METAPHORICAL RENDITION OF CASSIA TORA ROOT FORMS IN PAINTING
Metaphorical Rendition of Cassia tora Root Forms in Painting
This study is a Practice-Based research, which explores the root forms of Cassis tora plant with the aim of creating paintings that reflect on the well-being of Nigerians metaphorically. Plant roots from the natural environment possess interesting visual features such as line, rhythm, depth and space. Root forms have not been adequately explored in painting. Similarly, the metaphorical rendition of forms in painting has not been exhausted. These facts present an opportunity for further research of Cassia tora root forms. The Conceptual Framework of the study is driven by features of Post-Impressionism that are characterised by emotional contents and symbolic colours, anchored by the works of Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh rendered forms metaphorically with short brush strokes and symbolic colours, reflecting on his emotional anguish and the plight of the poor people around his neighbourhood. Similarly, this study is contextual. It utilizes the conceptual structure of visual metaphor, to draw analogies with Cassia tora root forms and societal happenings in Nigeria. It begins by reviewing Cassia tora plant, focusing on its origin and the visual features of the roots. Beside theory, the study reviews related works consisting of root-inspired paintings, root-inspired works in other media and visual metaphors done with unconventional materials. Works of Vincent Van Gogh, Barbara Snyder, Cedar Lee, Gary Tonge Alexa los Reyes and many other artists were reviewed. This revealed that the upper part of plant and other natural images of the environment are included in the compositions. There are little attempts at metaphorical rendering of root forms. The major focus of these artists is technical dexterity instead of contextual approach. The primary source of data for this study is from the samples of Cassia tora roots, upon which the foundation of the research is established. The data are also sourced from societal happenings, allegories and speculative notions. The Instruments for data collection are direct observation, participatory observation, interview, photography and drawing. The tools for data collection are cameras, sketch pads and the retrieval systems such as compact discs and flash cards for capturing images. The exploratory and developmental processes led to the production of research paintings. The artworks are created in five phases, according to the five objectives. The first phase laid emphasis on the visual analysis of Cassia tora root forms, which is made of a taproot, branch roots and nodes. Phase II relied on the entwining of two Cassia tora root pattern to make statements regarding love and unity. The picture planes at Phase III are totalised by Cassia tora nodes. Phase IV series of paintings relied on multiple Cassia tora root patterns. They dwell on depth, bright colours, space and time. However, Phase V series of paintings were created with Cassia tora root forms, collage technique and unconventional materials including woollen yarns, raffia, Jute, polythene, beads and fabric offcuts. The research found that in some paintings created with multiple elements of Cassia tora root forms (at Phase IV), the crowded root forms and depth appear like a forest; an expression of so much depth. This symbolises a fiesta, as the environment is charged into a celebrating mood. The composition is a metaphor for peaceful coexistence. The study concludes that in the light of contextual process, analogy and conceptual blending, artists are capable of generating knowledge by rendering root forms metaphorically in painting. The study recommends that further researches should be carried out to reveal other ways of rendering Cassia tora root forms in painting, such as performatives, kinetics and site-specificinstallations.
1.1 Background to the Study
The natural environment is full of plants with various roots systems, such as taproots, which could serve as sources of inspiration for artistic expression. Roots of plants, from natural environment, are interesting creative imageries, which have not been given adequate attention. Plant roots can be read in different ways and serve various purposes, as the subject of root is broad. Roots are the organs of plants that typically lie below the surface of the soil. Roots of Cassia tora lie below the soil. There are also aerial, adventurous, fibrous and tuberous roots. Roots are the veins which sustain life of plants by providing support, water and nutrients. Cassia tora is an element from the natural environment that is regarded as weed by agronomists and most farmers. According to Pankaj (2002), Cassia tora plant is also known as C.tora sickle sienna, sickle pod, Tora, Tovara, Chakvad and Foetid Cassia. It is known as „Tafasa‟ in Hausa language. It is a dicot legume with healing properties, mostly found in the tropical countries of Asia and Africa. The root pattern of Cassia tora is composed of a taproot, branch roots and nodes. These components could provide a creative impetus, to create paintings with metaphorical rendition of forms.
