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IKE FRANCIS, A KINDRED SPIRIT AND MY BROTHER

Updated: Jan 30

He is my cousin, and I have been friends since my time when he was studying at University of Port Harcourt. Ikechukwu Francis Okoronkwo, aka IkeFrancis to you aka Kindred to those who know him from Oguta has come a long way. The fifth of six children- two daughters and four sons, he had a humble and noble beginning in life.  He ended up doing a master’s degree program in Painting under Professor Chike Aniakor and has since become Aniakor’s favorite son and prodigy.

IkeFrancis was called Kindred (pronounced Kin-Dread) in my village by his peers and had dug deep roots into Rastafarianism. He and his friends formed a three-man Reggae singing group and they performed in the early eighties at Charley Boy’s Oguta Studio and Bar. They even released an album produced by Charley Boy. That album brought fame in our village circle, but not beyond. At some point then, he would visit me in our country home, and we would gist while I painted on the balcony of our two-storey building on 59 A.C. Nwapa Road, Oguta. His house was on the same street, a few compounds away. Then, he was enamored with the scrap metal sculptures that pervaded the growing Art School at University of Port Harcourt, Choba, Rivers State. I also took note of his multi-colored palette of pastel-colored oil paintings executed alla prima with a palette knife.

We often discussed the artistic climate in Nsukka- Aniakor, Udechukwu, Chika Okeke, El Anatsui , etc. I was pleasantly surprised to hear of his admission to gain a Master of Painting Degree from my alma mater. He investigated the power of Visual Language, and combined it with Poetry in his paintings, creating a Morph that delighted Professor Aniakor, who was still at Nsukka then. Ike Francis’ mural still adorns the outer wall of one of the Art History classes in Nsukka.

At Nsukka, he met then Sri Lankan female painter Sukanthy Visaggaperumal, my contemporary in the Art School. IkeFrancis has done well as a painter, and featured in many art exhibitions here, and abroad. It was in his paintings that I saw the use of circuit boards for the first time (I could swear that he introduced this element as a medium in Painting even before the renowned Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya, but this would distract from the intention of this essay, which is to showcase the Nigerian artist that signs off as IkeFrancis).

Ike Francis has also had his share of accolades. He won a Painting award from the Spanish Embassy in Nigeria; and more recently, won the third-place prize at the last Lagos Black Heritage Festival organized with sponsorship from the Catalina de Medici Foundation, Italy, two years ago. I visited his hotel by the seaside in Oniru, Lagos, where he and about twenty-nine other shortlisted painters were lodged by the organizers of the LBHF Art Competition. I had been among the hundreds of artists interviewed before the beginning of the contest, at the Civic Centre, Lagos. I was not lucky to be nominated as one of the finalists, though I was pleased to have participated in some artistic events alongside other artists.

Another interesting relationship in his life, and work, was the long-term friendship between him and Sam Ovraiti. Both artists’ works share great similarities in their composition and execution of female figures- the tall slim figures with hair falling across their faces, all formed in a broken kaleidoscope of colors. The major differentiating factor in their works, for me, is in the use of media- Ovraiti is a master of Watercolor while Ike Francis works mainly with Acrylics.

Ike Francis is my brother, a kindred spirit who has shared life, laughter, and Art with me. I recall how nicely he cooked some catfish we caught trapped in some abandoned fishnet at the nearby stream in the village. We have strategized together about making it big, chased after women together like every other full-blooded jolly fellow went fishing at the stream, slept, and eaten together. In fact, he left for Port Harcourt from my house today. He is Professor Aniakor’s first son, and still visits Aniakor in Calabar to receive mentorship and fatherly advice on sundry matters. Hail, Ike Francis aka Ike-kindred aka Ikechukwu Okoronkwo, you are one of us, Umu-Uli.

We are still making plans to make it big as Artists someday soon. Our paths still crisscross. Presently, he teaches Art at the University of Port Harcourt and is struggling to finish a Doctorate Degree program there as well.

IKE FRANCIS aka IKE OKORONKWO

The artist IKE OKORONKWO aka IKE FRANCIS aka KINDRED

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