Long ago in Africa a fisherman’s daughter, from the Igbo tribe, caught me in her net, a passer by from a Paris tribe.
I stayed raising a family.
I stayed training people with careers and opportunities.
They stayed showing me around, opening my eyes.
I stayed, becoming a brother of the African dust, hoping that my brush, one day, meets other brothers and sister’s hearts.
Brother Louis Duval
A Frenchman in Africa
I was born as Louis Duval in 1939 in Paris with my twin brother just before the second World War.
As an over impressive child, this awful period left gruelling memories. There was no food in Paris. I remember running to the cellar for cover, bombs dropping, whistling. I was seven when I received my first Christmas gift: an orange. We were lucky to have such caring parents.
My dear father was a silent gifted part-time artist who transmitted me with his artistic virus. My first art exhibition was at the age of 7, perhaps 8, in a primary school contest. A first price for a display of pasted drawings showing a funny train.
I graduated in 1961 from “The College Estienne of Graphics Arts and Industries” in Paris. I was trained as a technician although one third of the curriculum covered visual recording and Art subjects. We visited museums, museums and museums either with the college or with dad. Paris was and is amazing!
My second exhibition was during my army time as a conscript training for the Algeria war. I had a mental breakdown and landed in the infirmary where I started to paint my inner feelings rooted in my childhood war time. Days became weeks, and weeks became months. I painted and painted with water colours. I created over fifty pieces displayed in the infirmary, viewed by visiting soldiers. Some became influenced, rather deeply distressed and went on strike. That’s when I understood the power of visual communication.
I was put aside in a military psychiatric hospital, still receiving many curious visitors. Some offered to exhibit my work in Paris. After being discharged from the army, as a damage control strategy, I spent over a year in the Latin Quarter of Paris meddling with artists and polishing my fine art skills. I discovered the artists’ distressing way of life, distorting their talents to please a buyer. I decided to remain a technician and become a dropout free artist.
I went to work in Lagos Nigeria in 1968 in a large printing company during the Biafra war. I married Paulina from the Igbo tribe and raised a family of three. Nigeria was a revelation. So much culture, colour, art and craft, contradiction, ugly and beautiful things constantly mixed up, music, speaking drums, noise, cries and smiles! A ideal place for a dreaming artist mind!
As a Prepress manager and later as work director, I took staff training as a major obligation. At that time, there were no available skilled labour to meet the production requirement. There I learned that helping a Nigerian would give you a friend for life. I became their respected brother and they guided me, discovering beauty in simplicity. This was the time I took the Brush name of Fra Dehele, (Fra for Brother in ancient Christian congregations and D L for my initial).
I continued painting as past time until I met General Obasanjo former head of state and did his portrait in oil. He became my Patron for an exhibition in 1985 at the Onikan Museum in Lagos. At that time no one in the company knew about my secret artist life.
In 1999, I moved to Kenya to assist in creating a College: “Academy of Graphic Technologies” for the printing industry. What an exciting up and down adventure! A lot of my paintings were about wildlife in Kenya. There were near none in Nigeria. I exhibited once in Ole Sereni Hotel under my employer Mr. Kuldip Bhakoo patronage.
In Nairobi, short of space at home, I hung my artworks in an old countryside Art Centre Paa Ya Paa, friends of our college.
I use creativity to please myself and, hopefully, sharing a feeling of African pride.
In my 80s, I returned to France to share the end of the day with Paulina, my fisherman’s daughter, from the Igbo tribe.
I am still dreaming and painting.
Louis / Fra