Head of Sale
£150,000 - £200,000
Head of Sale
Acquired directly from the artist in 1969;
Thence by descent to the current owner.
Arguably one of the most prominent post-colonial modern artists and advancer of the subject, Yusuf Grillo's (1934-2021) influential and meticulously executed oeuvre encapsulates the vivaciousness of modern Lagos life. The Seventh Knot (1969) is characteristic of some of Grillo's most famous and successful work, yet prominent in its dynamic composition and scale.
As a key figure of the Zaria Art Society, Grillo, and his contemporaries such as Demas Nwoko, Uche Okeke and Bruce Onobrakpeya, directed the trajectory of what post-colonial African art would look like. Coining the term 'natural synthesis', Uche Okeke presented the ideology of Modern West African art as an informed incorporation of pre-colonial and Western art motifs, displaying an evolvement in subject matter, medium, and execution. Challenging colonial interference which attempted to eradicate pre-colonial practices and depictions, the society aimed to take ownership of their culture, history, and art. In Grillo's view, he criticised the nationalist efforts made by some post-colonial artists to out rightly reject the impact colonisation had as to do so would consciously limit instinctive creative intuition within artistic practice. The priority for Grillo, was to produce work with a heightened emphasis for the process of painting itself and vigorous study of palette and form.
"This politically desirable aim often forms the philosophy of many a contemporary artist, with the sad result that sincere creative urges are replaced by over consciously chauvinistic syntheses."
Yusuf A. Grillo,"Appreciations of Felix Idubor", African Arts 2:1 (autumn 1968), p. 33.
Characteristic of some of the most successful pieces of Grillo's oeuvre, The Seventh Knot (1969) displays the geometrical forms and shapes that acknowledge Grillo's love of mathematics, a theme that has been stimulated in a wide body of the works created by the artist. This abstraction technique presents us with a female raising both arms behind her head, seemingly with effort to assemble her head piece. Following his education at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria in 1951, Grillo was fascinated not only by the visual aesthetic that these planes of colour could achieve but also the way they could convey a metaphysical world beyond realistic notions of painting was quintessential of Grillo's creative process. Here, we can see these bold geometric planes differentiated by thick black brushstrokes and varying tones of blue and purple, creating the movement and dynamism throughout the work. This work may be compositionally reminiscent of a figure in Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon(1907) which could well have informed his work. However, this also neatly acknowledges Yoruba sculpture as the route of inspiration as Picasso's cubist work, allowing 'natural synthesis' to come full circle.
Perhaps the most consistent element of Grillo's work that can be seen to span the course of his career (albeit in phases or recurring years) is his palette of blues and purples at their varying depths and derivatives. Possibly aesthetically influenced by both Picasso's 'blue period' (1901-1904) and more significantly adire dye (commonly used in Yoruba communities for dying clothes), Grillo has not explicitly confirmed his colour inspiration. However, by having a coherent colour palette system, Grillo allows a conversation to be formulated between colour and compositional form which dominates his work allowing extensive narrative possibilities within the aesthetic cohesion of this painting.
Heavily influenced by his Yoruba heritage and traditions, a subject that is thematically consistent within his paintings, the work depicts a woman tying the final knot in her gele (headscarf) as was traditional form of attire for Yoruba women. Painted during the years of the Nigerian/Biafran war (1967-1970), Nigeria was a conflict zone, Grillo used the female symbol to illustrate struggle, endurance and stoicism, intrinsic motifs in his work at the time. Bookended by works such as Blue Moon(1966) and African Woman in Gele(1975) we can see the thematic interest in how the Yoruba woman presents herself, eyes downcast or turned away from the viewer. In comparison to these works, it can be concluded that the The Seventh Knot is synonymous in palette, execution, and subject, whilst holding an outstanding position as one of the artist's most dynamic works in composition.
We are grateful to Chika Okeke-Agulu for his assistance in our compilation of this footnote.
Yusuf A. Grillo, "Appreciations of Felix Idubor", African Arts 2:1 (autumn 1968)
Simon O. Ikpakronyi, Master of Masters, Yusuf Grillo: His Life and Works, ed. Paul Chike Dike & Patricia Oyelola, (Nigeria: National Gallery of Art, 2006)