Monday, 1 June 2009
By the time of his death in 1996, the Onitsha-born artist, Uzo Egonu, had lived in London for 50 years. This long association proved to be an important one for both the artist and the city, and London was to emerge as a major presence in Egonu's works. Throughout a successful international career, he helped capture the many faces of London as seen through his unique artistic eye.
Described as a master of metaphor, Egonu was a child prodigy whose artistic talent was spotted early by his father, who sent him to England at the age of thirteen in 1945. The early separation from his parents and homeland left the artist with a deep nostalgia for the land, the people and its folklore. A picture, taken in Egonu’s West Hampstead studio in 1964, shows him surrounded by works depicting images of his lost homeland.
Uzo Egonu studied at the Camberwell School of Fine Arts and Crafts, and St Martin’s School of Art in the 1950’s. Later, in 1970, he attended the Working Men’s College in London’s Camden Town to update his printmaking techniques. The Working Men’s College, as a community of artists, placed much importance on debating the social issues of the day, a concern that also reflected in Egonu’s work. He engaged with the burdens of urban living in Addictions, a series of lithographs exploring gambling, drug abuse, smoking and binge-eating.
With failing health and encroaching blindness in the 1980s, Uzo Egonu compensated for his dimmed sight with an even bolder use of colour. His Landcape paintings from this period represent an almost surreal vision shot through with hidden meanings. He also took on celebratory, epic themes, with pieces like Record Breakers (1993), commenting on British technological advancement in transport.
Whether focussing on its landmarks, people or issues, Uzo Egonu gave visual life to London in all its hope, decline, and grandeur. For this, he is remembered as an artist who helped reinterpret the city as a truly international centre, capturing its true essence whilst giving it an African flavour.
Source: Molara Wood