Painter Lanre Adefioye uses motifs and symbols of his native Nigeria to tell modern-day parables of peace, harmony, identity, and universal love. A visit with a master artist as a teenager inspired his own path as an artist, and he has broadened his creative quest living in London and now Ontario, Canada. Lanre’s life was marked by intense tragedy, which only served to strengthen his view of life as a gift and art as a medium of healing. Though he now reaches an international audience, the roots of his work are grounded in the rich story-telling heritage of his native land.
Fruits of Life, painting by Lanre Adefioye
We see your heritage in the traditional African geometric shapes and patterns in your work, but you also incorporate modern symbols that you describe as ‘perfect-imperfect’. How did your artistic style evolve, and what do you mean by ‘perfect-imperfect’?
At the elementary stage of my creativity, I fell in love with the irregular patterns of African geometric symbols. These patterns could be seen in various traditional bronze castings, traditional architecture, fabrics and ornaments. In trying to create universal themes, and at the same time showcase my cultural heritage, I thereby incorporate modern symbols to depict and reach out to my universal and diverse audience. I tend to use simple symbolic objects to convey my messages which I believe my viewers can easily understand to translate the story line behind my images.
I was fascinated by the Bauhaus activities, combining craft and fine art, which was founded by Walter Gropius in Germany. My style “perfect – imperfect” is derived from my close study of psychological properties of color, line and shape. For instance, black pigment needs the complimentary shade of white, while straight line gives a perfect optical illusion when combined with crooked lines. In addition, the combination of irregular African shapes with modern symbols would be one unified image similar to the body of a car and the engine which work together for one goal.
Hope by Lanre Adefioye
Messengers of Hope by Lanre Adefioye
Tell me about your life growing up in Nigeria, and what your early memories were of art and beauty.
I remember growing up in the ’80s at the age of 14. Before choosing art and design as a career, I had the opportunity to visit one of Nigeria’s old masters and a contemporary artist named David Hubert Dale. He was born in the U.K. to an English father and a Nigerian mother. Dale studied Fine Arts and Art History at the Ahmadu Bello University in 1971, specializing in illustration and graphic design. He gave me a tour around his beautiful large studio located in Lagos. I remember as a child him telling me about his commissioned art projects, which were ready to be shipped to his international collectors. I was fascinated and inspired by the nature of his profession, working from home and doing what he loved. I asked him a few questions about how he achieved his perfection, and he replied, “You can do better, it’s a matter of time.”
After leaving his studio, I made up my mind to pursue art and design as a career. I used to draw and make designs a lot as a child when I was in elementary school, but never though I would make it a career. Roughly about a year after this period, my elder brother who was studying architecture at Ahmadu Bello University, got me the admission form. I did the examination and got accepted to study pre-degree in fine art. Three years later I specialized in graphics.
Destiny by Lanre Adefioye
At what point did you turn to painting as a career?
Before I specialized in graphics, I did a pre-degree in fine art. I later proceeded to the Industrial Design department, in spite of my qualification in graphic design. I still love to produce wall décor. Initially, I never produced art for sale. I painted to beautify my apartment, which gave me joy. However, during this period different people were approaching me to decorate their homes in which they would incorporate my art on their walls. I later started designing unique art frames to go with my images. The time that I really started to produce series of art was when I returned from London to Nigeria. I later turned my house into a mini gallery. In 1999, I started incorporating traditional African geometric patterns into my paintings, which became my hallmark style that is particular to my artwork.
Intimacy by Lanre Adefioye
Boiling Point by Lanre Adefioye
What materials and media are you working with, and what drives those choices?
I am a painter and a digital artist. I love the traditional method of painting, and I also embrace the new age technology of digital art. I use acrylic on canvas. I always apply many thin coats of acrylic paint onto the canvas to give me smooth coated surfaces. Since it dries very fast, I consider it a perfect medium for me. In addition, I love the iridescent look of silver, bronze, copper and gold acrylic on canvas. Three-dimensional effects can also be seen in my art with different ornamental beads that pop up from the canvas.
Wisdom Tree by Lanre Adefioye
What led you to move to London in the early ’90s, and what prompted your return to Nigeria?
I traveled to London in 1990 shortly after I graduated from university. During this period, graphic design was in the early stages of going digital. I thought I could work and save enough money to upgrade my knowledge in digital graphics, but it was too expensive to do the course. Fortunately for me, in the years I spent outside Nigeria, digital graphics knowledge developed tremendously in Lagos, and I felt I could get the knowledge without paying additional money to study digital graphics. Therefore in 1994, I decided to go back to Lagos and networked with my fellow creative friends in the digital art and design business.
You’ve alluded to struggle as inspiration for your work, and I know you’ve experienced some interruptions to your career, such as when you were obligated to take over your family’s business in Nigeria for a period of time. Can you tell me more about these struggles and how they’ve shaped your philosophy and your approach to art?
Sometimes you go through some difficult situations, and you learn something from the experience. Learning to turn obstacles into opportunity, I depicted what I saw around me and what people around me were going through. Life is a teacher, and we often learn better from experience. In spite of all odds, I always like to paint a better and more peaceful world.
