In a Lagos art space, where the stake is increasingly high, self-taught artist, Tayo Ayelowo debutes with portraitures, a sub-genre that is easily vulnerable to critique. Currently, and for the next one week, Ayelowo’s pastel pieces of Nigerian monarchs are showing as Standing Before Kings at Mercedes Benz Centre, Lekki, Lagos. Ayelowo, a lawyer by formal training, has, over the years done portraitures of monarchs that she says are inspired by diversity and richness of kingly regalia.
An exhibition of portraits from Nigeria’s royal settings, either in photography or paintings is not new on the country’s art landscape. Child music star of the 1980s, now an artist, Tosin Jegede and photographer, George Osodi had, each, shown portraits of select traditional leaders. With Ayelowo, it would be of interest to know her experience, having the much-revered custodians of tradition and cultures oblige in their portraiture. But much of the portraits, she discloses, were done using photograph reference. In addition to using photographic reference of the monarchs, direct interaction with two or three royal family, she adds, has been of tremendous help in getting to know her subjects as well as sharing a feel of the heritage spaces.
Still on what comes naturally, applying finger tips and thumps in aiding the pastel on papers, are extensions of what she considers a vital part of her life, generally. For example, she prefers eating African foods “with my fingers instead of cutlery.”
As a debut solo effort, and coming from a self – taught artist, Standing Before Kings reveals an artist with strong touch of pastel, despite widely using darkened background that sometimes swallow the portraits. But most times, the white garments of the subjects provide the balance, diffusing the flatness.
Quite interesting, the white also plays spirituality part in Ayelowo’s paintings, being loud in what seems common among some of the monarchs’ choice of clothing. From the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, in a woven wig-like white crown, and adorned with equally white regalia: to Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nneemeka’s simplified white top with red beads and cap; as well as Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Aremu Akiolu-1, there is something about the traditional rulers’ choice and symbol of purity.
Among other monarchs on Ayelowo’s list of 26 pastel paintings are; Aalafin Of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi; Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona; Gbong-Gwon of Jos, Jacob Gyang; Obong of Calabar, Bassey Ekpo Bassey; Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Arenu, Gbadebo III; Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi; and Olu of Warri, Ogiame Ikenwoli.
Perhaps, Ayelowo is not just another self-taught artist that is gatecrashing into the creative terrain. She has an Artist Statement to explain her passion: “Capturing a person’s facial expression has been my obsession.
My work explores the relationship between visual arts and on, how it stimulates the senses. My paintings are as a result of passion of pictorial gravity and accumulated expression of inspirations. Each and every piece of my paintings is laced with undercurrents of emotion, change and movements. Therefore, most of my work may conform to reality.
“I worked hard to paint the Traditional Rulers, such that it should communicate both to me and to others about the splendor buried deep in tradition and culture. I want to communicate fluently the language of humanity and share my work with the world. Do enjoy the view. Thank you.”