In linguistics, metaphor is used to express imagery in words. It is a Figure of speech that equates two different things for the sake of comparison or symbolism in order to suggest a resemblance (Hagberg in Gaut and Lopes, 2005). It is a word or phrase used to compare two unlike objects, ideas, thoughts or feelings to provide a clearer description. For instance, the phrase „going back to my root‟ means going home. Root forms have been extensively used in linguistics as verbal metaphor. Munteanu (2014) observes: “The „language‟ that writers and painters use finds its parallels in form, structure and intent.” This explains the need for metaphor in compositions, such as painting.
An artwork produced through a metaphorical rendition of forms is known as visual metaphor, pictorial metaphor or analogical juxtaposition. (Nordquist, 2017). Metaphor is incorporated in visual and auditory art, to portray events, thoughts and imagery. Carrol (2001) claims that some artworks are considered as metaphoric, because they communicate in the same way as verbal metaphors. It is not mainly the exploration of form in a medium that results into a work that is metaphorical. In other words, visual metaphor is idea based. It is a combination of form and content.
In painting, metaphorical rendition of forms came to prominence in modernist era. Postimpressionism, Fauvism, Symbolism, Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Cubism, Dada and Surrealism are among the modern art movements that used metaphorical approach. In Postmodernism, metaphorical rendition of forms is used by Minimalist, Video, Performance, Conceptual and Installation artists. Metaphorical rendition of forms is further elucidated by the works of some contemporary artists, such as HadiehShafie, El Anatsui, Eva Obodo, Jerry Buhari, Mua‟zu Sani, Jacob Jari, NnennaOkore, EzeNgene and SuzanAnthony-Dingba. Shafie uses luminous circular scrolls as metaphors in her works, to express the seductive power of love and passion (Ritzel, 2016). In another instance, Jari uses discarded materials in his work as metaphor, that expresses the need to give an individual a second chance to make amend of his past mistakes (Joshua, 2015).
Despite these aesthetic developments, neither the metaphorical rendition of forms nor the use of root forms has been exhausted in painting. Root forms appear to be subjects for creating compositions in painting that have not been given attention by Nigerian artists. Some artists have studied elements in nature, especially roots in the production of their artworks.Vincent Van Gogh, IshrathHumairah, DaylaLuttwak, Mary Shiros and others have explored roots alongside elements and principles of design.
DaylaLuttwak uses steel to produce root-inspired metal sculptures while Tonge deploys aerial roots in his animation. Despite the beauty of their realistic depictions, the root forms are not rendered metaphorically. The researcher acknowledges their concepts, philosophies, materials, styles and techniques, in consideration with the elements and principles of design inherent in the root forms, especially line, colour, texture, depth and movement. A closer look at the root-inspired works of these artists shows that there is little attempt at rendering root forms metaphorically. In most of the paintings reviewed, other plant and environmental imageries are added to the composition. These facts point to the need for an in-depth study of root forms. Captivated by the root forms of Cassia tora, the researcher embarks on a task to develop compositions in painting that would thrive on metaphorical rendition of root forms.
The use of plant roots to create painting composition, especially in transforming space and forms, remains among the areas that have not been given adequate scholarly attention by Nigerian painters. Some artists have made significant contributions to knowledge in the study of plant roots. However, few have solely studied root forms for the purpose of artistic expression in painting. Vincent Van Gogh, IshrathHumairah, Cedar Lee and Mary Shiros are among the artists who have used root forms in producing paintings. In the paintings of these artists, it is observed that beside root forms, the artists added the images of plants and other landforms to their compositions. They made little attempts at drawing analogy between the root forms and socio-cultural affairs, such as well-being. Roots were depicted for their literal visual translation. Their major focus is technical dexterity with the elements and principles of design, hence this study.
