Memoir II: Rebel

All images have been provided courtesy of the artist

Society is interesting really interesting. While we’re trying to impress someone else, that person is trying to impress us.  Even if they don’t know it, subconsciously they are. We’re too busy trying to fit into this “mould” that is constantly changing. A decade ago, baggy jeans were in fashion. A couple of years ago, skinny jeans were in, and now I don’t know.

We should consider the opinion of others, but we should also reach a point where we don’t. We all need to find that sweet spot between taking feedback and improving ourselves, and loving ourselves for who we are. What’s a healthy body without a healthy mind

Moreover, one thing I am unapologetic about is my choice of clothing. When I get a haircut, I twist my hair with my hair sponge, and slap on my signature outfit; checkered trousers, an oversized t-shirt, black on black trainers and an overcoat navy or black depending on how I am feeling. Once I’m dressed, I am ready to take on the world. In my opinion, a person’s choice of clothing coupled with their body language gives you a little insight into who they are. Are they an introvert? Do they enjoy taking risks? Are they confident?

I don’t know if the phrase exists But I’ll say this, “The clothes don’t make you, you make the clothes”.

Like I said in Volume I: Memoir III and Memoir X, my character is an amalgamation of who I have encountered throughout my life. Do I have flaws? Yes. Am I at the age where I accept myself for who I am? Yes.

In life, we must be unapologetically ourselves, from the energy we exude to our convictions and yes to our own choice of clothes

Society is always putting barriers on what we can do. It’s always telling us to be normal and just fit in. Answer questions but don’t ask questions back. Be a part of a machine and not be unique. But times are changing, we are challenging existing ideologies. We are accepting the unique. A revolution is happening, and we are becoming “rebels”.

When I initially delved into the world of art, I encountered a variety of artists. Someone who I gravitated to was Adebayo Bolaji. He was a rebel! From his style to his attitude, he just didn’t care and he liked bowler hats too. From the moment I saw his work. I said, “yeah, I dig this”. I immediately understood his message, his ideologies and what he stood for.

But Bolaji’s journey into art was not your conventional route. As he said it best, “It has been a long journey of frustration”.

Known as “The Hippie” to his family, Bolaji spent his childhood entrenched in comic book drawings. He never set his eyes on being an artist. Although he wanted to do something creative, he wanted to act. As a child, Bolaji was exposed to the world of acting. At such a young age Bolaji was performing at the west end.

Because of his paid roles in the west end, his parents were less worried about his future ambitions. Nonetheless, the idea of pursuing a career in acting or even the arts was abstract to them.

But by the age of 19, Bolaji had to answer the age-old question, “What do you want to do?”.

Bolaji proudly told his parents, “I want to go to drama school”. But his parents immediately disapproved.

After several talks and eventually reaching a middle ground, Bolaji went on to study law, and he saw this period as one of the worst years of his life. During his time at university, he was mentally non-present. He could not remember anybody. The only name he could remember was the author Ian McLeod due to the law books he had to read. Although during his time at university, he became an avid reader. The law books he read, taught him how to articulate himself and how to be unequivocal. The concepts of law cultivated his philosophical side.

After graduating, Bolaji landed a job in the city (Central London). But even then, he was never satisfied. During his time in the city, he would have a series of illnesses and headaches, eating became difficult, and his feet were constantly sore.

Bolaji’s health continued to deteriorate and it reached a point where his family was concerned. After a visit to the hospital, the artist discovered that all his symptoms were induced by stress.

After a conversation with his family, Bolaji finally decided to leave his job. During this new period, Bolaji rediscovered a book shop from his childhood and sought refuge there.  He used his time at the shop as an escape. He was a recluse amongst his friends, but he saw this period as a time to think and truly ask himself, “Who he was?”, and “Where he was going?”.

After finding his answers, Bolaji went back to acting and enrolled in drama school. Bolaji was back on his path and the opportunities came flying in; he toured, appeared on TV and starred in films.

During his travels, he would always carry a notepad. In his free time, he would write plays and poetry. But something strange would happen, he would write a line and suddenly his hand would start to draw. Moreover, while filming in Budapest, he began to develop a series of intense headaches.

Up until this point, Bolaji had a successful career the sky was the limit for the actor, but something was missing. Moreover, his headaches were still occurring and became more intense.

All prayed out, the artist admitted defeat and gave up. Until one morning, he heard a voice and it said, “Go buy paint!”. Divine intervention

Once Bolaji heard that voice, his body took him to CASS art in Leicester Square. He bought oil paint and other materials. When I asked Bolaji, “Why the oil point?”. He responded to my question with the following, “I knew I wanted my art to have colour, I wanted it to be bold, nothing translucent, no water. I wanted it to be an attack”.

