“As He Watched Him Walk Away” (2020) by Toyin Ojih Odutola

 

A NEW SERIES OF WORKS ON PAPER by Toyin Ojih Odutola explores her fascination with marrying images and text. The artist’s pursuit satiates the viewer’s natural inclination to spin narratives around her powerful and alluring portraits.

This desire to imagine the lives and experiences of Ojih Odutola’s subjects is fueled by the compelling titles she gives her drawings. The latest works include “Misread,” “For All the Wrong Reasons,” and, most strikingly, “As He Watched Him Walk Away,” shown above.

Rendered with colored pencil, graphite and ink, many of the new works go beyond narrative titles, pairing images alongside hand-written text in a series of diptychs that present invented stories.

“10 Minutes” (2020) features a woman with a ring in her nose resting her head against a pillow on a green tufted sofa. She appears deep in thought, ruminating. The text that accompanies the drawing is displayed in a poetic, call-and-response format. It reads: “If you could be anyone for five minutes a day, who would you be? Just five minutes? OK. Make it ten. Go. (…) I guess someone who… understands? Huh? (LAUGHS) Wait. Understands what? Everything. Just … for ten minutes everyday, I’m not forcing myself to be empathetic. That’s not how the game works.”

By contrast, “As He Watched Him Walk Away” is a standalone work without accompanying text. We can only imagine the scenario. Is it heartbreak or something else?

The new works are displayed in “Toyin Ojih Odutola: Tell Me A Story, I Don’t Care If It’s True,” an online-only viewing room exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York. (The gallery remains closed temporarily due to COVID-19.)

 


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “10 Minutes,” 2020 (diptych). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 

Ojih Odutola lives and works in New York. She made the drawings and wrote the accompanying texts during the novel coronavirus lockdown.

The artist’s singular style of mark making combines texture and line to create mesmerizing portraits. After working in black and white for an extended period, she began introducing color a few years ago, which has served the work well. The expanded palette adds new dimension, deepening the emotion and perspective conveyed in her drawings.

Most of her subjects are solo, perhaps they are in isolation, too. They are engaged in contemporary activities, such as taking a selfie or wearing white Apple EarPods. Some are depicted in profile or with the backs of their heads to the viewer. Others are captured amid inviting natural landscapes (“For All the Wrong Reasons” and “As He Watched Him Walk Away”).

The online presentation includes a brief essay by Ojih Odutola. “I’m often fascinated with how miscommunications happen and what the imagination conjures in misconstrued spaces—the gulfs between what is intended and how it is received. There lies possibility for stories to emerge from within these spaces of missed connections,” the artist writes in part.

“‘With Tell Me A Story, I Don’t Care If It’s True,’ I’m attempting to question proclivities towards interpretation and the degrees of bias that effect legibility. The invented stories presented in this series of diptychs and standalone works engage with variables, be they irreverent, painful, humorous, and disturbing—the many facets of life and our attempts to communicate these moments.”

“I’m often fascinated with how miscommunications happen and what the imagination conjures in misconstrued spaces—the gulfs between what is intended and how it is received. There lies possibility for stories to emerge from within these spaces of missed connections.” — Toyin Ojih Odutola


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “Streets Ain’t Ready,” 2020 (pencil and ink on Dura-Lar
11 x 14 inches, sheet). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 

Writer Reginald Moore also contributed a short text about the work, which he considers “a generous gesture on behalf of Toyin Ojih Odutola.” Moore calls the artist “a visual novelist.”

It’s an apt description. Ojih Odutola’s portrait of a female collector provides a partial view of two vessels displayed on shelves in the background of the interior space. Wearing an indigo blue turtleneck, she is gazing in the opposite direction. Titled “The Collector” (2020), the drawing is juxtaposed with Ojih Odutola’s text. The language she employs, her literary imagining, suggests a slice of the life of her complex subject.

The artist writes: “It started out slow and modestly. Little bits and bobs here, some memorabilia there, a fateful encounter with a picture. Work and travel built this. Choices that may seem odd, but I only included the things that made me smile. The stories gathered in this room alone… (SIGHS) It’s a biography of a blessed life. / I celebrated my 70th birthday last week. Invited everyone. That’s when the calls and emails came in.”

Ojih Odutola’s drawings are transporting. Her text takes viewers even further.

Writing on Instagram June 2, the artist said: “I sincerely hope these works bring you all solace, a moment of respite, and space to ruminate—quietly, steadily. I hope it helps you all gather, to heal, to find the beauty in our fleeting moments despite the pain and trauma, and in the end, some semblance of peace in the midst of this cruel madness.” CT

 

TOP IMAGE: TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, Detail of “As He Watched Him Walk Away,” 2020 (colored pencil and graphite on Dura-Lar, 19 x 24 inches, framed; 11 x 14 inches, drawing). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 

“Toyin Ojih Odutola: Tell Me A Story, I Don’t Care If It’s True” opened online at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York on June 1, 2020. Check directly with the gallery for updates regarding scheduling.

 


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “The Collector,” 2020 (colored pencil, graphite, and ink on Dura-Lar diptych: 11 x 14 inches, drawing; 8 1/2 x 10 inches, text). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “Chosen,” 2020 (graphite and ink on Dura-Lar 41.5 x 33.5 inches, framed; 11 x 14 inches drawing; 8.5 x 10.5 inches, text) | © Toyin Ojih Odutola, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “Nanban,” 2020 (colored pencil, graphite, and ink on Dura-Lar 19 x 24 inches, framed; 11 x 14 inches, drawing). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “All That Weight,” 2020 (pencil and ink on Dura-Lar, 41.5 x 33.5 inches, framed; 11 x 14 inches, drawing; 8.5 x 10.5 inches, text). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “For All the Wrong Reasons,” 2020 (colored pencil, graphite, and ink on Dura-Lar 19 x 24 inches, framed; 11 x 14 inches, drawing). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “Tell Me A Story, I Don’t Care If It’s True,” 2020 (colored pencil, graphite, and ink on Dura-Lar, 33.5 x 41.5 inches, framed; 11 x 14 inches, drawing; 8.5 x 10.5 inches, text). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “Misread,” 2020 (colored pencil, graphite, and ink on Dura-Lar 19 x 24 inches, framed; 11 x 14 inches, drawing). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “Homeroom,” 2020 (color crayon, pencil and ink on Dura-Lar, diptych: 11 x 14 inches, drawing and text). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “Heuristic,” 2020 (graphite and ink on Dura-Lar 19 x 24 inches, framed; 11 x 14 inches, drawing). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “The Day You Finally See It,” 2020 colored pencil, graphite and ink on Dura-Lar, 33.5 x 41.5 inches, framed; 11 x 14 inches, drawing; 8.5 x 10.5 inches, text). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “As He Watched Him Walk Away,” 2020 (colored pencil and graphite on Dura-Lar 19 x 24 inches, framed; 11 x 14 inches, drawing). | © Toyin Ojih Odutola, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 

FIND MORE about Toyin Ojih Odutola on her website

 

BOOKSHELF
“A Matter of Fact: Toyin Ojih Odutola” was published to accompany a solo exhibition at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. It is the first exhibition catalog dedicated to the artist’s work. “Toyin Ojih Odutola: A Countervailing Theory” will be published to coincide with Toyin Ojih Odutola’s forthcoming exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London. The volume includes an essay by Zadie Smith and an interview with the artist conducted by exhibition curator Lotte Johnson.

 

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