By Tajudeen Sowole
United Kingdom-based artist, Damilola Oshilaja whose thematic content is strengthened by the multiculturalism space of his foreign base hopes to share the dynamics of his canvas with art enthusiasts back home in Nigeria. Oshilaja has 13 years experience in full-time studio practice. Quite a lot of artists are being influenced or inspired daily by the wind of multiculturalism blowing across most cities of the world. In fact, native identity and cultural leaning is blurring such that some artists would rather, for example, prefer to be known as 'simply an artist and not African artist.'
Oshilaja, a painter whose work leans more towards abstraction sees the presence of multiculturalism to enhance ce his "as something that I actively explore and exploit in my work," he says via Internet chat.. "Cities are places where cultural perspectives collide in architecturally defined spaces, as well as the natural landscape; and this dynamic is interesting."
The flavour of diverse cultural space appears so strong such that most artists' themes can't resist submitting to the direction dictated by such complex environment. For Oshilaja, as glaring as multicultural spaces are, they shouldn't shape the artist's work, but could contribute in enhancement.. He notes that multicultural "environment contributes to, (rather than shape) the multi-aesthetic approach of my work." Specifically, he explains, "it offers little to my choice of themes or technique."
Between the human factor - in a diverse cultural space - and how his choice of technique blends with the overall content, personal experience in solving challenges also plays a key role. "My choice of theme is more affected by the human experience in-general, and technique is something that has evolved over time through my own life story, and overcoming the challenges in engineering the content of my art."
Very few artists from Africa who emigrate to Europe and the U.S live on their art as a full-time job. Being a full-time studio artist in a place like the U.K, Oshilaja "looks forward to seeing art ascend to a higher sense of significance in society.". Creativity, he argues, should go beyond an expression. "I want transformations of the sensibilities of the profession to go beyond a discipline of ‘mere expression of feeling’ and into “a science of aesthetics.”
Beyond aesthetic value, the influence or contribution of art to the world's developmental progression is often undermined, particularly in contemporary period, suggesting that the Renaissance era has been forgotten so soon. But Oshinlaja recalls how "Art was directly responsible for the disposition, format, and formations of civilization." And to keep the relevance of art alive, he suggests: "Art should be as much of core subject of study as English, Math or Science. It is the domain for the organic exercise of creativity." Instilling the creativity of art at academic levels across the board goes further to impact on the society at large, he says. And being creative, he adds, goes beyond art and cuts across other disciplines "I don’t see this non-art field - everything is impacted by art, after all it is not only in the arts that one can be creative. Thinking creatively is what innovation is about, and innovation enables advancement. The rule of law is as much a creative endeavour as that of the emergence of a renaissance in art."
Two of Oshilaja's works viewed via soft copies, a painting titled Blue Planet (New World Order) and a monochrome piece (not titled) suggests an artist with abstract impressionism contents. What does contemporaneity means to his canvas within the context of application of new media in art space as against traditional medium or rendition? "Certainly my work contains abstract and impressionist values," he agrees, but distills his preference in the 18th century movement known as impressionism. "The intensity of light and the calibration of colour central to the impressionists, is a quality I admire, and a focus of investigation within my artistic endeavour."
Nearly every young painter of traditional or modernist leaning appears to be including video installations as an extension of the canvas, perhaps to be in the contemporary trend. Oshilaja's contextual expression is not an exception. "Art and artists have to respond to their environment, and the digital medium is the new world," he says and discloses specific features in his work. "New media is part of my multi-disciplinary approach. For example, I showed a video installation and paintings at my graduate exhibition four years ago - the first time I did so." He however insists that traditional medium such as painting remains "an overwhelming" content of his work." Contemporaneity to me, is about finding new meaning, and understanding - and a new way to display, and interact with the audience (and the market)."
Oshilaja came into focus for this chat after his article about Basquiat was published in The Guardian. Basquiat narrowly missed the dynamics of 21st century art. Would another Basquiat emerge in Oshilaja generation? "I don’t know what the future holds, but rather than referring to the reincarnation of one, I was talking about the birth of many. For me, every Black successful Artist is a Basquiat." Oshilaja argues that the late African-American artist's legacy could have been a movement. "As I wrote, he is an originator - the first of his kind. Everything prior to him, in the timeline of art history was predominantly Eurocentric. But he manages to redress the paradigm in mainstream consciousness." Oshilaja insists that Basquiat "rapidly moves into an aggregated view of the world."
In preparing to tests the waters if Nigerian art, Oshilaja seems not naïve about the unprecedented growth of art back home in the last one decade. "The Nigerian art scene is seemingly buoyant, and quite dynamic, aesthetically and economically. It is a testament to the growth that western institutions like Bonham’s Auctioneers (amongst others), are showing keen interest and getting involved with the art landscape in Nigeria, as well as in the diaspora."
He accepts that now "is a good time to be an artist or a collector, or a broker-of-art in Nigeria." He however notes that art market buoyancy is a global trend, currently. "Nigeria isn’t isolated in this assessment, this is fast becoming a global position for the art economy."
Oshilaja’s bio states in parts: he is a multi-disciplinary artist with a Master of Arts in Fine Art, from University of the Arts, London. In 2011, Oshilaja was amongst the final collection of eighty-one artists to emerge from the historic Charring Cross Road site of Central Saint Martins College in the heart of London.
He formed Grunge Studios in 1998, and has since had numerous shows in Europe. He has additionally been shortlisted and won a number of awards and honours including The Artists’ and Collectors’ Bursary (UAL).
Born in the London borough of Westminster in the early eighties, Oshilaja is a descendant of the Royal House of Odoru (Southern Province of Ogun, Nigeria) - in the lineage of Princess Ibiyemi Odoru-Oshilaja.
With artistic curiosities developing rapidly from age seven, his aspirations were put at risk when aged eleven he was hospitalised suffering from Polio.
It was during this period that he became ferociously committed to materialising his artistic dreams. Four years later, after a full recovery; Oshilaja began his professional career as an apprentice to a well-heeled artist, which led to the establishment of a practice in his own right at seventeen.
Grunge Studios is involved with espousing historical core values of fine art through a 21st Century lens, and embodies painting; writing, curatorship, and film.
Since completing the MA in Fine Art, Damilola Oshilaja exhibited in the inaugural edition of The Other Art Fair 2011, an event billed as a showcase of the most talented and emerging artists in the United Kingdom; was appointed Artistic Director for the Nigeria pavilion at The Africa Village in Kensington Gardens, during the Cultural Olympiad in London 2012; and was shortlisted by The Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers.
His solo art exhibitions include Untitled - Tafeta, London UK (2014); Grunge Studios Print Media Exhibition - Worldly Wicked & Wise, London UK
Arte Grunge (GSPM): La Rencontre - We Are Cuts, London UK (2012); Golden Boy vs The fairies from the dark side of the Moon - Galerie Paname, Stockholm Sweden (2008); The Art Grunge Show - Empire Gallery, London UK (2005); Birth of the New; Birth of the Cool - Nôka International Institute, Stockholm Sweden (2004); Damilola Oshilaja: A selection of pastels and drawings - Chelsea Methodist Church, London UK (1998)
In 2013, he showed at group exhibitions: The Other Art Fair - Ambika P3, London UK, Art of Angel - Candid Arts Trust, London UK and Art of Angel - Art Below, Angel Underground, London, UK.