His is a classic story of turning waste to wealth. For Olusegun Oluseyi Soyege, a Lagos-based sculptor who began his art career as a cartoonist while in secondary school, turning scraps into works of art is pre-occupation. The Iperu Remo, Ogun State-born artist who specialised on metal works, using scraps to produce works of art, talks on his experiences, stressing that “art is not something that you jump into. He also traces his love for drawing to his teacher, writes TONY OKUYEME.
HIS studio in Abule Egba area of Lagos, is a gallery of sort, home to dozens of inspiring works. But also scattered around are scraps of various shapes and sizes – engine parts, among others. So what is this brilliant artist known for his skills as a cartoonist doing with these scraps? You ask in amazement. Like a painter, these scraps are his paints, pallets, brushes and others. Welcome to Soyege’s world of ‘scraps for art’.
“1 am a sculptor; I specialise in metal works, using scraps and woods to express my feelings about art generally,” he says this bright afternoon, dressed in simple attire.
“I am from Iperu Remo in Ogun State. I was born November 8, 1968. I did all my schooling in Lagos. I went to Ojuoye Primary School, Mushin and New State High School, also in Muslim, respectively I was one of the first set of beneficiaries of the free education project of Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande when he was the Executive Governor of Lagos State, in 1979, which was when he started the free education project. My father was an accountant and mother a retired teacher.”
Soyege whose works adorn several homes in highbrow areas in Lagos and other parts of the country, says he had always had this feeling about art. “I discovered that I always found myself in art room or environment. I wont say that I was the best then, my performance in art then, was average. But I tried as much as I could to develop the interest in art more than any other course. And it got a stage that I was almost dismissed from secondary school because I did a cartoon on our parents Teachers Association (PTA) chairman then. The man had tribal marks on his face I explored this marks on his face on a cartoon that all our P.T.A money, where was it going into? The whole school was in chaos that day. I was in class four or five then. The school authority were about to expel me, but for the timely intervention of the same P.T.A chairman.
“It was even the same P.T.A chairman that even pleaded on my behalf that they should leave me alone, because I did not know what I was doing. Actually, I did the cartoon but it was another person that pasted it so the P.T.A chairman was so impressed that I was able to capture his well in the caricature, and it looked so much like him, because of this he pleaded with the school authority to pardon me and allow me to finish my secondary school.”
This incident, he said, rekindled his interest in the art. “I got admission into Yaba College of Technology, Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos, to study fine art. Before I went for the interview for the school, I had always been with Bayo Odulawo, who was an Honourable of the Federal House of Representative. He represented Lagos State. He encouraged me more about art he gave me the feeling about how to discover myself. He always told me then that I could do it. So when I finished my secondary school I got admission into Yaba College of Technology.
“I remember that when I got the admission, I discovered that I was the only person out of my classmates school then, that ended up studying fine art. Those my classmates who always scored As in the subject went to study Business Administration, Accounting, and other courses some of them got admission into Yaba College of Technology, and they were surprised that I was the only one studying fine art. Also, I discovered, right from my Ordinary National Diploma (OND) level, that art is something that I have always been having joy doing; it is something that I would say that all along, all my life, I have been eating, drinking art, sleeping with art Everything about me has to do with art.
And when I finished my OND, I wanted to go and study graphics. It was my HOD Tolu Filani who encouraged me to study sculpture instead of graphics. He told me that he would not force me to study sculpture but that he would allow me to make up my mind, and that I should just come and do my one year IT with him. I remember that before the middle of the year, I just changed my mind that I must study sculpture. My HOD then, Filani, as I said, was a sculptor and owns a studio, where I did my IT.
And while doing my IT there, I discovered that sculpture happens to an area I was not good at; it happens to be my weak point. So I said to myself that why won’t I take up that challenge, since it was my weak point, let me go more into it and study it and since I know that I can boast of scoring A in graphics and in painting. That was what really brought out the challenge in me that I must study sculpture. While I was in school I enjoyed every minute, every second of my life in Yaba College of Technology, as a sculptor.
“When I finished my HND, I thought of what I was going to do. Then I taught in some schools, one of which was Providence High School, Iju, Agege, Lagos. After a while I told the proprietor of the school that I wanted to go into part-time as art teacher. I remember that the month I made up my mind to go into part-time as art teacher, was the same month I got a teaching appointment with Christ Redeemers College, Sagamu, Ogun State. When I got there I told the principal that I preferred to teach on part-time basis to full-time. So I taught there for about seven years. Later I discovered that most of the students wanted to do fine art in their senior class. You can imagine a situation, for instance, a school where you have 20 students in a class and 19 of them want to to do fine art, and only one wants to do music. So it was challenging as I also was working in my studio as well. It got to a stage that the principal called me and told me that I was devoting more time to my studio, and that given the situation, they preferred to have me as a consultant – I come when they need me.”
On how he also chose to specialise in metal work ahead of ceramics and wood carving, Soyege says it was also born out of an attempt to take the challenge and explore a new area. His words: “I decided to focus on metal work as a sculptor because I know that was my weakest point even when I was in school, so that I could improve more on it. I thank God today that I have3 been able to transfer art into reality using scrap. What I mean by scrap is using engine parts, any engine part I see on the road I pick. And people have always been amazed to see me do this. You can imagine seeing somebody like me, well dressed, and picking something on the road, people would wondering is he well? Is he okay? And you can imagine myself going to my mechanic workshop and picking parts which I considered were scraps. There was a day I packed some of the parts and took them to my workshop, I thought they were not using them again. The next today looking for the parts that they are still useful. That is part of the challenges. But I have been able to turn the scraps into gates, burglary and art works generally.”
Fourth child and first boy in a family of seven children (five girls and two boys), Soyege says he got his inspiration from Honourable Bayo Odulano “because then it was as if we were living together under thew same roof. Hue is somebody that when he wanted to go out I was always there. That was when I was in secondary school.
However, when he was in primary school he never thought of becoming an artist. “Then my desire was to be like other children, a lawyer, an accountant and so on, but the inspiration came when I got into the secondary school. Then I discovered that I even found it difficult to sleep, every time I wanted to draw. The desire to draw was always there especially at night, because I remember that the cartoon which nearly put me into big trouble, I did it in the night. I did not even sleep that night.
According to him, since then everything about him now has to with art. “My living room, my bedroom and even my car are full of art works,” he said.