Bruce Onobrakpeya (Nigerian, born 1932)

Artist_ Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya, Title_ Hail New Moon I, Size_ 31 x 23inches, Medium_ Brass, Year_ 1988

Within the last 54 years, the art practice of Bruce Onobrakpeya has evolved to represent different important epochs, situating his oeuvre as a constituent reference on one side of the compass where contemporary African art points at, even in recent times. His innovation of the renowned print-making technique plastograph, a system of ornamentation on zinc-like surfaces or an intaglio, famously described by the artist as ‘’Hydrochloric Acid Accident’’, was succeeded by previous techniques such as bronzed lino relief, a form of relief sculpture that combines basically the object of lino blocks and substance of bronze colour patina. This medium was followed by the experimental technique of plastocast relief. It opens an understanding into Onobrakpeya’s recyclism. It entails the by-product of residual materials by the artist, transforming them into works of art, for example where residuals of used original plates are processed and transformed into another plate, unto which engravings, etchings, carvings and construction of collages are made. Onobrakpeya found new use for the medium of sand paper as an extension of plastographying. This method of print making, additive plastograph, allowed the artist to work on less ‘harder’ surface, and this made the substance of paper, a plastographying element for Onobrakpeya. He applies glue to make drawings or impress print images on sheet of sand paper. With this, the artist was able to do several miniatures in documentary style, with themes that draws inspiration from Orhobo world view. Aluminum foil surface provided yet another material medium for print making for Onobrakpeya. This ushered in a set of stylistic interventions: Metal foil deep etching and metal foil relief print. For his deep etching, the cut foil becomes an object for engraving on the plastocast plate; while the relief print on metal foil is embossed by hand after the shape or image has been made following the previous method. Each plate is sometimes mounted on plywood and undergoes a process of lamination, either in triptych or in diptych or in a single compartment. Before the polymer base technique of Ivorex, Onobrakpeya has expanded his stylistic field to include the representation of the written form known as ‘’Ibiebe’’, evoking unique visual geometric forms. The first three early print making innovations by Onobrakpeya, opens up a material inquiry into the ‘metabolism’ that occurs or caused by oxidation in plate ware which gives way to material for art production. Onobrakpeya, apart from his early print making practice through which he explores diverse themes that includes myths, folklores, post-colonial identity, and other works that interrogates from the military regime to the representation of masks, and of focus are also his elongated shapes of shrine figures, abstract forms and animals; his monumental installations built with the use found objects have commanded the attention of art enthusiasts around the world.

Bruce Onobrakpeya was born in Nigeria in 1932. He studied at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, now the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He was a pioneering member of the Zaria Arts Society. He taught art at St Gregory’s College, Lagos, in 1963. He became an Associate Professor at Elizabeth City state University, North Carolina U.S. A. He founded the Annual Harmattan Workshop in Agbarha-Otor, Delta State, 1998. Selected exhibition includes 1967 Biennale of Illustrations, Bratislavia; 1996 Onobrakpeya at Singletary Gallery & African Art Museum; Portsmouth, Virginia, U.S.A; Selected commissioned book illustrations includes Achebe, Chinua, No Longer At Ease, Heinemann, London; Haeger, Barbara, Africa: On Her Schedule is Written A Change, AUP, Ibadan; Ekwensi, Cyprain, Juju Rock, AUP Lagos; Soyinka and Fagunwa, A Forest of a Thousand Demons, Nelson, London; Selected Films and documentaries includes ‘’Recalling the Future Art’’ [by Joanna Grabski], Produced and directed by Claudine Pommier, Executive Producer Cheikh Tidiane N’diaye./Arts in Action Society (Vancouver, Canada) 2002; FILM Kindreds Spirits: Contemporary Nigerian Artists, Smithsonian World Washington, D.C. U.S.A; Selected publication includes Picton, John, ‘’Image and Form’’ (prints drawings and Sculpture from Southern Africa and Nigeria) School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) University of London 1997; Nzegwu, Nkiru, ‘’Contemporary Textures, Multidimensionality in Nigerian Art’’ ISSA 1999. He lives in Lagos and works from his studio.

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