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Adébayo Bolaji

Artist 290

Adébayo Bolaji

Psychoanalysis / Introspection


Adebayo Tibabalase Bolaji (born in 1983) is an English multidisciplinary artist who specializes in the artistic process as an act of completion. He is also an actor, writer and director. Adébayo Bolaji describes his style of painting as a form of psychoanalysis.

He puts it simply: “Essentially, actors are the paint, and the director is the composer. Now, I am immediately letting out what’s coming through, no one else is getting in the way of that.”

His work is full with references to personal history, as well as cultural notes from his Nigerian heritage and home city, London.

The use of cultural references from his Yoruba Nigerian heritage is central to his work, but also comes with problems. Bolaji was born and has lived his entire life in London, a factor of importance often missed by those who generalise his style as African World Art.

The artist, himself, would prefer less pigeonholing. “I am a Londoner of Nigerian heritage, but it doesn't have to be either/or.” His comments reflect upon the realities for many black artists in the largely white world of contemporary painting.

“People say, ‘oh you paint black bodies’, and I say, ‘As opposed to what? Are you so conditioned to what you see that the standard body must be white?’ They see me, a black boy painting black bodies, and they go ‘Africa!’ Yes, there are West African connotations in the work, but people come to me and say I should sell it further down that route – the African route – and I’m like no, people come to my art because they love it, because it gets them.”

Bolaji believes that ideas choose the medium of execution. His painting method follows a marinating process for the pieces to

be completed, which is why Bolaji often steps away from the canvas while simultaneously working on multiple projects.

At the centre of his practice is the dialogue of change and the focus of the individual within a connecting society whether that be anthropological, religious, historical or popular culture. The use of the vibrant and metaphorical language, is a crucial element in his work, helping to narrate a different story within each painting allowing for the viewer to take an active role in the works.

Bolaji is a self-taught artist and came to work with the medium of paint later on in his acting career. His work as a painter mainly deals with the process and narrative of change, and very much champions the artistic process being as important as the end result. Finding the likes of Francis Bacon, Dubuffet and Jean-Michel Basquiat and ideas that run back to the 1960s Oshogbo Art Movement in Nigeria, as part inspirations.

In his own words:

"Painting for me, can very much be like improvisation or devising in the theatre. One puts an idea of a kind down and one responds (truthfully) to it ... It's a constant conversation a visual dialogue with the subject matter always at the centre, until one arrives at the image which arguably has always been there since, I am always asking myself what is necessary ... Or responding honestly (as best as I can) to each part. Consequently, I arrive at the final image and know my part of the conversation is done, it's now left for others to view it and have their own opinion/dialogue ... Irrespective of mine."

The subject of his paintings varies, from the seemingly aesthetic pictures to a direct commentary on the state of the human condition, focusing on the ironic and bizarre aspects of everyday life. The use of the same vibrant language is a constant element narrating a different story within each painting. Visually, the works have layers of bold colours and as the textures thickens the velocity builds up.

Bolaji’s use of colour has an unapologetic force upon the viewer. Colours are placed on top of each other, without being blended, as they come straight from the tube. The conscious choice of acrylic paint, which dries fast, preserves the energy and tempo of the piece. His painting is an introspection. The product is cathartic and unapologetically laid out bare.

Painting for Bolaji, as he explains, “without sounding dramatic, this is what I am alive for.”

Sources consulted


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