Londoner Adébayo Bolaji is an inspirational individual whose demeanour oozes confidence and summons creativity at all times; a scroll of his Instagram bestows his vivid brilliance, from his artwork to his attire. You can observe how much of a creative vehemence he is.
The flamboyant multi-disciplined artist is also an actor, writer and director, beginning his acting career at the age of 14 and making his West End debut in 1997. He also served as a city lawyer before embarking on his journey as a professional artist.
He is influenced by a range of artistic mediums and distinguished Nigerian Oshogbo Art Movement principles of the 1960s. His work concentrates on the process and narrative of change and champions the artistic approach as necessary as the outcome. He employs painting, sculpture and film as vessels to convey his stories and investigate fundamental issues.
I have no choice. It’s just there… in my blood. It’s who I am; it’s going to force its way out. But it’s forcing its way out in visual sensibilities.
The promise of storytelling is evident as Bolaji conceives a refreshing vogue with a striking palette seizing the canvas with his rhythmic movement of light, thick, and bold strokes—rooting fearless figures and Nigerian heritage patterns in a contemporary aesthetic.
Bolaji is an exceptional artist producing work that can be interpreted in various ways but never ignored. His influential creations catch your spirits and intoxicate your soul. I had the pleasure of speaking with Bolaji ahead of his upcoming exhibition “The Power And The Pause” at Beers London. In this interview, we learn about his inspiration, creative process and more.
Q: For those who don’t know you, can you please introduce yourself?
A: Well, I’m an artist in that I make paintings, produce sculptural and film work. I feel it’s really that I like to tell stories or ask fundamental questions, challenge ideas, but I use artistic mediums to do so.
Q: What is your inspiration, and why do you do what you do?
A: It’s not linear. By that, I mean I can’t give you an answer like a maths equation. But it’s also true to say that I firstly do it because I love it and it’s fundamentally fun… freedom, total freedom. That’s why I do it. There are of course, more profound reasons, but I’d have to write you an essay for that.
Regarding inspiration, again, I don’t think inspiration is something in a box one goes to grab and then eats it, and that’s it. It’s unpredictable; that’s the beauty of it; otherwise, I think it ceases to inspire. I prefer to say my state of being is most essential, to be open to inspiration because it can strike at any given moment… from anywhere or anything.
Q: Can you tell us about your creative process?
A: It’s never the same. But I’ve found that again, like inspiration, there are principles. By principle, I mean ‘rules’ that lie underneath any profession, from sports to meditation to a legal sphere. The principle is like a guide. For Example, the more you spend time with something, the more familiar it becomes.
The speed may vary, but the act of association (spending time) gives birth to familiarity. What do I mean? This is a principle of sowing and reaping; you get what you put in.
In regards to process, it’s never the same in that I’m open to spontaneity. However, the first thing (principle) I consistently do is… I show up. That may sound elementary but, so many artists wait to feel inspired before they commit to working. I think it’s a discipline to show up. You may not end up doing anything; I may just come to the studio and be silent, read, walk, think about the works but… I show up… mentally. I give intentional space in myself to work. That’s the first thing. What happens after that is different every time. But showing up, is half the battle.
Q: What is the motivation behind your use of Anthropology, race and Psychology in your works?
A: Those subjects don’t necessarily motivate me. I’m motivated from a more gut-feeling place of a desire to make work and question life in the moment. I think for the sake of social guidance, I use those terms when one wants to know the things my work talk about. If I just say, my work talks about life, well… where does one begin?. When I say anthropology, well, people can say okay… human behaviour – the study of it, rituals and so forth. When we say race, again, we can say identity the positives and negatives etc. But I work organically. It happens that my body naturally navigates to these subjects because it’s what I’ve known by virtue of my experience. That said, I do have an intense curiosity for psychology, I’m obsessed with how we reason, think. But I’m not on any crusade. I know some want me to be, but I’m not. Am I an activist? Of course, but I’m not going to wear a t-shirt telling you so or put it in my social media bio.
Q: How does your African heritage influence your artistic practice?
A: I have no choice. It’s just there… in my blood. It’s who I am; it’s going to force its way out. But it’s forcing its way out in visual sensibilities. What do I mean? Well, aesthetics, colour, tempo and line, patterns. I think spiritually, too, a kind of spirituality that is unapologetic. Nigerians are very unapologetic; I’m generalising, of course but, I rarely meet a Nigerian apologising for being in a space.
There’s a sense of “I’m here… I belong … I have something to say…. I will make the best of what I’ve got”. There is no welfare system in Africa; no one is going to come and help you if you don’t figure out how to make things work and fast. This creates a certain mentality, a kind of charisma and lateral thinking. One begins to see how things connect without you knowing… creativity is happening in this sphere. … I think my heritage Influences me a lot. Yes, I was born in London and grew up here, but spirituality is not confined to geographical spaces.
Q: What was the first piece of art you created that cemented your path as an artist?
A: I think creation happens as a seed, something that is planted in you. So, I can’t say when I made this drawing or something external like that. Yes, such a thing might have been the light-bulb moment. But, I think the actual act… the seed, was when I first fell in love with Cinema.
I found I was watching films for different reasons. I found that my eyes liked to see things from a visual point of view… intentionally (since, of course, most of us are lucky to have natural eyes). But I mean, I became aware that I loved to look at things, really take them in. I then followed this impulse, which eventually reveals itself by saying, “grab some paint and express how you feel”
Q: What can we expect to see at your exhibition at Beers London?
A: A life-changing experience. Ha! No, seriously, well, a good show, I hope. Objectively, it’s the first public show where I have sculptures and paintings alongside each other… but, I think taking in the title of the exhibition “The Power And The Pause”,… I’m hoping to share an experience of my own conflicts and alignments with this idea of pausing and of power….
Q: What is your favourite piece from your body of work, and why?
A: I don’t have one. I know it’s cliché to say but, they’re all special in their own way.
Q: What do you think about the current state of the art world?
A: Interestingly, I don’t have an opinion on it right now. I had a period of feeling really tense about my work because of the market and trying to survive, even though my work, thankfully, has been doing well. But this show has been made with pure joy… and that’s where I’ve been. I’m not insinuating that the art world lacks joy, because I’ve found so much joy in and from it.
I’m just saying that any industry … any, has the elements of demands and prejudices. I’ve wanted to make the work in a kind of ecstatic state that didn’t concern any external influences. So I’ve deliberately stayed away from any news. I always keep my ear to the ground but, I’ve been too busy making work for this show.
Q: What role does the artist have in society?
A: An artist is not some person in a box that I can give a simple role to. My role is not the same as another’s; otherwise, we’d be making the same work. Even the principle in this context can be different. The overriding principle I feel is, show up and be yourself whilst remembering others are in the space as well.
Q: What’s next for you as an artist?
A: After this solo show… I have a big show for University Of Hertfordshire Graphic and Design Gallery, showing works from the last five years with some new works too.