Recorded in New York on Sunday 26th January 2020, Russell & Robert meet leading artist Toyin Ojih Odutola, best known for her multimedia drawings and works on paper, which explore the malleability of identity and the possibilities in visual story-telling. Interested in the topography of skin, Ojih Odutola has a distinctive style of mark-making using only basic drawing materials, such as ballpoint pens, pencils, pastels and charcoal. This signature technique involves building up of layers on the page, through blending and shading with the highest level of detail, creating compositions that reinvent and reinterpret the traditions of portraiture. Ojih Odutola credits the development of her style from using pen, which holds a special significance through its function as a writing tool, as her work is also akin to fiction. She often spends months crafting narratives that unfold through series of artworks like the chapters of a book.
Her work is inspired by both art history and popular culture, as well as her own personal history—being born in Ilé-Ifẹ̀, Nigeria then moving as a child to America where she was raised in conservative Alabama. The idea of traveling or transporting the self is a recurring theme in her work and, for Ojih Odutola, the construction of her figures is a means of discovering an individual’s character and personal story. Though the representation of skin has been a core focus of her practice, she has also explored depictions of landscapes, architecture and domestic interiors in more recent series.
We discuss Toyin's forthcoming Barbican solo exhibition 'A Countervailing Theory', her first-ever in the UK, currently postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This epic cycle of new work will explore an imagined ancient myth, with an immersive soundscape by artist Peter Adjaye. Ojih Odutola, recognising the pen as a ‘writing tool first’, plays with the idea that drawing can be a form of storytelling. Working exclusively with drawing materials including pastel and charcoal, she approaches her process of drawing as an investigative practice. She proposes speculative fictions, inviting the viewer to enter her uncannily familiar yet fantastical world. Working like an author or poet, she often spends months creating extensive imaginary narratives, which play out through a series of works to suggest a structure of episodes or chapters. Drawing on an eclectic range of references, from ancient history to popular culture to contemporary politics, Ojih Odutola encourages the viewer to piece together the fragments of the stories that she presents.
Follow @ToyinOjihOdutola on Instagram and view Toyin's new online exhibition via her gallery @JackShainman's website www.jackshainman.com For images of all artworks discussed in this episode visit @TalkArt. We've just joined Twitter too @TalkArtPodcast. If you've enjoyed this episode PLEASE leave us your feedback and maybe 5 stars if we're worthy in the Apple Podcast store. Thank you for listening to Talk Art, we will be back very soon.
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