On November 23, 1996, I drove to the international airport in Lagos to pick up my sister from her regular international business trip, which usually lasted for about two months. At the arrival hall of the international airport, I waited for the plane to touch down. CNN was showing the breaking news about the ill-fated hijacked Ethiopian Airline flight 961. It had been under siege by three Ethiopians seeking political asylum. The plane crashed into the sea off Comoros Island after running out of fuel, killing 123 of the 175 passengers and crew on board. I remember driving for hours around the city of Lagos that night, not knowing how to break the news to our mother. Eventually I went home, and the first thing my mother told me was “I heard the news, I heard the news, is it true?” I tried to persuade her but to no avail. It took us one week to come to terms that my sister did not survive the crash. The hijackers took control of the aircraft for about four hours. Can you imagine what would be going on in the minds of the passengers during those final moments before the plane made its final descent into the water? REST IN PEACE, DEOLA!
During this tragic time, I shouldered a lot of responsibilities, which I had not prepared for. To make the matter worse, some observers did not understand how I was handling the situation. I believe this incident shaped my perspective about life, and the greatest lesson I learned is that tomorrow is not guaranteed, today is just a gift — and if you’re gifted with wisdom to see certain things ahead of time, you’re likely going to be misunderstood by the myopic eyes. Therefore, I became more philosophical in my approach to art and creativity.
The Stars and the Moon by Lanre Adefioye
Stairways to Heaven by Lanre Adefioye
Each of your paintings uses symbolism and tells a story or a parable about life. Can you give me some examples of this?
I love parables and symbolism as a medium of expression. I always have a storyline behind all my images. Take, for instance, Homeward Journey – this is all about identity. An African proverb says a snail or a turtle would never go on a journey and abandon its shell. They always move together, so as our roots, ethics and heritage.
Homeward Journey by Lanre Adefioye
My art speaks to the conscious mind in the valley, rainfall and sunshine. A typical example of a valley-like painting is The Dark Night: the darker the night the brighter the luminaries. Therefore, embracing the dark night is like a flood light to the journeys of life. However long the night may be, the dawn will break.
I consider Harvest painting to be a sunshine painting. Which says that before the reward there must be labour, you plant before you harvest. You sow in tears before you reap joy.
Finally The Chameleon. Chameleons adjust quickly to the shades of colour in their surroundings, thereby relating this to life, “No matter which shades of colour life throws at us we should embrace them.” This fits into the category of my valley-like paintings.
The Dark Night by Lanre Adefioye
Harvest by Lanre Adefioye
The Chameleon by Lanre Adefioye
What motivated your move from Nigeria in 2005 to Ontario, Canada? Is the change in your paintings to a more subdued color palette since this move inspired by the change in scenery, climate, and culture, or just a new path of experimentation for you?
Just like in my painting The Journey of Life, life is a journey and we are pilgrims on the journey of life. What actually motivated my move is the quest for a new environment and also to reach out more to the world at large with my art. Like when I was in Lagos, a lot of collectors bought my artwork through Novica. Most of these collectors reside in Canada and the United States. I’ve being privileged to meet some of these kind people that appreciate and love what I do. I’m always happy when I come across such people. I wanted to be closer to major shows like Art Expo New York and other major international art shows.
The intensity of my color palette softened a little bit. Sometimes my mood determines my colour palette. I love the harmonious combination of heritage colors I see in Canada on most of the buildings. Now Lanre is turning into a chameleon which embraces every shade of colors around it. I find these soft palettes soothing and mellow.
Love Birds by Lanre Adefioye
Candle in the Wind by Lanre Adefioye
Life Stories show by Lanre Adefioye
You seem to be someone who very much feels your work, and you talk about the emotional and psychological properties of color, line and shape. Do you think all people can sense this?
Colour stimulates the mind more than we know. In creating my artwork, I always like to use different subtle tonal variations, not only to encourage a calm and contemplative mood but to evoke a healing power.
There are three psychological primary colors – Red, Blue and Yellow. They relate respectively to the body, the mind, and emotion. The tonal variations are what I describe as balance, and my goal is to create harmony, universal love, peace, rest and tranquility through the power of optical illusion by these balanced pigments.
My use of line and shape to depict my art is a result of the avant-garde art movement (Cubism) pioneered by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris. A quick glance at my art pieces shows the basic elements of art which are line, shape, color, texture, direction, size, perspective and space. These elements in the overall design usually relate to each other and to the art work as a whole.
Oasis by Lanre Adefioye
Dream Come True by Lanre Adefioye
What do you hope to bring to the world through your art? And do you have any particular goals for helping raise awareness of other African artists?
Just like good music speaks or arouses the mind, I am trying to make something exist by observing it. And my hope for the viewers is that they will also make it exist by observing my creativity, which I describe as creative viewing. I am constantly speaking to the conscious mind. I want my viewers to find joy, hope and peace through my art. We need peace more than ever in this world of today, and I would like to heal the world with my art.
Protect a World of Peace by Lanre Adefioye
What are some of your favorite things in the world, whether they directly influence your work or just make you happy?
I love road trips, cycling and sightseeing, and most especially nature and music has always been a part of me. I am just learning how to play the acoustic guitar and possibly saxophone.
It is very difficult for me not to be thinking of a new idea that is always popping up in my head because of my great obsession for beauty and décor. Finally, I am blessed with the lifestyle of a creative mind, which I find very therapeutic.
Inquiries about purchasing Lanre’s art may be sent directly to the artist at the email address on his website.
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