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Formal training not compulsory but helpful for artists – Sor Sen

Art strikes me as a conscious and subconscious translation of an experience

Sor Sen is a Benue State-born award-winning painter who has carved a niche in painting using line, form, colour and texture in telling stories on his views about life. The painter, who holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Painting from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, is set to organise his first solo exhibition in Lagos and says artists should look beyond passion but see art as work and not something they do for fun.

Did you choose art or it chose you?

I got into art reluctantly. I never thought of pursuing it as a full-time career because I felt I wasn’t good enough to be called an artist. As a society that’s conscious of capitalist/consumerist tendencies, I felt I needed to be in a league of those who shake the system with big titles. Looking back, I think I am quite happy that I remained on this path. As I reflect further, I feel very excited that what felt like a mistake has turned out to be a breath-taking encounter for me.

What is art to you?

Art strikes me as a conscious and subconscious translation of an experience. It could be human engagements, emotions, nature, and other manmade objects. This is done in order to highlight, alter or proffer solutions to man’s search for the meaning of the universe. Life inspires me. People, places, nature, and books. Besides, I love immersing myself in experiences that have the potential of becoming art.

What makes your works unique in the industry?

Well, I don’t think I am doing something extraordinarily different from others. But I’m being me. My art is personal, in the sense that I employ elements like line, form, colour and texture in the storytelling of how I view life. That sort of gives it a visual vocabulary that appears to be unique.

Most artists are fuelled by their passion, but is this enough to survive in the industry?

The thing with passion is that the word is most times misused or maybe that is what it is. Passion and inspiration go hand in hand. If you want to create art and to be taken seriously, sometimes you just have to see it as work not just fun. See it like going to your place of work at 9am and closing 5pm or maybe extending some hours. This type of routine could get boring but the results would always pay off. Embrace it fully like your favourite pill that you can’t do without.

Despite having several outlets to sell or showcase their works, why do you think some Nigerian artists still struggle to survive?

We live in a fast-paced world. Everyone wants to be at the top of the food chain, which is not bad to be ambitious. But I think most artists do not understand the nature of their jobs. When money comes, you spend wisely because you certainly can’t predict when you might make the next sales or get commissions. So, what I think is the major issue sometimes is the management of the available resources as opposed to lack of it.

In what ways do you think artists can turn their passion into something profitable?

By staying true to themselves, true to their craft, and acquiring basic business and management skills. These things can be quite tough, but for now, it seems to be the only way out.

What is your take on the sale of artworks by the roadside?

For those who indulge in it, I would say that they are radically taking the arts to the streets for the common man. So, I do not have anything negative about them. But integrity and dignity should also be included in their pursuit, not just money alone.

You are planning an exhibition in Lagos for the first time, what informed this decision?

I would say curiosity. I have had a couple of solo exhibitions here in Abuja. And I think it’s high time I experienced a new landscape with an art conscious audience.

What do you hope to achieve with the exhibition?

The exhibition is tagged: Dreams, Disruptions & Actualities. It is an extension of my practice that’s hinged on an exploration of the complexities of the human experience because I feel strongly that we go through life searching for the same things and the quest is always about meaning, which I call the existential dilemma. Where a man asks questions like who am I? How can I navigate through turbulent periods of life? That being said, human experience is vast but for this exhibition, two encounters are important, that is, adaptability and vulnerability. This I have attempted to experiment with my works referencing eventful phases of the self.  So, it is my hope that the audience would find themselves in this mutual act of humanity.

With technological innovations came several digital opportunities for showcasing artworks, do people still attend exhibitions as it is used to be yesteryears?

Yes, actually. Technology has given people more access to art. But you know having a real-time experience with art is simply incomparable. It’s like watching a football game in the stadium rather than on television. The tension, emotions are part of what makes art appreciation unique. But artists lack physical spaces/platforms where we can showcase our creativity. Things are beginning to change. Since it is quite expensive putting up space and managing it for art promotion, some of us have been able to make use of digital tools like the social media in spotlighting our works.

I know artists could spend weeks on a particular work, what was the highest number of days you’ve spent on work and why?

I think I have spent a month or two, thereabout. The numbers aren’t very important to me. In fact, sometimes, the longer I spend on a particular piece, things might get a bit clumsy. So, I go with the flow.

Tips for upcoming artists

Stay humble, I know what it means to create, there are moments you would want to think you own the universe when in the reality you don’t, you are simply an active participant performing your role like others. Another thing is, be patient. The career of an artist is very long. Stay consistent.

Do you think artists need to acquire formal training?

I don’t think it’s compulsory but it’s helpful, in the sense that formal education is structured consciously by the use of tools like the curriculum in the impartation of knowledge. This helps to fast-track critical thoughts which can go a long way in solving artistic problems. Like in my case, I was taught to look at certain elements in the universe or create an alternate one as a source of inspiration for my art. To achieve this, teachers give tasks that encourage thinking and doing. This type of exercise gives you an edge sometimes in articulating your ideas.

You have won some awards; did this influence your works in any way?

It gave me visibility in the art scene that would have probably come with more tedious efforts and of course, it made me believe in myself and my craft the more. This propelled me to create more works. It also enhanced my patronage. Collectors and gallerists who taught that I was just one of those artists out there had a rethink.