Paintings by Nigerian-born New Yorker Onyeka Ibe are being shown at Richmond’s Chasen Galleries in “Structure & Forms,” an exhibition combining two distinct bodies of work.
One collection is inspired by the structure of a typical home in a Nigerian village. While the upper classes use “high-quality” material we would probably recognize from our own homes, lower class villagers use mud, wooden poles, and found materials. The “Structure” half of Ibe’s exhibition focuses on these building materials as well as the traditional ones, sand and mud. Other forms and content unique to Nigerian cultures serve as further inspiration. This body of work is highly abstract, taking shapes and forms and deconstructing them.
The second body of work, the “Form” half, if you will, is inspired by “a spectrum of human emotion” and more of an exploration of figure than pure abstraction. However, “you can tell his style carries through in both of them,” says gallery owner Andrew Chasen. Ibe works mainly in oils, using the palette knife liberally and with an antipasto technique. He has exhibited widely throughout the United States and Canada, as well as in his native Nigeria; he was 16 for his first exhibition was at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Lagos, where he was immediately recognized as a rising star in the art world.
Ibe grew up in a post-civil war Nigeria whose democracy had fallen apart and where violence abounded. For Ibe, says his website, art was a way to “escape inward and search for elements of humanity” in the chaos surrounding him. Ibe’s particular style and his “dramatic approach” to painting have earned him international recognition. On a local level, Chasen says his gallery has showed Ibe for several years and that “his work is different, it’s definitely a style all its own and we’ve gotten a good reaction to it.” This is Ibe’s first major exhibition at Chasen.
“Structure & Forms” opens today and will be at the gallery through Nov. 24. Ibe is attending an opening reception from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.