Joseph Eze is a Nigerian artist with extreme talent – one I’ve been privileged to watch grow over the last 6 years. Eze is a painter who infuses his work with print texts (coining the name textograph) from newspapers, magazines and even posters.
Way back in the early half of the last decade, part of his work consisted of little art sketches of models on newspapers. Now those doodles are full-blown paintings selling for large figures, but of course the Joeseph Eze signature has remained the same.
During my last trip to Nigeria, I had the opportunity to visit his home studio (a bit far from the main city, I must add), giving me a private view of his personal works as well as the opportunity to bask in his artistic environment to see what inspires him and what forms his working process and technique.
A collection of Vogue, Vanity Fair (which I believe is his favourite publication) and even FAB Magazine filled his shelves, as well as books from great masters like Van Gogh and Ben Okri.
Before our Q&A session began, we stood outside his compound for a while and I couldn’t help but notice the rows of plantation in front of us. “Me and my wife enjoy farming,” he said – apparently they don’t see the point of going into town to buy ingredients when they could just grow their own. This brought me to the conclusion that – like every artist who creates a world for himself, either with a circle of trust-worthy friends or difficult means of communication – Joseph has formed his own world in a literal sense, by creating peaceful isolation out of the city and even out of its busy grocery stores – a world for himself and his family where he only comes into contact with the outside world on his own terms. This of course, is regardless of the fact that he is active on Facebook.
FAB: Tell us a little about yourself and your work?
Eze: I grew up in a home awash with creativity. My father is a london trained tailor and an interior decorator among other things. My mother is a teacher, writer, composer and singer. I remember listening to Diana Washington, Jim Reeves, James Last, Oliver de Coque, etc from my father’s collection. I acquired my reading habit mostly from the Plenty of Time Magazine and Nick Cater novel series in his library. Of course, my father’s elder brother, Okpu Eze was Society of Nigerian Artist’s President in the early nineties. I remember getting paid 10 kobo just to doodle in the sand for my school mates when I was in primary school. So I had enough motivation to study art later on in life.
FAB: Where does your inspiration mostly come from?
Eze: I guess it sounds cliché for an artist to say he’s inspired by life and the things around him, but for me it still applies. Music, literature, African and classical architecture, fashion… and a whole lot more.
FAB: How did the love of newspaper prints come about?
Eze: I love reading, magazines especially. So I guess it was smart to merge two things I love: text and images. It’s a technique I call textograph. I started it in 2005. It’s quite unique and sets my work apart, so much that a couple of artists in Nigeria now try to incorporate newspapers in their own work.
FAB: A lot of your paintings are of the females and the female form. Why is that?
Eze: I get this question a lot. It’s like asking why David Hockney often did scenery, or why Monet did the numerous water lilies or why Degas loved painting ballet dancers. Art is an emotional subject and I think for most artists, using something that most conveys emotion always works for them. Compared to men, women tend to be more emotional and more vulnerable. Hence they tend to draw more attention to themselves. So for my art to retain the kind of attention that would last, I opt for mostly female imagery. That’s the best I can do answering that. But I guess it’s more mysterious than what I’ve just explained.
FAB: How have you tried to take your work further?
Eze: I get involved in exhibitions-solo or group periodically. I also try to promote my work online. I intend to have more shows abroad this year, but that’s still in the works.
FAB: Do the words mean anything in particular to you?
Eze: I don’t make statements with the newspaper texts. I always advice people to visit the vendor if they need to read newspapers. I believe it takes away from the strength of a work when you subject it to making statements. Really all of my work has a theme but I’m not the crusading type. Art should live beyond rigid statements. That’s the difference between poetry and journalism.
FAB: Moving aways from the newspaper prints. Are any other mediums of art that interest you?
Eze: Any technique can catch my fancy at different times but lately I’ve tried to incorporate the texts and other constant elements in all my works as to create homogeneity.
FAB: Tell us about your last exhibition?
Eze: My last major exhibition was my 3rd solo – March 2011, titled ‘Hyphen’. In it, I tried to show my multi-dimensionality as an artist, not just a painter. It featured fabrics as well as furniture and installations. I also participated in the 2010 art expo in Lagos where I sold my most expensive piece so far. An installation piece ‘migration’, made out of slippers. I believe it’s on record as the most expensive art piece ever sold in an exhibition in Nigeria. A six figure sum. It’s in the collection of the national gallery of Nigeria. That’s something I guess.
FAB: Besides painting, do you delve in anyother form of art?
Eze: Besides painting I do any other forms of art that appeal to me. It comes with my mood mostly.