Once he was home, he began to paint. During this period, he was in a different state. As soon as he put the pen to the piece of paper his headache was gone. As soon as this happened, Bolaji ran upstairs and cried. He was finally free from the agonising pain. He found his groove, which was art, and in his own words, he was “plugged in”.

Once he was entrenched in art, he began to study and acted like a sponge, soaking everything in. Once he saw the traction gained from his first piece, he continued to produce more pieces.

With regards to myself, the first piece that I encountered by Bolaji was Eschatology (painted 2016).

Eschatology is Bolaji’s response to Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”. What I like about Eschatology is the simplicity of the piece, and Bolaji said, “I didn’t want the piece to be visually complex, I wanted to make it so that everybody could get it”. Eschatology is a piece that is straight to the point and simple. Regardless of a person’s religious background, they will immediately understand what is occurring. If we look at the piece, the figure in the middle is Jesus, and tucked away in the corner is Judas. You can tell it is Judas due to the figure’s smirk; he is plotting something; he is planning his betrayal against Jesus. What makes this piece so powerful is the use of mouths. Our mouth is a powerful tool when it comes to expressing our emotions. We can show a spectrum of emotions with just our mouth, from disgust to joy to sadness. Bolaji does not draw the mouth of Jesus or the other disciples, only Judas’. It is as if Bolaji is telling the viewer, that the other disciples at this moment are not as important, even though they are loyal to Jesus. It is Judas we should be paying attention to, because what is he planning? With Judas’ head facing away from the table, Bolaji further emphasises the betrayal that is about to unfold.

Eschatology (painted 2017) [Oil Pastel and Acrylic on Cotton 124 x 154cm]ESCHATOLOGY 2017

Even beyond Eschatology, it’s earlier pieces such as The Riot (painted 2016) that also captured my attention. The Riot reminds me of Van Gogh’s “Old Man in Sorrow” but instead of sorrow being depicted, it is frustration. What I find interesting about this piece is the figure’s head is painted black. Perhaps Bolaji is trying to tell us that the idea of anger and frustration starts by thought, in the head. Anger and frustration are such strong emotions and when we enter this state, we ignore all rational thinking, everything fades to “black”, the colour of the figure’s head. By being in this state, our minds are in a state of riot.

The Riot (painted 2016) [Oil stick, Gold and Acrylic on cotton 124 x 154cm]RIOT 2016

Moreover, one thing I have constantly heard with regards to Bolaji is his work being similar to Basquiat. Let’s address the elephant in the room and talk about how the two are different. Bolaji’s work is expressionism. But his process is completely different, his content is different, and his colour palette is different too.

Even during the conversation, Bolaji and I discussed why this comparison still exists, and it has led me to pose the following questions. Does society know of the artists who came before Basquiat? Do we know of the unsung heroes? Raymond Saunders, Bob Thompson or Jacob Lawrence, because if we did, this conversation would most likely not exist. Food for thought

Moreover, Bob Thompson, an artist who used colour in his work was someone Bolaji drew confidence from. But in terms of inspiration, what truly inspires Bolaji is film and this is evident from his recent exhibition “Topia”. Bolaji showcased a film alongside his art. When it comes to its impact Bolaji states, “Film is total art form, all artistic expression is happening at the same time”.

“Do the right thing” is one of Bolaji’s favourite films and he praises it because of its opening scene. The opening scene consists of multiple backdrops with Rosie Perez dancing to the song “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy.

Including film – Fashion, Yoruba culture and his upbringing in London all influence his artistic style.

In terms of his use of fabric, I applaud Bolaji for the use in The Discovery (painted 2019).

In this piece, we see a royal of European origin sitting on a Black & White throne, the person is most likely from Britain and is from around the 17th Century to 19th Century due to their hairstyle and the fabric used. With this piece, I believe Bolaji is depicting the figure from the perspective of someone who is not familiar with the European culture. The reason is because of the multiple colours, they aid in presenting this idea of something alien or unknown. If we look at the features of the figure from the eyes to the mouth and even the nose, everything is big and distorted. Looking again at the royal figure, we can infer that they are from a royal heritage, their body language aids in this. Their hands are on their knees and are in a regal pose. This person demands your attention, your respect and your focus. But when you include the multiple materials used, then you learn why the piece is titled The Discovery, because the concept of this person and their status is odd and strange.

The Discovery (painted 2019) [mixed media on coarse grain jute 149 x 159cm]Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

When it comes to materials, Bolaji states, “I am not focused on the aesthetics; the art is the tool for getting something off my chest”. It is because of this that Bolaji chooses to use materials roughly and aggressively.

For Bolaji, art can tell stories, art can provoke, and art can create a reaction. When I asked Bolaji, “When did you call yourself an artist?”. Well, he responded to my question with another question “How do I know I am an artist”, followed by, “Well because I say so” and we laughed because it was an unapologetic response. But Bolaji went on to state, “What I am making is art. I am making something that I want other people to see, I don’t make it so it is hidden, I make it so other people can see and connect with it”.

