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Nneka Uzoigwe joined us as our Artist in Residence for the summer of 2021. Nneka developed a new collection of large-scale paintings exploring the male body in imagined landscapes, in response to the works on display in the exhibition Henry Scott Tuke (7 June - 12 September 2021).

Nneka spent much of her time here at Watts Gallery - Artists' Village, meeting visitors, exploring the site and working a stone's throw away from where Henry Scott Tuke's paintings were exhibited. At the end of her residency Nneka's collection of paintings were displayed in our Historic Galleries amongst George Frederic Watts's work.

Nneka also spent lots of time working en plein air (painting outdoors). Here you can see the behind-the-scenes of Nneka at work at the beach, working on The Blue Men of Minch.

An oil painting on an easel of a collection of large sea shells on a red cloth
A woman sits by a river underneath a bridge, she wears a white blouse and there is a dark crown on her head. The full moon is visible behind her over the river

Nneka Uzoigwe, Alix and Her Hair Crowns, 2021, oil on linen

Alix and Her Hair Crowns

This painting is part of a collection that delves into imagination and dreams, it depicts my friend with her beautiful creations of hair crowns, crocheted from Afro hair.

Depicted with her hair crowns beneath an arch on the grass, she waits quietly for a gilt Jupiter and his moons to ascend into the night sky. In the dark forest below, chessmen line up.

An oil painting on an easel of a large sea shell on the back of a sprawled, dark figure.

Nneka Uzoigwe, Triton's Carapace, 2021, oil on wood

Triton's Carapace

Triton is the Greek demi-god of the sea. Represented in many forms, his most popular is human with a tail of the fish, with a conch used as a horn to command the waves. He is reimagined here as a marine snail, with his shell not as an accessory but as an extension of himself and home.

I was struck by the gentle muteness of G F Watts painting A Sea Ghost, while I was painting this piece. I wanted a feeling of tranquil stillness and abstractness of this sea god, on the bottom of the sea floor. Keeping the colours soft and hazy. His ruby earring echoes Tuke's contrasting use of red in Ruby, Gold and Malachite.

Oil on linen depicting jellyfish-like swimming men

Nneka Uzoigwe, Ebisu’s Jellyfish, 2021, oil on linen

Ebisu's Jellyfish

Ebisu in Japanese mythology is one of the Seven Gods of luck and the patron of fishermen and tradesmen. He is associated with many forms, one of them being jellyfish.

This vision of Ebisu's Jellyfish was first conceived while listening to Claude Debussy's La mer. We as humans are known to have evolved from the sea. These jellyfish men not only represent myth but also a vision of an early prehistoric human, half-man/half-sea organism.

In the development stage, I was also getting familiar with Henry Scott Tuke's palette. I had just completed a study of Tuke's Back of Boy Bather and used it to inform my colour palette. I made the tendrils of the jellyfish an extension of the male form and used a mixture of bright skin tones from the boy's pinkish face and icy cobalt and others from the sea.

Two nude figures on the beach with a small boat and sea

Nneka Uzoigwe, The Blue Men of Minch, 2021, oil on linen

The Blue Men of Minch

The Blue Men of Minch are mythological creatures that swim along the stretch of water between the Outer Hebrides and mainland Scotland. Blue in colour, they have the power to create storms and capsize ships. Pictured here the Blue Men are resting on the shore bed with a beached lifeboat, with the recently capsized children of Triton crawling to safety.

Watch Nneka talk more about her paintings:

Visit Nneka's website for more.