Reviews, Written by: Jekami Adetiloye O.

FROM WALLACE EJOH OVERDUE IMPRESSION, THE MODELS OF DE NOVO HYPNOTIZE THE BEHOLDER.

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“If I stay for about 22 years, there will be that hunger to surely come out and exhibit what I have always been doing for 22 years. That has inspired (Impression De Novo) me to come out”- Ejoh Wallace

“He looks like a writer,” Wallace Ejoh stated confidently upon sighting me before I could formally present myself to him. This would be the first time anyone would take one look at me and tell me on the spot without missing what I do for a living. 

Everyone I have previously encountered including visual artists with whom I have shared the same moment confuse me with anything that comes to their mind. So, from my initial introduction to Wallace Ejoh, I was able to understand why his oil subjects on canvas are as fanimorous as they are when you experience them at first sight. 

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It is the case because this impressionist has another talent for perceiving with his eyes who a person is beyond the outward composition they display. This visually discerning capability he has extraordinarily invested in the painting of his female subjects.

That should explain why the female subjects in his 15 paintings stick with the beholder after they have been engaged. 

As a successful art instructor and mentor, it is not wrong to say his ability for making keen observations about things has enabled him to nurture up-and-coming visual artists such as Solomon Omogboye into relevancy in Nigerian and African art scenes. The equivalent capacity that has now clearly made Wallace Ejoh’s debut solo exhibition after more than two decades a box-office success and the artist a persistent modern art sensation in the Nigerian art industry. 

Impression De Novo (anew) offers a new perception of a master’s thoroughly refreshed artistic perspectives. The 15 artworks featured are results of a visual expert’s slowly earned experience over the course of twenty years.

There are two easily identifiable elements of the 15 paintings featured in Wallace Ejoh’s Impression De Novo. One is the female nudity and the other is the female figure. 

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Female Nudity

“POISE” Oil on Canvas 122cm x 138cm 2021

To an extent, it might come as a complete shock to some (who are his new audience) of the visitors of Wallace Ejoh’s debut solo exhibition that quite a lot of the artworks in Impression De Novo include female subjects that are almost or starked naked. His followers are not novices to this part of his art. 

Still, one would wonder about the decision process behind adding such works to his debut solo exhibition when there seems to be enough controversy surrounding the ceremony. 

Regarding that, Wallace would state eventually that ” I am here trying to exhibit the beauty of African women. Not only when the African woman is clothed or has beautiful facial adornment. No! I want to show that without clothing, African women are beautiful. Not only with make-ups and beautiful clothes.” 

Thus, works such as “Read, Sleep, Repeat”, “Knock Knock”, “Wrapped in Yellow”, “Night Nurse II”, and ”Poise”, amongst others with bare female subjects softly or heavily stroked in passionate colors should be interpreted as an experiment by the impressionist to study the beauty of African women in a state of nature. 

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As opposed to the likely conclusion by the audience that it is an approach to encourage inappropriate behavior towards women, especially in relation to sexual matters. 

Neither are the revealing works proposed by the artist to ungentlemanly depict women as symbols of sexual appetite for the purpose of nympholepsy. Or sexually attractive characters to pant for. 

Wallace Ejoh’s respect and admiration for the female subjects in his 15 artworks was made evident when he stressed emphatically that he would prefer them to be called his junior colleagues. This response he gave impulsively when in the process of asking a question about his female subjects I referred to them as models. 

Obviously, Wallace Ejoh needs us to idolize and be attentive to the female gender, not his sacrifices as a free art instructor for more than two decades. A fact many could hold as a shred of evidence exploited by this master artist to justify himself for formally marking the beginning of his artistic journey with a debut solo when his career started years back. 

Nonetheless, the master modern artist mentions that “if you start asking yourself what will people say, what will people say- you will not work. I am an artist. Whatever inspires me, that is what I have to do. There will come, people, who will like it and who will love it. There will come people who will say no! No matter what you paint you will find people who will love it and some who will not have some likeness for it.” 

Female Figure

All of the 15 artworks have solely females as subjects. Wallace Ejoh’s reproduction of his female subjects’ unusual beauty in Impression De Novo in covers is to a greater extent superlative and overwhelming than the raw illustrations in the representations where the ladies’ breasts, buttocks, and desires are explicit. 

The “junior colleague” in works like Lady in Cowrie Pendant, Nurse I, Touch of Red, and Power of the Night very nearly stole Ejoh’s debut solo from him at the opening. The majority of the visitors were only more curious about the price of the aforementioned works.

They spent more time scrutinizing the works and drooling over the lady in the cowrie pendant like tourists in Mona Lisa’s room in the Louvre. 

L-R: Jekami Adetiloye Oluwatosin and “Faith

All the artworks featured in Impression De Novo are manifestations of Wallace Ejoh’s practiced fingers and his deftness as an impressionist.

Yet, “Faith”-as some of the audience who are almost certainly familiar with the lady with the cowrie pendant whispered in flabbergasted expressions- seemed to have bewitched the visitors. 

Confirming this, Wallace Ejoh states “I am the one exhibiting. But the attention moved from me to her. But it’s good. She’s a colleague.” Nevertheless, no matter the adoration the subjects attract, all accolades return to the teacher. All glory belongs to the creator of the masterpiece. 

Unsurprisingly, it is convenient to assume that the aim of Wallace Ejoh- with a debut solo exhibition at the age many of his professional colleagues by this time have more solo shows than the total number of artworks featured in Impression De Novo- is to establish firmly his high regard in the mind of his students or stakeholders of the art industry. However, Wallace Ejoh’s intention with his debut solo event is actually not to impress the public nor to attract pats on the back. 

Rather the artist’s vision in this debut solo exhibition is to transform the Nigerian Visual Art scene into a stage where art is not solely made as a hypocritical approach to attract compliments. A marketing strategy that subdues the raw divine thoughts of the visual artist for public applause. 

Instead, Wallace Ejoh paints his wishes on canvas hoping the Nigerian art industry is inspired through them to develop into one which allows an artist to just create art as it comes to him/her. In lieu of creating works that suit the sentiments of the Nigerian audience; pieces of explainable or defendable art. 

L-R: Wallace Ejoh and Jekami Adetiloye Oluwatosin at the opening of Impression De Novo at Signature Beyond Gallery

Asked about his motivation to officially kick off his career with this debut solo exhibition,  Wallace Ejoh discloses saying “if I stay for about 22 years, there will be that hunger to surely come out and exhibit what I have always been doing for 22 years. That has inspired (Impression De Novo) me to come out”. 

Having witnessed this historic premiere of Wallace Ejoh’s artistic career, Nigerian art enthusiasts will no doubt look forward to more stirring solo exhibitions from him. Hopefully, it won’t be as long delayed as Impression De Novo. 

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