil paint is beautiful to watch and to see how they form suggestive shapes there.

As the young artist rides away, the vegetation metamorphoses as dark fog over his head with lines, and latch onto him.

The scene can easily be read as a child who chooses leisure over school or a child who feels he doesn’t belong there because of how he is perceived and judged within that environment. In addition, the artist opens up this scene and is vulnerable, allowing viewers to move into it to feel what he feels, understand him then ride away with him.

Despite all this, the artist moves toward art, where he is either glorified or critiqued. With art, he finds solace and awareness, and he realizes he can’t be anyone else but himself. This awareness gives birth to a development of comfort, which we see translate into how he approaches the next scene.

The scene reveals the lavish use of bright colors, a world-building at either side of a lady’s head, and a surreal ambiance. Bumpy dynamic textures, color plays, simplicity of forms, and silhouette figures contribute to the formation of this minute world. In it, the artist presents a family: father, mother, and children existing in a landscape and playing into his message of family and their role in their children’s lives. The textures are layered to make the scene look weary. This makes sense when we view the other side, where we have a ruined landscape and the presence of a silhouette figure walking through or out of a doorway. The ruin is an outcome of resistance against a persuasion to thread a peculiar career path fueled by family and a larger construct. So on the other side, we have the artist free and beginning his journey through the opening in the ruin.

The presence of this world is almost insignificant, dominated by the lady and the children by her sides.

The landscape’s vegetation cuts across this lady with two children on either side of her (the young artist to her right and his brother to the left in their school uniforms). The lady's hands are on their shoulders. Not in its style or technique, but something about the setting of the figures that calls to mind “Madonna of the Goldfinch” by Italian Renaissance artist Raffaello. The emotion the painting “Madonna of the Goldfinch” elicits is similar to the significance of the lady in the young artist’s journey. Her form is built-up and riddled with line strokes that address empathy — the ability to submerge oneself in the ocean of another’s feeling, this ties her to the landscape. However, she shouldn’t be seen as a force of negativity but a source of comfort, as is evident in her hands on the children's shoulders.

The artist tells a story of support, love, and encouragement with this scene. He recalls that at the age of seven, the lady who he identifies as his sister took his first art (a hand-crafted fan) to her university to sell. She would go on to be his pillar of support, always assisting mentally and financially. This hits home because the young artist grew in an environment that never encouraged him to do better in his proclivities.

The vegetation which cuts across the lady and the children can be traced from the first scene, and we then see how it moves through the subsequent sceneries until it doesn’t. With it, the artist leads the viewer’s eye to the last scene, to the point of total transformation where it ceases to exist.

The artist recreates a picture of himself from his first exhibit in New York. It was a point of not only epiphany but of success. He introduced his body of work to the world there. We can see and feel the excitement on his face, a relaxed figure. A loose rendition of his clothes here allows the viewer’s eye to wander through it, then directs the focus to the face.

On the side, we see silhouettes of skyscrapers and the statue of liberty rendered in hazy texture, speaking of where he has been (New York) and figuratively to his freedom. The fine intricate strokes that define his face down to his coat speak of a scar, the idea of a healed wound while having somewhat like a passport frame within the framework to capture this. A passport is a symbol of identity. He embraces his trauma as part of what made him who he is.

The power of this scene lies in the smart utilization of space, the positioning of the figure, the influx of bright tones that creates a balance in contrast to the subsequent sceneries. There’s a level of serenity within the space.

The clever play between details and a loose rendition cuts across the work, creating mystery and a visual balance. Independently, each scene can stand on its own and tell a singular story, but can also come together, depending on each other to take the viewer through a journey. This only reveals the brilliance of the artist’s thought process.

Generally, there’s an undertone of persistence and choice that leads to transformation or at least a sense of fulfillment for the artist, which is overshadowed by the holistic narrative.

In retrospect, it is pertinent to ask if an experience based on memory is nothing but imaginary? If it’s not, then are memories turned into painting any less real? Because what the artist has done in the painting is to recount feelings based in his mind with the guide of past pictures.

In doing this, has his memory and feelings taken a new meaning? Does his memory even serve him right, considering that he was just a child? Importantly, how do we preserve or recreate memories without losing their genuineness?

These questions are left unanswered to the viewer.

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