1.3 Justification of the Study
This study is justified as it will add to the existing practices for rendition of forms, within the context of contemporary art practices. The common practice by artists working with nature is mostly realistic styles of interpreting plant roots. A metaphorical rendition of forms in painting has not been given adequate scholarly attention in Nigeria. The works of revolutionary artists, like Vincent van Gogh, and contemporary artists, such as Erika Pochybova-Johnson, El Anatsui and, Eva Obodo, who, in their quest to create new thinking, have also created new languages peculiar to their arts. As another evidence that art involves aesthetics and intellectual importance, this study is also justified as it follows the same manner in its attempt at possibly creating new thinking.
1.4 Aim and Objectives of the Study
The aim of this study is to use the root forms of Cassis tora plant to create paintings that will reflect on wellbeing of Nigerians metaphorically. The objectives are to:
explore the dynamic features of Cassia tora root pattern in painting;infuse symbolic colours into the root forms to enhance their metaphoric content;generate compositions in painting with the nodes of Cassia tora;create paintings with multiple root patterns of Cassia tora; andlift the metaphoric content of Cassia tora root forms using unconventional materials, such as beads, raffia, jute, polythene, woollen yarns and fabric offcuts.
1.5 Research Questions
How can the dynamic features of Cassia tora root patterns be used for painting?How can the metaphoric content of the root forms be enhanced with symbolic colours?In what ways can compositions be generated in painting with the nodes of Cassia tora?In what ways can paintings be created with multiple root patterns of Cassia tora?By what means can the metaphoric content of Cassia tora root forms be lifted using unconventional materials?
1.6 Significance of the Study
This study is significant, due to its deviation from the traditional way of depicting a subject matter such as root by using Cassia tora root forms to create conceptual paintings. Creating painting using Cassia tora root forms is an aesthetic statement that serves as an innovative approach for painters in portraying emotional and socio-cultural well-being. It is a stimulus of philosophical thoughts that invokes the notion of „elevating the ordinary (weed, such as Cassia tora)‟ to the „extraordinary visual symbol‟. It transcends the phenomenon of root beyond its botanical garden into an icon of artistic expression with profound metaphorical significance.
1.7 Delimitation of the Study
This study is restricted to the use of roots as a source of inspiration in painting. It focuses on the roots of Cassia tora specie (Leguminosae Family of Plants) located in Zaria, Nigeria. The choice is due to its distinct visual characteristics that the artist considered to be uncommon with the root systems of other plants.
1.8 Conceptual Framework
The conceptual framework for this study hinges on the ideas of Post-Impressionism with particular reference to the abstract paintings of Vincent Van Gogh. Post-Impressionists tenets were based on the portrayal of emotion, intellect and visual imagery. They deployed vivid colours, often thick application of paint, and real-life subject matter. Van Gogh was more inclined to distort forms for expressive effect as exemplified by “Tree roots and trunks”. He redefined forms to express his emotions. His dedication to articulating the inner spirituality of man and nature, led to a unique fusion of style and content that resulted in dramatic, imaginative, rhythmic, and emotive canvases (Adams, 2011). Van Gogh used an impulsive, gestural application of paint and symbolic colours to express subjective emotions. As stated by Gardner and Kleiner (2013), Van Gogh “explored the capabilities of colours and distorted forms to express his emotions as he confronted nature.” capabilities of colours and distorted forms to express his emotions as he confronted nature.”
This study adopts Van Gogh‟s approach of rendition of forms, thus serving as a major stimulus in articulating a concept in painting with the root forms of Cassia tora. In Van Gogh‟s paintings, forms are transformed with short strokes of lines with symbolic colours. In like manners, this study deploys textured planes, impasto background and root forms combined with symbolic vibrant colours to create compositions in paintings. With the combination of various Cassia tora root forms however, the study extends Van Gogh‟s ideas in painting. Van Gogh‟s paintings focused on expressing his emotions. The researcher‟s compositions in painting conversely, transforms root forms in diverse ways, as metaphors for inspiration, hope, aspiration, reincarnation, hero, among others, that reflect on the well-being of Nigerians.
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