Discovering digital art through photography opened a new career vista for Gbenga Oyedele soon after his degree in mass communication from a private university. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
“Renaissance”? A big close-up on a half-face of a man seems to loom from out of a predominantly green-and-brown-hued cityscape. Or, is the cityscape that is flitting past the face the way clouds would across the moon? Whatever. This title leaves a bolt-from-the-blue effect on the viewer. Yet, nothing makes it unsuitable as a title for this digital painting by Gbenga Oyedele. It was, by the way, the 27-year-old’s entry for the recently-held maiden edition of Best Art Exhibition, which was sponsored by the distillery company Nigerbev Limited in collaboration with Nike Art Centre. Though the painting wasn’t selected as one of the top three prize-winning works, the artist can preen himself on the fact that it emerged from over a thousand other works as one of the best 10, exhibited that Sunday afternoon at Nike Art Centre in Lekki, Lagos.
About this artwork, producing it was an experience that left an indelible imprint on the consciousness of the Redeemer’s University’s mass communication graduate. He had first formed a mental picture of what he wanted to depict. But, somehow before he could be done with the work, his efforts unravelled into something entirely different. “I would always want to use a certain style, but would always find myself using another,” he says. “I had this back-and-forth battle for three days, after which I realised that I was not going to win this battle with the spirit of art. I decided to bow to the dictates of the spirit and spent the remaining two days creating ‘Renaissance’. That made it a total of five days spent designing just one artwork!”
His odd allusion to the “spirit of art” makes his interlocutor’s antenna go up. This is a nod to a statement he credits to an acquaintance, called Kolade Akintolu. The latter, according to him, sees art as a spirit, adding that “when it comes upon you, you just have to create.”
Talking about making art, he somehow found himself corralled into exclusively producing digital art. Hence, if any medium qualified as his favourite, that would be digital art. “The first time I designed a digital art, I was elated, to say the least,” he reminisces. “I showed it to my friends and colleagues in my art community, most of whom said it was beautiful. But, they also advised that I should be consistent and diligent. They also urged me to strive to produce more works and not just bask in the euphoria of creating that one work. This is since a great future, filled with opportunities with the style of art I chose to work, with awaits me.”
Back in the Redeemer’s University, where he graduated with a B.Sc in mass communication, photography was one of the prerequisites for the course. “After graduation, I focussed on photography as an art, but had always wanted to do something different with my pictures.”
It was after his graduation, during a photography training in 2016, that he met Eniola Afolabi. Afolabi, who became a close friend, was a female photographer, who, according to him, is “always ready and eager to learn”. Impressed by his unique way of working with photography, she urged him to check out the works of the Spanish artist Antonio Mora, whose digital collage works seem to merge dream worlds with reality. Taking her advice, Oyedele was inspired enough by Mora’s works to learn all he thought he could from his technique, which he says resonates with his spirit.
Photography, it had dawned on him, was also an art form. Hence, he yearned for more. For he was tired of rehashing the same old technique used in editing pictures.
Still, on his favourite mediums, he would choose acrylics from the detached perspective of an art lover. He recalls his love-at-first-sight encounter with acrylic on canvas painting displayed at the Abeokuta-based art community space, called KUTA.
Still, on his love for the visual arts, it expectedly traces way back to his childhood years. Not even his being terrible at making handcrafted artworks could diminish his love for art. Over the years, he had developed a fascination for Nike Davies-Okundaye’s adire fabrics, the late Ladi Kwali’s pottery works and Bruce Onobrakpeya’s paintings and sculptures, among the works of other legendary artists he read about while he was a fine arts student during his junior secondary school years. “I yearned to have some of their works in my private art collection,” he says.
For Oyedele, evergreen highlife tunes and a fusion of Afrobeat tracks of the legendary Fela Anikulapo-Kuti creates the right ambience for producing artworks. As for his sources of inspiration, he says he draws them from the depths of his being in obedience to the spirit of art.
As the last child and the only son in a family of three children, he is overwhelmed by the solicitude of his mother and two sisters. Though initially indifferent about his interest in art, they overtime became supportive as soon as they realised that he was in earnest about it. “They are always excited about my next artworks. My sisters always love me to share the message behind each artwork I create with them.”
Oyedele, like most youths, had been ambivalent about his career’s path. First, he had wanted to study law but failed to gain admission because he didn’t have the requirement for the course, which included mathematics, a subject he had no passion for. This led to his repeating his Senior Secondary 3 at Saint Monica Secondary School in the Lagos mainland neighbourhood of Isolo, in a bid to retake the Senior School Certificate Examination and pass all his papers. When he eventually succeeded in gaining admission into the University of Lagos, he was enrolled for its diploma programme in law. His apathy for the course apparently led to his discerning dad’s decision to withdraw him from the institution and send him to the Redeemer’s University in the Osun State town of Ede.
So far, he has produced about 50 works, only one of which was commissioned. As for participating in exhibitions, the Best Art Exhibition would be the first and only so far for the young artist, whose role models are Ade Adekola and Antonio Mora.
A typical day (Monday to Saturdays) for Oyedele starts from 7 am when he resumes for his day job as a traffic officer with the Ogun State Traffic Compliance and Enforcement Corps (TRACE). He returns home after the close of work at 5 pm to his artworks after a shower, a dinner and a power nap. He would usually retire to be at 3 am every day, only to wake up by 6 am.
Oyedele’s works are currently being featured alongside those of seven other artists in a virtual exhibition being organised by Art Twenty One gallery in Lagos, which opened on Wednesday, November 4.