In the chaotic city of Lagos, Nigeria, Ojo Ayotunde finds inspiration in reverse. The busy, loud, and colourful streets result in a need to quiet, private introspection that Ojo finds in his artistic process. His compositions, however, with their subtle tones and responsive subjects in solitude, call those who contemplate his artwork to pause and reflect too. Ojo invites the viewers to connect with his emotional landscape by exhibiting his paintings in international stages which amplify the voices of African and diasporic artists like him. Indeed, his first solo exhibition – date and place to be confirmed – will be realised later this year.
Hello Ayotunde! How are you feeling today? First of all, congratulation for the two months you spent in residence at Southern Guild Art Gallery! What did this experience mean to you as an artist?
Thank you! It was a very meaningful experience for me as an artist in the sense that it provided me with a dedicated space and time to work, and I was able to fully immerse myself in my creative process without the usual distractions of daily life.
I had the opportunity to explore and experiment new techniques within my practice and also delve deeper into the themes that inspire my work. I particularly enjoyed connecting and interacting with fellow artists, learning about their practice and sharing experiences.
Through the Southern Guild Art Gallery, your art was exhibited in the main section of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair alongside paintings, sculptures, photography, and mixed-media work by other artists. Can you tell us more about this shared space and representation of contemporary artists from Africa and its diasporas?
Being a part of the art fair alongside the diverse array of artistic expressions was truly inspiring for me. It provided a platform for contemporary artists to show their work and engage with a wider audience amplifying the voices of African and diasporic artists, fostering connections within the artistic community and beyond.
This wasn’t your first time though! You had already worked with international galleries, like the MARUANI MERCIER Art Gallery in Brussels, and even took part in another group exhibition entitled Tales for a Stranger. What was it like to step into this global stage and to do so alongside a host of other artists?
It was a mixture of different feelings really, it was both an exhilarating and humbling moment for me. Seeing that I was able to show in those places and doing so alongside other artists was truly inspiring. It challenged me to want to do more while also improving my practice and the quality of my work.
There was a sense of responsibility and visibility that came with getting on the international stage, because now my work is seen by a larger and more diverse audience, this was both exciting and daunting for me at the same time. It required a level of confidence in my practice and willingness to embrace the challenges of showing my work on this level.
You showcased your work in your hometown too back in 2022 with the In-Situ Encounters in Space at the Kó Gallery and the Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, Group Show at the Rele Gallery. How did you prepare for such exhibitions on an artistic and personal level?
On an artistic level, preparing involved me refining some parts of my work to accommodate for the themes explored in each show. This often meant spending time in the studio experimenting different ideas, mediums, techniques, to fruit a compelling body of work at the end of the day. I engage in research, drawing inspiration from personal experiences, memory, and space.
Preparing for the shows on a personal level was mainly an introspective process. It involved me confronting self doubts and my vulnerabilities as an artist while also embracing the opportunity to share my work.
You are still based in Lagos. How does your heritage and the Nigerian day-to-day and artistic life influences your work, if at all?
I’d like to say that I think the Nigerian day-to-day life influences my work in reverse in the sense that my work now aims to be that calm that I often search for in the ever bustling city of Lagos through my use of subtle colour tones and my composition to evoke a reposeful mood.
You got a Higher National Diploma Degree in Graphic Design from the School of Art, Design and Printing of the Yaba College of Technology. You also worked as a junior art director with Rosabel Advertising but then decided to be a full-time studio artist. How do you think these academic and professional experiences shape you as an artist?
My degree in Graphic Design provided me with a solid foundation in visual communication, principles and elements of design and technical skills, all of which have gone on to influence my creative process in terms of my understanding of composition and use of colours, which I think are important parts of creating a work of art. It also challenged me to think critically and conceptually about my work, fostering a creative mindset that continues to influence my process.
Your artistic portfolio consists of various works, studies, paintings, and drawings. How do you approach the different forms of art, and do you have a favourite one or a subject which you prefer for a certain media?
Right now I'm enjoying painting, even though my practice started with drawing. I don't necessarily have a favourite or preferred theme for a certain medium. Instead, I approach the different art forms with a sense of curiosity while being open to inspiration, allowing my subjects to emerge organically from my imagination, observation and experiences.
With painting, I find that I'm drawn to the tactile nature of the medium and the ability to layer colours, textures to create depth and atmosphere responding intuitively to the canvas and allowing the artwork to emerge organically over time while with drawing, I find solace in the meditative act of it. It allows me to explore line, form and composition in a more immediate and spontaneous way and recently I've been exploring the possibilities of merging both painting and drawing mediums within my works. 
Your use of materials varies too going from charcoal to pastel and from oil to acrylic, but your colour palette, apart from your black and white portraits, mainly consists of subtle tones and delicate hues. Does this colour scheme derive from the subjects you choose or the mood you want to convey? Guide us through your creating process.
The colour palette I employ in my works are mostly influenced by the mood I aim to convey more than the subject I choose. In my creative process I'm thinking of how colours can add to the narrative or emotional resonance of each piece. I'm inspired by the natural world when choosing my colours, observing the interplay between light and shadow, as well as the subtle shifts in colour within different environments. This observational approach informs my use of colours, allowing me to create compositions that evoke certain moods.
Another interesting technique of yours is the use of palette knives instead of paintbrushes. What inspired this choice and what do you reckon is the fundamental difference in the use of the two for your painting’s results?
I was initially inspired to paint with palette knives by a Nigerian artist that I respect Ibe Ananaba because of his deft use of the palette knife in his paintings. It seemed to me like an approach to push the boundaries of traditional painting methods and I found this intriguing. They allow for a more textured and expressive surface that gives depth to an artwork unlike paint brushes that typically produce smooth, fluid strokes. Palette knives allow for a more impasto application and highly textured surface.
Your subjects are mainly human ones in ordinary settings and solitary moments and your archives reveal a frequent search of identity through self-portraits. What do you aim to discover or to convey with this quiet, contemplative compositions?
These introspective compositions for me serve as a call to pause, I aim to draw viewers into a space of reflection and contemplation, encouraging them to pause and engage with the deeper layers of meaning within the artwork and themselves. By portraying human subjects in moments of solitude and introspection, I hope to evoke a sense of empathy, inviting viewers to connect with the emotional landscape of the human experience.
What project are you working on right now? What is your goal for 2024?
Right now putting together a body of work for my first solo exhibition which comes up much later in this year 2024 God willing.