Head of Sale
Sold for £189,300 inc. premium
Submit your item online for a free auction estimate.How to sell
Our African Modern & Contemporary Art specialists can help you find a similar item at an auction or via a private sale.Find your local specialist
Head of Sale
Acquired in Lagos in the 1960's;
A private collection.
Lagos, Goethe-Institute, (9-31 December 1966), 15.
London, Commonwealth Institute Art Gallery, Contemporary Nigerian Art, (20th June - 21st July 1968), 62.
Ikpakronyi, Simon O., Master of Masters, Yusuf Grillo: His Life and Works, ed. Paul Chike Dike & Patricia Oyelola, (Nigeria: National Gallery of Art, 2006), pp. 65-66. (illustrated)
Commonwealth Institute Art Gallery, Contemporary Nigerian Art, An exhibition assembled by the Society of Nigerian Artists, (London: Commonwealth Institute Art Gallery, 1968) (illustrated)
Simon O. Ikpakronyi identifies the subject of this work as 'Kokoro', a blind musician who became well known in Lagos. Ikpakronyi documents him as travelling around neighbourhoods, knocking on doors and collecting money. With some people paying him lots of money in order to support him, it can be concluded that Kokoro became a familiar face of the community. Remembered today in music circles Kokoro, who became blind from the age of 10, left a legacy in Yoruba music circles, particularly for being an early pioneer for juju, a popular music genre, singing about urban life, love, poverty, and conflict.
It could be concluded that, in line with the artist's own love of music and interest in musical instruments, Grillo saw KoKoro as an appropriate subject given his fascination with social documentation, as he said:
'I used to go close, watch and join the music, look at the dancers and join them too. They made a very, very strong impression, an indelible impression. And what interests me most is what the drummers do when they are not actually playing. That is, when they have an interval at which time they try to re-tune their instruments, that is, the drum skins, which they place over a small fire. They wold get some rough paper together, light it and place the drum over it so that the skin would be taut. The fact is that when they have been drumming, the skin goes a little slack, so the sound is not what it should be. Hence, they do all that just to warm it and make it taut, to bring back the desired sound. These are some of the things in traditional drumming that interest me most.' (Professor Yusuf Grillo, 13th November 2005).
Indeed, the role of the male drummer is a recurring theme within the artist's work as seen in 'Drummers and Dancers' 1964, throughout his career to Lead Drummer (2003-09). In respect to the prior mentioned paintings, a commonality is detectable within these works in that the drummers are usually male figures in groups. Thus, the present work is rare example under this subject matter as it is a portrait of a strikingly identifiable character within the artist's body of work. Grillo's seemingly preferential use of the drum above other instruments may be due to its rhythmic interplay as with Yoruba language, hence why the traditional drum iya ilu translates to the "talking drum". Therefore, the artist's patronage to his Yoruba heritage may also indicate his desire to include a musical and performative element of specifically the drum to this work.
Furthermore, in keeping with the iconic blue palette that distinguishes the artist from his contemporaries, Blind Minstrel holds a prominent and important position in the artist's oeuvre. A fantastic example of his geometrically compositional works, where by planes of blue hues assemble to create an image, the present work is indicative of the dynamism that is catalysed by Grillo's love of mathematics and art.
Simon O. Ikpakronyi, Master of Masters, Yusuf Grillo: His Life and Works, ed. Paul Chike Dike & Patricia Oyelola, (Nigeria: National Gallery of Art, 2006)
Toyin Falola, Culture and customs of Nigeria, (London: Greenwood Press, 2001)