Prince Twins Seven Seven
Primarily a self-trained artist, Twins Seven Seven received his only instruction when he participated in the informal Osogbo workshops in the 1960s and interacted with European expatriates, including Ulli Beier (1922–2011), and Georgiana Beier (b. 1936), and Susanne Wenger (1915–2009). His style is typified by a frenzied network of fine lines, sumptuous patterning, and emotive coloration ‒ traits reminiscent of the luminosity and finesse of medieval miniature painting. Rarely rooted in reality, his subjects are hybrid creatures drawn from the complex Yoruba cosmogony or even his own imagined folklore. The main creature in Devil’s Dog (1964) is inspired by a work of contemporary literature, demonstrating the confluence of the visual and the written arts in Nigeria. Impelled by the Yoruba structure of storytelling that Amos Tutuola (1920–1997) used in his magical realist novels, Twins Seven Seven seamlessly integrates the fantastical and the spiritual to a disorienting effect in this painting.
Sporting an ornately patterned headdress, a three-eyed, five-legged creature gazes back across the rainbow of its feathered body and snake-headed, scale-encrusted tail. The mammoth’s creature’s expressionless gaze leads the viewer to the pale owl-like face growing beneath its own skin ‒ just one of several intricately rendered visages scattered throughout the composition. Within its flat surface and overwhelming cacophony of lines, this painting brims with frenetic energy. Working at the intersection of foreign instruction, Nigerian literature, and the wilds of his own imagination, Seven Seven uses the rib of a palm leaf as his delicate painting tool, allowing him to capture the unseen world with decadent ornamentation.
Prince Twins Seven Seven started his artistic career as a dancer and musician in Nigeria. While traveling with a medicine show in 1964 he came to Oshogbo and spontaneously danced at an event of the Mbari Mbayo Club, a group supporting African arts. The German linguist and author Ulli Beier (1922–2011), a promoter of Nigerian art and culture, recognized Prince’s talent and outstanding personality and convinced him to remain with the group. That year Prince attended a workshop by Beier’s wife, Georgina Beier, and created his first pen-and-ink drawing, Devil’s Dog (1964). From the beginning his works stood out, due to their colorful palette and imaginative, tightly woven imagery, mostly inspired by the Yoruba folklore, religion, and everyday life. His spontaneous compositions—which ignored rules of form, perspective, and proportion—feature patterns based on traditional textiles. Prince became a leading representative of the Oshogbo School and a widely recognized, influential artist. His work was exhibited in Oshogbo, Lagos, Europe, and the United States, where he settled in the late 1980s. In 1989 his work was shown in the exhibition Magiciens de la Terre (Magicians of the Earth) at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and in 2005 he was designated UNESCO Artist for Peace.