In the small but spaciously compact and cozy interiors of Hare and Grouse Gallery, one of the newest art galleries in FCT, Tom Sunday, Abuja-based artist Tom Sunday opened his solo exhibition themed Afflatus.
Afflatus is defined as a sudden rush of creative impulse or inspiration often attributed to divine influence. While the divine influence and ‘sudden rush of creative impulse’ are debatable, Afflatus is more a commentary on the artist’s techniques and skills over the past twelve years (2010 -2022).
Featuring 33 of the artist’s works, rendered in various art styles/techniques – impressionism, abstract, impasto, charcoal drawing, water-colour and oil paints, mixed media, the exhibition chronicles where he is coming from, where he is at the present, and where he’s likely headed for in the future.
In his earlier impasto paintings, which are smoother one can see the artist plying his hands at a new technique; hence he was more focused on using the layering of colours to accentuate/highlight features in subjects such as cheekbones, noses, lip crevices, even subjects’ perspectives. In later paintings (2019 -2020), his impasto style is rougher, much better and expressive than the former, as he experiments combining the technique with his impressionistic style and mixed media (Ankara and paper). He, however is battling with the depiction of proper fall of lighting on his subject on his impasto works – which shows in The Gesture of Erima, clearly inspired by Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, and The Single Eye – which had the entire left side of the subject’s face in shadows and the entire right bathed in light that comes from no direction. Although, the artist may argue he’s darkened the features for greater detail but that is at odds with his style.
He did much better depicting lighting on his subject in the charcoal drawing Abidemi and though his style has never been realism, he appears to be gravitating towards that as seen in his portraits Njideka the Teacher, Abidemi and Emem rendered within two years intervals from 2017, 2019 and 2021.
His best impasto work on display would be A Smile From Inside Out. Here, the artist’s ability to deploy warm, earthy colours of yellow, brown, orange etc. to coalesce the lad’s features, and reflect not just his skin tone but the happiness that radiates in and around him in perfect contrast to the cooler colours of the sky is impressive. Likewise, his abstract painting Multiplicity – featuring scary eyes maddeningly fixated on its viewer, sorting through their riotous parts to parts they are unaware exists, is one worth following. The combination of the realistic shimmering red lips, piercing eyes and other parts of the features rendered in impasto strokes and threads, made for an arresting image.
While I argue the ‘divinity and sudden-ness/rush’ in the creation of this exhibition pieces which alludes to works created in a rush of inspiration, rather than a compilation of years of works being exhibited in a single space, Afflatus does tell us Sunday’s past, present and future. It further shows, he might need a bit of focus to master his impasto technique particularly to enhance his impressionistic style for better narratives and impact. Perhaps, it is a but a matter of mastering one craft before moving onto another. There is potential in that style that can be expanded beyond portraits to sceneries, landscapes and abstract pieces.