Oyerinde Olotu, The African Picasso, Passes On

The stroke that hit veteran Nigerian artist Oyerinde Olotu almost 10 years ago, to many of us his friends and family, was like a bolt out of the blues. Well, doctors have explained that such occurrences usually are sudden. But ‘Picasso’, as many of us fondly called him, or ‘Settle’ to a more inner circle or ‘Tutujanblonsky’ to an even smaller caucus, was not anyone who did anything too much – whether food or drink or smoke or even took anything too seriously – to overly think about it. In fact, the nickname, ‘Settle’ was given to him because he would sit or settle down ‘well well’ – no hurry – before taking a decision on any matter. Many of us pronounce the ‘Settle’ as ‘Setu’!

But from that day in 2013 at the General Hospital, Gbagada, where he was rushed to after the stroke, Olotu could not talk. It was worse in the beginning when he could not even recognise anybody, not to talk of offer that little smile of his. Later, as he recovered slowly and started to recognise family and friends, the smile was the only way he could communicate that he was glad to see and hug you and almost speak, but no words would come out.

Having lost his wife some years before, it has been the duty of his son Babs and daughter Funbi to nurse him and provide for his daily needs in his life that had become silent.

Yes, Olotu was a quiet kind of guy – not too much of an extrovert, but he was not antisocial and had a horde of friends from all walks of life, mostly from the art and media communities, as well as aesthetes, lovers/dealers of art – painting in particular. Museum owners, curators and other followers consumed his works like no man’s business.

Two days ago, on Monday, 16th May 2022, our mutual friend and brother, Emiko Aruofor, ‘Shamusky’, CEO of Pulsar Advertising, through whom many of us met Olotu, sent us the dreaded message: “It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing on earlier today of our friend and brother, Sgn. Oyerinde Olotu. Despite his failing health in the last eight years, his family is still to come to terms with his demise”.

Just the previous day, Sunday, I found myself standing in front of one of his works of 1985 portraying the three drummers on the street which has been on one of our walls at home, and I was wondering how I could write what I wanted to write about the African Picasso without the information Emiko had promised to get from Babs a couple of years ago. I had crafted the lead and his sojourn on top of the overhead crossing at Apongbon where he did a lot of his paintings on Lagos life, but I didn’t have dates and much of his earlier profile.

The first painting anyone sees as he or she enters my apartment living room is an impressionist work of the Amsterdam landscape by Olotu, and it directly faces the front door.

SIBLINGS

Other artworks by individual artists like David Dale, Inaolaji, Sunmi Smart-Cole, Mbachu, etc are interspersed in the anteroom, corridor, dining area and even bedrooms, but Olotu’s works serve as the bridge between all the others because there are many of them, with some even still unpacked in cases.

As casual as a man can be, I cannot remember Olotu ever in suit or Agbada or even shoes – just Ankara or Kampala, mostly with shorts, with sandals or slippers.

He would choose a location – it may be on top of a pedestrian bridge or a street corner or a balcony – and paint several scenes of Lagos for weeks, especially when he was preparing for an exhibition; and he had many of them. When I was in the bank those days on the Marina, with everyone in tie and suit, he would show up at the reception to ask for me and I am pretty sure some of our colleagues and staff would be wondering who this man in Kampala knickers was, that would make Oga jump up from his seat and shouting, ‘Picasso! Picasso’!!

No airs. No pride. No arrogance. Humility personified, in spite of the huge presence and following he had in the arts community and beyond. He was just a man who lived and loved art – and that was his life.

Those who knew the ‘African Picasso’ cannot help but cherish his total commitment to art and the arts, within the short while he sojourned on earth.

Born 25th May 1959, Meshach Oyerinde Olotu hailed from Ifon in Owo Local Government Area in Ondo State. He attended the School of Arts, Design & Printing, Department of Fine Arts, Yaba College of Technology, Lagos from where he graduated with HND in Fine Arts in 1981 as the overall best graduating student of the Fine Arts Department that year.

Described variously as a ‘contemporary impressionist with a bias for the palette knife’, or as a ‘naturalistic painter who selects themes that remind people of their historical past’, Olotu admired such greats as Prof. Yusuf Grillo, Kolade Oshinowo, Rembrandt and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. His paintings are regarded as having a life of their own, with the environment – cities and landscapes of Nigeria featuring with conspicuous character. Olotu worked as a professional studio artist from 1990 until his stroke, after a career in advertising, first as an illustrator at Grafik Advertising Limited in Surulere Lagos, where we met, and later as Creative Director at St. Georges Publicity Limited.

A writer who contributed to one of Olotu’s exhibition brochures described him thus: “His collection features exceptional, dramatic, and in true “Olotu Style”, nostalgic images. Like a fine gossamer thread woven through each work, the word ‘People’ forms an intricate connection, uniting the contrasting landscapes of cities and countryside”.

Olotu was a member of the men’s philanthropic association, Synergy Alliance Inc, like many of us his friends, and he gave to charity when the going was good with his health and his heart was full of love for the less privileged.

He also belonged to the Society of Nigerian Artists and featured in several group exhibitions, including “Offerings from the Gods,” at the National Theatre, Lagos, June-July 1985; “Towards a Greater Nation,” at the Italian Cultural Institute, Lagos, December 5-19, 1987; “Cross Currents,” Lagos, 1988. “Reflections: An Art Exhibition of the Society of Nigerian Artists,” National Theatre, Lagos, December 16-30, 1988; “Vision of Excellence,” Lagos, December 16-23, 1989; “Visual Impact,” National Museum, Lagos, September 15-21, 1990. He also had several solo exhibitions including Cities, People & Countryside, October 2011. The works featured in ‘Cities, People & Countryside’ focused on scenes from iconic sites in Nigeria, like the Idanre Hills in Ondo State and Isale Eko in Lagos.

As an established artist, Olotu’s works adorn the halls, rooms and corridors of many art corporate organisations, galleries, collectors and others who could not resist the naturalness of his offering.

Oyerinde Olotu has painted his last work. He was laid to rest at Atan Cemetery, Yaba Lagos yesterday, alongside his dear wife, leaving his two children, sibling, relatives, friends and the art community to mourn his passage. Rest in peace, the ‘African Picasso’.

PALMWINE TAPPER
ABANDONED BRIDGE

 

2 Comments on “Oyerinde Olotu, The African Picasso, Passes On”

  1. So very sad,in a country without social security covers, Nigerians suffer so much,no health insurance, management of chronic illnesses are so much on the high side without basics life is really meaningless.
    Adieu great one,the country has lost a creative mind.Rest in peace

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