‘When I die, use my house as public monument’
By Ozolua Uhakheme
Assistant Editor (Arts)
House 52 is an unusual home on Adebola Street in Surulere, Lagos. Though located within a mix of residential and office apartments, it is a near mirror image of the occupant’s passion and lifestyle-multi-media artist, horticulturist, philatelist and collector of books, music CDs and vinyl. This relatively old bungalow overgrown by tall flowers and green shrubs is the home and studio of quintessential visual artist and one of Nigerian art living masters, David Herbert Dale; a picture that sometimes mislead many guests to feel that the house is uninhabited. But, a small push at the wooden gate reveals a close picture until someone emerges from the ‘green forest house’ to attend to the guest.
As the guest meanders through to the door of the house, he gets multiple mild ‘slaps’ from the swinging folios and leaves of the flowers for every step he takes. That way, the guest is being welcomed to the art house.
In this structure that also doubles as studio and residence, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria trained artist competes for space with his tools, art materials, magazines, books, flowers and other not-for-sale personal collections. He is a rare breed in today’s Nigeria. While some of his colleagues acquire and flaunt their wealth with ignominy, Dale turns is eyes to the less privilege providing succor to the needy at the expense of his needs. He has sponsored several students to different schools and is currently adopting few children as members of his family. “When I adopted one of the kids, I told my only daughter whose mother had left me for long that she must henceforth accept the little boy as part of the family. Interestingly, she did not object, saying he is welcome to the family. Until now, I have paid school fees for many students whose parents I do not know. That is where I find my joy and not in material acquisition,” Dale said. Unlike most of his professional colleagues, Dale is unimpressed by luxury items but basic needs of life, not even owning a car.
“I do not need a car. For what? In fact, I will be mad with my driver if I ever own a car. The stress of driving round Lagos far outweighs the benefits. It is sheer waste as long as I can call on any taxi that can take me wherever I want to go in Lagos. So, why buy a car?” he wonders, saying owning a car in Lagos is nothing special.
The philanthropist in him always manifest each time he interacts with people. At a recent interaction with him in his Surulere studio/residence, Dale said he would be happier in death if art collectors in Lagos could buy his residence for art and tourism promotion when he dies. The house when acquired, he insisted, should serve as a monument for humanity while he would donate his books, journals and other valuables to institutions that will make use of them for researches.
According to a leading art collector and founder, Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF), Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Dale is a humanist who has offered scholarships to many young Nigerians. ‘His sense of community has endeared him to many. He brings to bear his humanistic nature in his work and a lot of spot light is also placed in his relationship with his maker. Although a humanist, he is also a disciplinarian, who will not tolerate unacceptable norms and lazy people around him. He works tirelessly all day.’
Dale was born in 1947 to an English father and a Nigerian mother and one of their eight children. He attended elementary school in the United Kingdom and finally came to St. Gregory’s College, Lagos to complete his secondary education in 1966 before entering Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria to study fine arts.
Often times, many of his peers find his introvert tendencies and ‘oyinbo’ lifestyle uncomfortable to get along with. Yet, he is a master of the art, using almost 23 media of visual art; and with almost 1000 beadworks to his credit, a feat yet to be equaled by any African artist. He has worked creatively well in printmaking, stain glass, sculpting, painting, mixed media, mosaic murals, ceramics and wood carvings among others.
Of all the media, bead is his favourite, which he says, provides fluidity for hard substances ordinarily considered unsuitable for such visual and sensuous expression. In fact, he is literarily married to his art profession. Today, he is arguably the leading artist working with beads both in natural realism and surrealism.
Currently, he is working on giant-size portraiture in beads measuring 12ft by 8ft for a Lagos-based businessman. Dale is one artist who is fully married to his profession. He recalled a particular occasion when he did a commission work for a Lagos collector and collapsed on the delivery of the work after breaking grounds to place the work in the collectors’ abode. He is an artist that enjoys his work and enjoys seeing people find joy in his creative works.
Wearing a stained apron over a shirt and short, Dale was unmindful of time and surrounding as he engrossed himself in the initial contouring of the beadwork. “This work will take me nothing less than seven months to complete. And I always tell my client that if they can’t wait for that long, they can give the work to other artist to do. Bead work requires patient and time it is not like painting or sculpting. Unfortunately, this particular one is not very profitable. But I have always turned down any commission bead works that has less than 50 thousand naira profit margin because of the stress and strain. Again, the effect of araldite on my health as a result of prolong usage has reduced the man hour I put in executing any beadwork,” Dale revealed.
Yet, he is very conscious of the quality of beads he uses in the execution of his works, though imported and costly, no thanks to increasing foreign exchange rate. “You can get the best beads from China, Taiwan and Indonesia. And they are a bit expensive but when you use them you’ll come back in another 3000 years and you meet them where they are,” he said of beads.
The former lecturer at the architecture department, University of Lagos talks and lives the philosophy of life. To him, life is full of dualisms. He believes that dream and vision are infused into men for their advantage and instruction, and that if one advances constantly towards the direction of his dream and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet a success unexpected in common hours. “If a door slams shut, it means that God is pointing to an open door further on down…Failure makes people cruel and bitter. In order that people may be happy in their work, three things are needed: they must be fit for it; they must not do too much of it and they must have a sense of success in it.”
Dale who has featured in seven international workshops across the globe has held fifty-eight exhibitions with Update, a solo art exhibition as the latest show at Quintessence Gallery, Ikoyi Lagos in April 20007. He featured 33 works done between 2005 and 2007. Among his master pieces is the altar of Our Holy Family Catholic Church in Festac Town, Lagos as well as the stained glass doors of Our Saviours Church at Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos.