Modern & Contemporary African Art | and CCA Lagos Benefit Auction

Modern & Contemporary African Art | and CCA Lagos Benefit Auction

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 62. We live in the deep, 1960-70.

Yusuf Grillo

We live in the deep, 1960-70

Lot Closed

March 22, 04:05 PM GMT


15,000 - 20,000 GBP

Lot Details


Yusuf Grillo



We live in the deep, 1960-70

oil on board

61 by 30.5cm., 24 by 12in.

framed: 63 by 33cm., 24¾ by 13in.

Collection of Uche Okeke (1933–2016), acquired directly from the artist

Thence by direct descent

Acquired from the above by the current owner 

“Pa Onabolu proved to us that art was not about copying, drawing a fish or a frog. Art should make you look and see. Many look, but some don’t see.”

Grillo first studied art in Lagos under Aina Onabolu, the first Nigerian artist trained overseas, from the age of 12 and then at Yaba College of Technology (YCT). In 1956 he secured a Federal Government scholarship to the Nigeria College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria, the first tertiary level art school in Nigeria, where his classmates included Uche Okeke, Demas Nwoko, Simon Okeke, Okechukwu Emmanuel Odita, and Bruce Onobrakpeya. Together, as a direct response to the conventional Western academic training they were subjected to in draughtsmanship and observational realism, on 9 October 1958, they founded the Zaria Art Society. Later referred to as the Zaria Rebels, their aim was to decolonize the visual arts as taught by the expatriate Europeans at the institution.

The formation of the group coincided with a period dominated by nationalistic fervour and with the impending attainment of independence in 1960. The Rebels believed in the celebration of indigenous cultures as a central part of the movement, and the use of unique subject matter in their work. Grillo and his counterparts would have discussions outside of class, sharing ideas and impressing upon each other the importance of documenting the traditions and folklore of the varied cultures of Nigeria people.

Grillo graduated in 1960 and Uche Okeke the following year, marking the end of the Zaria Art Society. Grillo returned to Lagos with a teaching post at King's College, before returning to YCT to teach from late 1961 until his retirement in 1987. Uche Okoke ran his Cultural Centre at Kafanchan, later renamed the Asele Institute, 1961–62, and in 1963 co-founded the Mbari Cultural Center Enugu, which he ran until 1967, when he relocated the Asele Institute to Nimo. After the war in 1970, he joined the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, later becoming head of department. 

Throughout this busy decade the two friends crossed paths several times, despite mostly living in different parts of the country and periods of overseas travel, not least through the work of the Society of Nigerian Artists, founded in January 1964 with Yusuf Grillo as founding president.

While the artist is better-known for his portraits of Yoruba and Lagos subjects, this early work bears all the hallmarks of his unique style: stylised figures and angular, intersecting colour planes reminiscent of the compositional vectors and dynamic arcs of cubo-futurist painting.