How else do you explain his multiple talents, plus the fact that he, literally, started to see colours from his mother’s womb? The master designer wasn’t born with a brush in his hand, but he had eyes for beauty from the start.
“I saw myself as an artist from the beginning. My father refused my uncle taking me to Lagos. He said, ‘don’t take Paddy to Lagos. He will start looking at things and vehicles will knock him down.’ I was still small, about six. From looking, I started to draw. Things that were beautiful attracted me, human beings, flowers and trees. Nature was part of me and I started drawing without being taught how to” said the Aba-born artist, a native of Emekuku in Owerri North Local Government .
The ingenious Obinna didn’t study art in secondary school. He did geometry and wood work but was attending art shows on his own and winning medals.
“I read my first diploma in art while working as a civil servant. So I knew from the beginning that I was an artist. I have never stopped being an artist. I will die also an artist,” he said like a stubborn child, while sharing portraits of his creativity at his workshop on Njiribako Street.
The artist, designer, writer and publisher has earned local and international recognition for his paintings, drawings, sculptures and designs. At home, his paintings can be found in churches, public buildings, exhibitions, galleries and private homes. The exotic fibre glass murals in the St Joseph’s wing of the Assumpta Cathedral are part of his many creations, so are the window murals at the Mater dei Cathedral Umuahia. Obinna designed the Ahiajoku and Odenigbo lectures logos as well as the Imo 98′ Festival logo and Mascot. His work can also be seen at the Multi Purpose Hall, Pine Wood and La Perch Hotels, Shell Hall, Warri and the Owerri Recreational Park.
Obinna is versatile and his works speak for themselves. However, he worries that, like reading, art and craft are dying silently in many of our schools. Whereas in those days students were trained in clay work, needle work, painting and basketry, one hardly sees such in schools these days.
“I took it as a challenge in the 80s, during the Sam Mbakwe days and I applied to go and teach the teachers. I went as far as Ohaozara, Afikpo and Aba teaching teachers craft to teach the children. I was teaching them all kinds of craft, basketry, weaving, tie n’ dye, batik and drawing, even to use local dyes, indigo, to dye clothes. We got people to teach basic needle work but now young people cannot stitch even their own clothes,” the artist observed with apprehension.
“Our children are passing through the university but the university is not passing through them. If you doubt me, call them for an interview and ask them to write the application right there. You will finish the interview of 100 people in 30 minutes. If you ask them to write an application, they will prefer to go home and bring you their CV. The way they write is the way they send texts on their cell phones.”
The multi-skilled artist has written several books and developed educational games. But, regrettably, none is in the schools’ curriculum as yet. Notwithstanding, the creative Obinna continues to work hard. He would not let his pen dry or his thoughts perish. A stickler for excellence, the artist maintains an originality that baffles and impresses art lovers. He’s the proud architect of what he calls “Paddysm” – a tribute to his versatility and originality.
“I am not a copy cat in any facet of my life. Paddysm is the concept of Ahamefule – my own style because I keep asking people, ‘who graduated the first graduates and who taught the first teacher?’ Since I was born an artist, I am not prepared to copy anybody’s style of doing things,” he said.
Like his younger brother, Archbishop AJV Obinna who is spreading the message of Jesus Christ through the church, Paddy, as he likes to be called, is also spreading the message of originality on canvas. Unlike the priest, however, the artist is a radical and has been that from his youth.
“Paddy hasn’t changed much from how he grew up. I see myself as one radical person. My mother said I knocked down as many things as possible. At a stage, they said I had marks on my face because when I was angry, I’d scratch myself. I was also a very independent exploratory thinker. I am a typical Aba man, the way you want it, I will give it to you,” said the former Bishop Shanahan schoolboy, one of 12 children of a strict headmaster and his wife.
Asked what influence he has on his brother, the archbishop, he replied:
“He’s not influenceable and we don’t care. We have sacrificed him; he has sacrificed us. What many people don’t know about our relationship with the archbishop is that we mind our business. The priesthood is not a family affair. It’s a priestly affair in the service of God and humanity and I belong to the larger entity of his family. He no longer has a nuclear family despite the fact that he’s Obinna and I am Obinna. Sometimes people come and say, ‘go and tell the archbishop’. I say ‘eeeeeeeeh, go there, the same privilege you have is the same privilege I have,” he added.
But how come it was his brother who became a priest and not Paddy?
“He was a much quieter person than all of us,” he explained. “I remember when my father took us to visit the then Bishop as boys. We all knelt down and after blessing us he said, ‘I know one of you is going to become a priest’ and he was also holding Tony by the hand, so maybe he was already being picked to be a priest.” He recalled, chuckling.
“The moment he decided he was going to be a priest, he was on his own. All we did was to support him. When he was ordained all of us were excited and wore our Christmas clothes. But some people asked me to bless them because we looked alike and, of course, I did bless them by telling them, ‘God bless you’,” he added, laughing.
The father of four may not be qualified to pronounce blessings officially in a Catholic church but he has blessed many with his work and creativity. And now, he wants to bring joy to the elderly through care giving. The artist is designing a new “life” for the elderly with his Carnirag Elderly Home initiative.
“You can have money but your money can never develop legs. I have practiced with my mother-in -law who lived with me for ten years. I’ve learnt to change pampers, pull her up in bed, wash her, put her on the commode, feed and check her pressure. She became a good experimental model for me,” he explained.
“With our loss of the nuclear and extended family, who will take care of us? I know what it took me to get a helper to care for my mother-in-law. Many old people are getting abandoned so much that if you get into their rooms you cannot enter because the place is unkempt. They are urinating and messing up the place, sleeping and rolling over their dirt with their clothes unwashed. We will employ visiting care givers and do home visitations for those who need it.”
That’s the latest design by the artist.