Nneka Uzoigwe: Waking Dream

Nneka Uzoigwe is a figurative artist based in London. Nneka trained in the classic atelier method at London Fine Art Studios, where she now teaches part-time. During her time studying, Nneka received the De Laszlo Foundation Scholarship on two consecutive years, 2016–2017. In 2020, Nneka was included in the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition where she received The De Laszlo Foundation Award.

When Nneka submitted work for our 2020 Summer Exhibition we were astounded by the beauty and serenity of her paintings and a level of maturity in the work not often seen in someone so young. It is her technical ability to create a rich tapestry of elements in thoughtful, striking compositions that won her the Green & Stone first place prize for her painting ‘Peonies in a Family Vase’. As a result, Green & Stone of Chelsea is delighted to host Nneka’s first-ever solo show.

This exhibition includes a selection of work introducing the different themes that have steered Nneka towards her dreamlike compositions. We are able to trace Nneka’s work as it transitions into the realm of the surreal through the key tropes that dominate her scenes; the repetition of objects and the focus on enigmatic women, Nneka’s interest in the transportive quality of objects are the keys to her memory and the portals to another world. Nneka presents us with glimpses of her thought processes on a specially created Wall of Curiosities festooned with the personal objects that serve as familiar touchstones within the dreamlike scenes of the paintings.

Magic, dreams and the imagination underpin Nneka’s work. This becomes clear as you are drawn further into each painting. At first glance a scene appears recognisable, familiar, ‘normal’, but as you step closer you realise how generous these paintings are: earrings made from oranges, shell doorknobs and knitted pears are just a few of the eccentric details that transport the viewer into Nneka’s imagination.

Nneka approaches each painting by capturing a spontaneous thought, apparition or dream in its pure form and resists meddling with its intention or reasoning. Nneka then continues to set up the vision, containing as many elements as possible that can be painted from life, to give the painting a tangible feel. She says, “when creating a scene it is essential not to force the issue, to allow it to happen naturally. I rotate ideas and objects until I’m captured by the sense of rhythm”. This is one reason why movement plays such a defining role in much of Nneka’s work, perpetuating an ‘in the moment’ concept of time. This is evident in ‘Mirari’, where thin wisps of smoke rise from recently extinguished candle wicks. Or ‘Marine Room’ where the water cascades through the open window and once again in ‘Bell, Book and Candle’ where the girl is captivated by the rise of the lamp chimney. Such a percipient snapshot of time creates action within the scene, reflecting the surrealist vein of her work: nothing must be overthought or overworked, simply paint the scene as it happens.

Nneka uses light for ethereal and subliminal effects and as a tool to guide the viewer’s eye within each frame. Once again returning to ‘Mirari’, a selection of shells are reflected and abstracted in the central mirror. When asked why she has included the shells on the table Nneka replies “because I like them, and I am drawn to the sea”. The absence of light from the extinguished candles is counterbalanced by the presence of a brightly shining moon, guiding the viewer to the shell scene on the table, sparking curiosity and highlighting Nneka’s love of shells and fascination with the sea. As she says, “each painting is in some ways a self-portrait”.

There is so much optimism in Nneka’s work. She creates a delightful balance between beautiful, traditional techniques of oil portraiture and a touch of modernity and youth. Nneka is in no way limited to paintings reminiscent of Old Masters, a flash of bright pink in ‘Shell Carousel’ and a burst of cobalt blue in ‘Pyewacket’ bring these works into the 21st Century.

The viewer can lose themselves in a daydream when drawn into these enigmatic paintings. We hope that those who come to see Nneka’s work will leave with the same appreciation of otherworldliness that captivated us at Green & Stone.

Nneka’s solo exhibition ‘Waking Dream’ will be on show between 5–18th September 2021. We hope to see many of you there.