Having successfully developed a signature style, Damola Adeyemo aims for global recognition as one of the best artists. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
When, or how, it all started, seem to have receded too far into the inner recesses of Damola Adeyemo’s memory. Yet, the faint reminiscences of his childhood years still manage to cohere into a vivid sequence of images. And these images of him as a child, drawing and sketching on exercise books and every available surface, float into lucidity from somewhere in his subconscious mind. Back then, he often got punished by his teachers, who did not share his enthusiasm, for lavishly designing his school exercise books with his drawings. Even at that tender age, all he needed to do was to mix different colours and they would end up resolving themselves into one coherent form or another. Also, whenever there was no exercise book to draw on, he would just draw on the bare ground. But that turned out not to be such a bright idea, since – much to his annoyance – the drawings were soon erased whenever people nonchalantly walked over them. All this, meanwhile, did not go unnoticed by a neighbour, who later encouraged his mother to buy him a drawing book. “That boy would be happy seeing his drawings every day,” he recalls the neighbour telling his mother.
Fast-forward to sometime during Adeyemo’s senior secondary school years at King’s Will Secondary School in Ile-Ife. He was then a Senior Secondary 2 student, he recalls. His then literature teacher – whose name he simply now remembers as “Mrs Mary Ann” – saw his drawing on the school’s noticeboard and invited him to her office. “Her words stuck to my brain till date,” he adds. “She said, ‘You have a talent in art’ and then asked what I wanted to study at a tertiary level. When I replied, ‘Fine Art,’ she encouraged me to acquire more skills by understudying a professional artist. According to her, that would make studying art easier for me in a higher institution.”
Taking the teacher’s advice seriously, he began his search for a professional artist in earnest until he found the painter Oyebanji Banjo in 2010. Seeing how passionate he was, Banjo accepted to take him under his wings. Looking back to those years under banjo, Adeyemo relives the feeling of excitement that always coursed through him whenever he went for these special art lessons after his regular school hours.
With the conclusion of his Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations in 2012, Adeyemo continued his apprenticeship under another artist, a scrap metal sculptor and a painter called Dotun Popoola. His period of learning under Popoola would linger until 2016.
But, just about the time he was beginning his apprenticeship with Popoola, he saw a painting done by Jonathan Imafidor at the Obafemi Awolowo University’s Master Studio. That painting, titled “Aso Ebi” was supposed to be part of an Araism Movement exhibition. “I loved his style of painting so much that I started thinking about creating my own style,” the Oyo State-born artist gushes.
This was how he developed a representational art style that seems to be stitched together from a mosaic of several oval shapes. And this took him several years to fine-tune. “We are now in an era where the art industry accepts and appreciates the uniqueness of the individual artist,” he explains. “This fact encourages me to stick to this style and, most importantly, it seems to resonate with most people who engage my paintings.”
As he fine-tuned his unique painting style, he soon became adept with painting with acrylic, which became his favourite medium. Because this medium is a fast-drying one in addition to being odourless, he believes it is best suited to his style of painting. But that is not to say that his first experience with it was anywhere near encouraging. At a stage in his grappling with it, he even found himself wondering if he could ever master it enough to a level expected of a professional artist. But, his persistence with it soon paid off as he became more and more familiar with it.
Adeyemo, who currently holds a diploma in fine and applied arts from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, is currently a final-year undergraduate student of fine and applied arts in the same university.
Yet, when he first made his intention to study art at that level known to his parents, they did not initially warm up to the idea. While his mother rooted for medicine, his father (a farmer) thought he should have chosen an agriculture-related course or economics. Eventually, it took Popoola’s intervention to convince his parents to not only come to terms with his decision to study art but also give him their full support. As for his siblings and friends, they wouldn’t be bothered, so far as it was his heart’s desire.
“I was so convinced about art because I was inspired by the successes of many wealthy and prominent artists,” Adeyemo enthuses.
In 2015, three years after he had started understudying Popoola, the latter urged him not to let anyone discourage him from practising art, saying: “I am what I am today through thanks to art.”
This was all the encouragement Adeyemo needed to remain resolute in his chosen career. In just a matter of a few years, he was already participating in several art exhibitions and competitions. So far, he had participated in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 editions of Ifectivity, an annual departmental exhibition for the Obafemi Awolowo University’s fine and applied arts students. This was besides consistently featuring among the annual Life in My City Art Festival’s top-100 artists, whose works were exhibited in Enugu during the event’s grand finale week. Among other exhibitions and competitions, he participated in was the 2015 annual National Art Competition organised by African Artists’ Foundation, in the 2018 Obafemi Awolowo University’s Fine and Applied Arts Department’s Nigerian Students Art Competition, as well as in the 2019 Ogirikan Art Gallery’s miniature exhibition. In addition to all these, he won his departmental prize for the Best Draughtsman and Artist of the Year for 2018 and the Ifectivity’s prize for Most Participation in 2019.
The 28-year-old, who lists his mentors as Austin Uzor, Ibe Ananaba, Dotun Popoola, Jonathan Imafidor, Steve Epenisi as well as a New York-based artist Casey Baugh, looks forward to eventual global recognition of his kind of art and hopes to be an inspiration for the younger generation of artists. “I also want to make people believe in their uniqueness and would like to see myself among the best artists ever to walk on the surface of the earth. I believe in God and I believe in my dreams.”
Recently, he participated alongside other artists in a 14-day challenge, during which each participant was expected to produce an artwork for each day of the initial 14 days of the federal government-imposed lockdown, which began on Monday, March 30. The 14-day challenge, tagged “The Artist Ladder 14-Day Art Diary”, was curated by an art promoter Blessing Azubike. But, fatigue from sleepless nights and discouragement crept in on him on the 12th day of the challenge. “I had to encourage and motivate myself by remembering why I started it in the first plays,” he says. “Just as an eagle renews its strength, I got up and started to work. I drew a picture that was 14 x18 inches in size, using a pen on chipboard as the medium.”
I titled the drawing “I Will Hold Your Hand through This” since I realised that this was a period one needed not only to be strong, but also empathise with the vulnerable people around us. The image depicts two ladies embracing each other with deep feeling.”
This drawing earned him commendations from many people, who followed the challenge on social media, although he was not excited about its finished state. A week later (on Sunday, April 19), the drawing was published in Arts & Review section of THISDAY Newspapers. And to think that he nearly gave up the idea of drawing that day!
This, for Adeyemo, was one more reason not to give up. Inspired mainly from his environment, personal experiences, his Yoruba cultural milieu and African aesthetics, he hopes to advance the cause of African culture through his art.