Bolaji’s most recent exhibition was “Topia”, which was displayed at the Serena Morton Gallery in Ladbroke Grove. I got the chance to attend the private viewing and it was a surreal experience.

In the exhibition, Bolaji placed words with their respective definitions around the gallery, written in his own handwriting. This is deliberate to capture your attention so that you think about the words and their meaning. The definitions are there to start a conversation, they are there to intellectually stimulate you. Bolaji is not here to spoon-feed you, he wants you to engage with his work, by essentially asking you, “What do you think of these words?”.

With regards to the word “Topia”. It is an interesting word because it can be used to make multiple words. Such as the words “Utopia” and “Dystopia”. In my opinion, Bolaji uses this exhibition to play on the notion that the two most used words which can be created from “Topia”, “Utopia” and “Dystopia” are unconsciously linked. Bolaji said in our interview, “Humans are constantly reinventing, looking for the best way to exist, looking for this perfect state. We look for imperfections to attain perfection. We are playing within our limitations. We are always going to be reforming.”, and I think this is true, science has been a fantastic tool in our evolution but where do we draw the line until we are satisfied? Is our quest for a utopia so damaging that it could lead to a dystopia?

In terms of the pieces that were showcased at the exhibition, the two pieces that captured my attention were The Final Call (painted 2019) and Euphoric (painted 2019)

The Final Call was my favourite piece out of the exhibition, and it is due to its positioning. Anyone who went to the exhibition would know that the Serena Morton Gallery has two levels and is connected by one flight of stairs. So, your experience starts on the first floor and ends on the first floor, so as you are leaving the gallery you see this final piece. Hence, The Final Call.

Besides the location, The Final Call is an interesting piece because it is made from multiple materials from paint to Nigerian fabric to even crayon. In my opinion, The Final Call indicates to viewers, a new direction Bolaji wants to take his work. For example, Bolaji chooses to paint the figure neon green but still includes his trademark “big nose”. All in all, the piece is simple with nothing occurring in the background but complex since it is constructed from multiple materials.

The Final Call (painted 2019) [Acrylic, Crayon and Fabric on Cotton 124 x 154 cm]The Final Call

Next is Euphoric, when we think of the word “euphoric” or even “euphoria”, what springs to mind is a surreal sense of happiness or an out-of-body experience. In my opinion, I see the latter in this piece. The figure is undergoing an out-of-body experience, with the orange body being the soul or spirit and the green body being the physical body. The background is a sporadic splatter of colours, from the use of pens, crayons and other materials. Moreover, you could even argue that Euphoric is depicting the concept of thinking. When we think of an idea, neurones fire. It is an explosive process that leads to a single idea.

Euphoric (painted 2019) [Pencil, Crayon and Ink on Paper 30 x 25 cm]euphoric 2019

If we look across Bolaji’s work. We see black bodies always cropping up. Bolaji states, “With the use of black bodies, I want to accentuate the beauty of the colour black.”. Bolaji went on to even state, that the figures in his pieces who are supposed to be white are painted black and this is deliberate. For Bolaji, the colour black is one in which the viewer cannot escape, it is powerful and demands your attention.

When we look at history, things such as “Blackface” have been used to dehumanise black people. In particular, the use of charcoal black. But Bolaji wants to recapture the meaning of charcoal Black, he wants us to celebrate its beauty. Even the stereotypical “big” black nose; in Bolaji’s pieces, he deliberately makes the nose big, again to make us celebrate our features.

Even when it comes to the process of how he makes his art, Bolaji applies multiple layers before commencing on a piece. Bolaji states, “I want my art to go through something like a human, my work is alive. It represents the layers of who we are.”. Bolaji describes his creative process as a dance, he trusts the talent to “do its thing”. Once he is in the studio, nothing else matters. He can spend hours in the studio and once the sky turns dark, he refuses to leave. But once he has left his studio, he is itching to get back.

All in all, art is something that has always been a part of Bolaji. Bolaji wants his art to empower the individual. In Bolaji’s own words, he sees people of today have low self-esteem and low self-worth. He sees people who have so much to give but feel as if they have nothing to give. Bolaji wants his work to inspire and empower you.

In terms of what is next for Bolaji, some of his next moves are top secret. But he did tell me; more exhibitions, more directing, and more experimenting when it comes to his creative process and his artistic style.

As I said in the beginning, I gravitated to Bolaji because of his style and his attitude. He just “did it” and we can see that in his work. In today’s world, people are always asking for permission, but we need to stop that. We must ignore the opinion of others; even our pride and simply embrace who we truly are. We need to be rebels.

To see more of Adebayo Bolaji’s work visit and follow him on his instagram @adebayobolaji

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