I was at my easel in a secluded corner of a quiet garden. Near sunset a thrush serenaded from a thicket and a rhododendron dropped petals at my feet. These days I get emails on my phone — sometimes several dozen an hour. I know it’s considered a bad habit, but I have this compulsive desire to pause and hear from folks. This one came in:
“Hello, I am Nnadozie Gideon, one of your subscribers from Nigeria. I am a teenager and I started drawing at age three. In secondary school I won art competitions. Since 2011 I have been practicing painting and drawing with a poster colour set I won. I went into oil painting last year while still trying to perfect my drawing skills. I have been able to paint only a few because all I have is my oil paint set of six and a few brushes. Will you help me with some art materials? Please advise me on how to take my art to a higher level.”
In a world where death and destruction are the norm, and distrust among nations and religions prevail, we in the West sometimes do not realize how blessed we are. Our leisure and relative wealth give us the daily freedom to create as we see fit, and a trip to the art store is not generally a problem. Brutality, injustice and tyranny in the Middle East and the toils of emerging Africa have our family helping where we can. Across our blue and beautiful planet many artists work under difficult circumstances and can be delayed in their quest for a “higher level.”
Nnadozie Gideon has been a subscriber for some time and I have no reason to suspect he is part of a Nigerian scam, as some folks might wonder. He may indeed be a legitimate member of the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Artists.
In the same batch of emails there was a note from a Syrian man now living in Lebanon who asked if I thought metallic acrylics were permanent and might maintain their sparkle. (I think they will.) The words “Sunni,” “Shiite” or “Alawite” were not mentioned in his email, nor did they need to be. Like international sports that test the human mettle across boundaries, art is also great.
While most emails here are either informative or inquiring, many artists write with complaints. Some are valid complaints, but many are the whines of the distracted and the spoiled. To them in general I say, go to a quiet garden and daily find the joy that lies within. And know for sure that many others are not so blessed.
PS: “Let us grow together.” (Sri Sathya Sai Baba)
Esoterica: I’ve written a note to Nnadozie: “I’m thinking about writing a twice-weekly letter about your situation. Perhaps we can help you. Please send me your mailing address, a few photos of your paintings that show your signature, and a photo of yourself.” So far I’ve not heard back from him. I’ll let you know when I do.
Nnadozie Gideon update
(RG note) At this time Nnadozie has been in touch with me by email from his Nokia smart phone. So far he’s sent his mailing address, a photo of himself and jpegs of several varying and unsigned paintings. I’ve asked him for jpegs of signed paintings, jpegs of his awards, and a note from one of his teachers. There are several Nnadozie Gideon websites and Facebook pages originating in Nigeria. My inbox has loaded up with artists wishing to give art materials to Nnadozie. Hundreds are also suggesting we ask him to prove himself first. I’ll let you know when he does.
Not enough information
by Annette Hanna, Boonton, NJ, USA
I had a conversation with some artists recently who talked about a scam that is prevalent in Europe that is exactly what you say about your Nigerian teenager. They started drawing at a young age, they have paltry supplies to work with, please send art materials.
Many artists have already done so. Most likely the materials are sold and the teenager, or adult, is profiting from all materials that have been donated to him. Even though he is a long time subscriber to your letter does not mean that this person is not a scam artist.
Why do we all fall for these stories with so little information? Just because they are on the internet or phone? Tech gadgets just make it so much easier for them to work.
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Use of local materials
by Tyna Adebowale, Lagos, Nigeria
This issue of internet ‘begging’ I will not say is a Nigerian factor, but am sure Nnadozie Gideon knows very well what he is doing, if at all he is an artist as he said. I am a Nigerian visual artist, based in Lagos. Art materials and studio supplies are becoming really expensive as 100% of products (oils and acrylics, brushes, and all) we use are imported.
But artists in Nigeria are beginning to look for a way out of this. Hence we recycle, and we reuse found objects. Some of my colleagues recently started producing their own pigments in the studio. It’s acrylics and all I think what they did was to read the labels on the Windsor and Newton pack. We have lots of raw materials for pigment production as I discovered recently, but am not sure any factory is ready to invest yet into producing art materials.
So I think the likes of Nnadozie Gideon should be advised to use whatever materials they have or find around them for their arts. Guess that is why it’s called art; a trade for (very) creative people.
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Give it to your local hospital
by Susan McCrae, Brampton, ON, Canada
I greatly sympathize with your Nigerian follower. I’ve visited many corners of the world where artists struggle to express themselves with so few materials it should make us all in North America blush. Even among our own communities there are people we could be sharing with. A friend of mine is a nurse in a Mental Health Ward of our local hospital. One of the biggest issues for patients on the ward is the lack of activities. Painting and drawing have long been known to have therapeutic value. The next time one of you is cleaning out your studio and getting rid of paper, paint, old brushes, remember your local hospital and take some art supplies to the mental health unit. They’ll be used and greatly appreciated.
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Difficult times in Africa
by Merewyn Heath, Tampa, FL, USA
In reading your story regarding the fellow in Africa seeking supplies and the request of him in response, I noticed something that may present an issue for him.
