By Tajudeen Sowole
Tayo Olayode is among few contemporary Nigerian artists who emerged through the rudimentary paths of art competition and residency, in the last ten years. And having been on the ascendency in the glaring observation of art connoisseurs and promoters, Olayode has the burden of proving that indeed, his emergence from the cradle of creativity and ascending the ladder of masterly status is sustainable.
From being a foundation member of Iponri Studios, a group that jostled Lagos art scene in 2007, to getting the membership of Africa's new face of art, the Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA), Olayode keeps consolidating on the virility of his studio practice.
To a large extent, studio is the heartbeat of an artist's professional worth. And individual artist has peculiar ideology. As a foundation member of the Iponri Studio, managing the central ideology of the group without compromising individual artist's identity could be a challenge. But Olayode, during a chat few days ago, posited that there is nothing sacrosanct about art that is based on ideology. In fact, he argued that "not all art is based on ideology." For him, his art, he disclosed, "is based on free expression.”
Group studio in Nigeria has no robust trajectory, so suggest scanty number of such existing spaces. In fact, apart from Universal Studios of Art, which has been on a fragile and borrowed space at National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, for almost 30 years, hardly there is any other known similar one. In the area of sustaining common focus and space comes the challenge for Olayode and other members of Iponri Studios. For the Iponri art group, Olayode insisted it "was not formed based on ideology, but simply a sheared vision." He noted that, "like any vision shared by diverse professionals, there are short and long medium goals." And sustaining the vision, he argued, is not necessarily a task for the artists as a group. "As long as the vision is still kept alive by any of the members, Iponri studios will wax stronger into the future." He stressed that "being a part of the group does not shape me as an artist, rather I shape the group with my actions and inactions."
Irrespective of space or ideology, the Iponri Studios, Olayode insisted "has come to stay, and is gradually making its way to becoming one of the strongest art groups in Nigeria."
Still on sustainability, art spaces across Nigeria have quite a pool of talents to breed future numbers of young artists, either from under graduates or fresher leavers, who are coming out of art schools across the country. Is Iponri Studios extending its vision to young artists, particularly taking them along through internship? "Many of our members have been taking intern artists along before the group was formed, and we are still doing so till date."
Followers of the changing Nigerian art landscape should recall that in 2008, the Iponri artists made their first public appearance with art exhibition titled New Dawn, at National Museum, Onikan Lagos. The debut show raised the bar in emerging artists' space of Nigeria. A year after the debut, the artists returned with Isokan (Togetherness) at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, and stressed that indeed, the Nigerian art space was radiating fresh breath of creative aura.
Between the first outing and the last show last year, quite a number of changes have taken place among the group, including exits and new admissions. For example, Today In History, held at The Thought Pyramid Art Centre, FCT Abuja, last October, exposed how the numerical strength of Iponri artists has dropped. With the debut, New Dawn, the group featured works of 11 artists. The next show, Isokan (Togetherness), featured works by Olayode, Sanusi Abdulahi, Aimufa Osagie, Ekpo Odungede, Ade Odunfa, Bede Umeh and Kehinde Oso. During the last show, members insisted that the drop in the number of founding members would not affect the goal of the group.
For Today in History, the interest had grown to accommodate non-members. The exhibition featured works by Olayode, Umeh, Oso and Abdullahi in "alliance" with non-members such as Bimbo Adenugba, Gerald Chukwuma, Uchay Joel Chima and Bolaji Ogunwo.
The Abuja show came two years after Beyond Boundaries, which was organised in collaboration with Nubuke Foundation, Ghana and featured the works of Aimufia Osagie, Adenugba, Okpu Norbert, Olumide Onadipe and Damola Adepoju.
As a younger artist, Olayode had in 2006 won a residency to Ghanaian master, Ablade Glover after emerging with Titus Agbara as two winners of an art competition organised by Terra Kulture and Ford Foundation. Also, few years ago, Olayode and Chima were on a residency to Vermont in U.S, courtesy of Arthouse Foundation's sponsorship.
For an artist with a contemporary African background, a residency in the west could have tainted his independent creative identity. "The Vermont Residency in U.S was not designed to taint me or any artist at the gathering," Olayode disagreed. "It was meant for self discovery and networking with like minds from all over the world." The Vermont experience, he recalled, gave him quite an exposure from which "I'm still benefiting till date."
Quite a lot of changes are ongoing in the art appreciation and outlets scenes generally, of which artists are responding adequately. Perhaps not exactly in discountenance of the glaring strength and rising value of art of African origin at international stage in recent years, Olayode, however, like some contemporary and emerging artists who would not want to be bordered within a confined identity stated: "I have a global view to my art, so the issue of Africanness does not arise when it comes to expressing myself as an artist."
Returning from Vermont, Olayode appeared to have brought a flavour of improved streetscape technique and style into his paintings, so suggest the tone and texture of some of his works. For examples, two streetscapes: a street full of high-rise buildings in Vermont with high volume of pedestrians and a contrasting, possibly Nigerian rural setting suggest Olayode's pronounced lines over the flow of colours. Indeed, his style implored complements the architectural thematic texture of the two works.
Next in his future experimentation, he disclosed, "is exploring materials and methods with my well-known style." He hoped that such preparation positions him well enough "when the global market comes calling."
In 2014, Olayode was among the new professionals inducted into the GFA. And with gradual exiting of the founding members from the executive, clearly, the immediate future of the group lies in the hands of his generation. "The future of GFA is guaranteed, especially with the intake of new members which I'm part of. Our duty is to take it to the next level."
Discovering his potentials in a digital age, the artist, like most professionals of his generation is taking full advantage of the Internet in expanding appreciation of his art. In fact, he argued that the digital age has reduced art galleries to event centres.
"I like us to look at the impact of social media on the declining fortune of gallery in Nigeria. Most galleries are now more like event centres." He questioned such galleries' attitude of "just renting space out all year round."
Olayode may not be exactly correct to suggest that traditional art gallery spaces are being rendered irrelevant with the advent of digital space. Perhaps, his thought, which indeed represent that of quite a number of artists, is exactly the alert that regular art galleries in Nigeria need to lift their trade beyond being 'event venues.'
Born in 1970, Olayode studied Fine Art at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria. He is a recipient of Terra Kulture/Ford Foundation Art Award for the Best Young Artist In Nigeria (2006) and Vermont Studio Cultural Exchange Competition (2014).