Reverence of Thoughts: Rom Isichei

Rele Gallery is delighted to present “Reverence of Thoughts”, the 11th solo exhibition of multi-disciplinary artist ROM Isichei - one of the leading lights of contemporary art in Nigeria. The exhibition title alludes to the notion of representation, using portraits as a mirror in which the viewer might see their thoughts become form, that which is distant now at once, intimate. The collection of portraits highlights varied physical and emotional features that spark a familiar connection.


With an artistic career spanning two decades, ROM has over the years established himself as a prolific artist, organizing a solo exhibition once every two years. These exhibitions usually feature an array of works in multiple mediums showcasing his versatility. His last solo exhibition “Someday is Today” combined drawings on paper with mixed media work (paintings and metal collages).  In convincing ROM to present the unexpected - an exhibition made up entirely of large scale paintings in one medium, the results are startling. Although the human subject continues to be the focus of his works, his approach continues to deepen and expand.


Each human subject has been rendered in ROM’s self-coined “Grains of Dust” technique, an intricate layering process involving saw dust and acrylic. This technique has since evolved from the first time he experimented with the medium in 2003. In the beginning the process was a lot simpler with 2-3 layers of dust, in the current body of work, the layering process has gained greater intensity, with each painting achieving a 3-dimensional quality. Typically, ROM creates from an initial sketch. The finished work is an impressive departure from the sketch. It is hardly anything like the sketch which merely served as a guide. To watch ROM create is to encounter a meticulous, extremely patient artist. What else can one expect of an artist of his caliber but a mature body of work; minimal yet expressive, imposing yet inviting.


The large-scale paintings comprising “Reverence of Thoughts” present intimate portraits etched with the idiosyncrasies of the society we live in. ROM indexes narratives of innocence and abuse in the granular faces of human subjects that he has gathered on the various canvases. Full of expressions and more pronounced in some of the canvases, the faces narrate viscerally. In other canvases, the expressions are more modulated and task our imaginations to draw out those stories. These are stories we are daily inundated with – child abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, among others. Children are stripped of innocence. They become young adults because of what is foisted on them by society. Yet, many of these kids retain a stolid innocence, braving all odds as some of the portraits attest to. As viewers, we can feel the palpable emotions of the represented human subjects. The characters are recognizable to us. We see them every day on the streets -- from Lagos, Cairo, Aleppo, Caracas to New Delhi.  ROM succeeds in crafting a universal story.


For us at Rele Gallery, our commitment to organizing exhibitions and presenting works that capture the pulse of society remains ever resolute.  The entire body of work assembled in the exhibition is an excellent and powerful reminder of our role as a public space and as an incorrigible purveyor of human stories.