You ask that he respond with multiple photos to obtain further help. Upon my last visit to southeastern Africa, electricity was still out of reach for many houses. Transportation was often by foot, baths by creekside and the bush served as restrooms. If your writer is in one of these areas, the tools (phones or otherwise) are truly luxury items and he may not be able to produce them. He may possibly be able to get to the nearest town for photo help but even web cam situations require particular knowledge and newer tools. Perhaps there’s a PO box address you could provide to him so he could send an actual sketch, painting or similar item, in case the photo capability isn’t available to him? (Also factor the cost of mail for this idea however… perhaps prepaid postage…)
(RG note) Thanks, Merewyn. It appears he is quite well served and connected.
Art in the time of war
by Ola Sayed Ahmed, Syria
I felt really happy when you mentioned my country Syria and that guy in Lebanon. Art materials may not be the only thing that hinders you from enjoying painting. I started in oils only two years ago and there is so much difficulty in feeling the taste of beauty of my surroundings while my ears are filled daily with the sounds of death. I have finished with my exams and now that summer vacation has started my other problem is that my resume painting is unfinished. While it is in oil, it seems as if painted with water paints and does not have the glitter of oil. I have heard that the best to dilute oil is a light kind of petrol, but turpentine dilutes best for deep layers. If I use oil paint thick I will pay a lot.
(RG note) Thanks, Ola. Too much thinner of any sort takes the binder out of oil paint, makes it less stable and less permanent. Linseed oil is the traditional binder oil and is probably available to you. Walnut oil, if available, is highly recommended. I’ve heard of painters in the Middle East using olive oil with the addition of a small amount of siccative or dryer. Perhaps some of our readers might be able to advise you.
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A crisis of trust
by Chris Pool
I’ve been to India 20 times. In some developing countries it seems there is an automatic tendency to scam and that is part of what holds those societies back. Business slows terribly when there is no trust. The Nigerian artist might be for real and I think it very intelligent that you asked for photos of his work with signature showing. Since even in impoverished South India the garbage sweepers have cell phones, a high school student in Nigeria who wins prizes can surely get a photo of his work taken by a sympathetic teacher or relative posted to your email, and even doctored.
You had a Sai Baba quote in the last email. I went to his place several times while he was giving darshan. There was some funny business there also but there was spiritual energy in abundance. Ain’t life strange, and grand.
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No taking blessings for granted
by John F. Burk, Timonium, MD, USA
Earlier this year, a friend of mine and his wife returned from South Africa with a painting they bought from a resident who did wildlife subjects in oils on canvas. They bought a pair of zebras in high grass on a savanna. It was rolled up in brown paper. My friends asked me to re-stretch it so they could have it framed. The painter couldn’t part with his stretcher strips, apparently. They are a rare commodity. The canvas was old tent canvas that I assume he could find sufficient quantities of. This was my first realization of the difficulties many artists must endure to practice their art, way beyond any difficulties I have.
I am very pleased to be a member of the Brotherhood and Sisterhood you speak of, so compelling to so many that even our precursors forgot their rumbling stomachs and the beasts outside to paint life as they saw it on the walls of caves in berry juice. And I tip my hat to those who work as hard in this day and age. I do not take my blessings for granted.
People with nothing
by Hanna MacNaughtan, Kemptville, ON, Canada
My daughter Amanda is a Registered Nurse currently working with MSF (Doctor’s Without Borders) in a refugee camp in South Sudan. Talk about people with nothing… these poor folks have less than nothing. But the artist inside a person will find a way. These children somehow discovered with the rainy season that they could be creative with the only thing they had to play with ~ mud/clay! I think these young artists and what they have made are incredibly beautiful…don’t you?
The problem is the government
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
I am constantly being reaffirmed of the simple fact that people of other nations are not our enemies. Conversely, we are not their enemy. Governments wage war on each other and the people are caught in the middle. I guess you can rightly say that “we” are the government, as we believe here in America, but the truth is, as the Bush years have taught us, government leaders wage wars with each other, even with the disapproval of their people.
The turmoil occurring on foreign soils today illustrates what can happen when people try to take back their freedom and denounce their government. Most ordinary people struggle to have a good meal, a comfortable living space, money in their pockets and freedom to watch their children grow and thrive. Regular people want much less than do governments. Governments continually scheme and plot to gain more… of everything. Power, oil, resources, religious or moral domination or simply more territory.
Given the imbalance of numbers, it is easier for a government (with limited people) to deceive its people (a much larger number) by diversion, subterfuge and misinformation. They perform in secrecy. This hasn’t changed in thousands of years and, sadly, may never change.
Enjoy the past comments below for Our blessed life…
Brent Lynch, Camille Przewodek, Michael Reardon and Michael Workman
Redhead in Repose
oil painting, 24 x 40 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Anonymous who wrote, “If this Nigerian artist is so poor, how does he have a computer? I can spot a scammer from one email — I’ve had dozens — and I think this person is one. Your letter in response to him was perfect; requesting proof of who he says he is was the only way to go.”
And also Richard Mason of Howell, NJ, USA, who wrote, “Should you get a reply I’d be happy to help a budding artist in whatever way I can. A little here and there adds up. Helping someone gives you a feeling very similar to getting that painting you’re working on just right.”