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Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 12:12 am

Mansion hosts exhibit by Springfield’s Nigerian artist

“Elegance and Beauty I” by Olu-Jimi Adeniyi, part of a recent exhibit hosted by the Illinois Executive Mansion.
On Nov. 21, the Illinois Executive Mansion hosted an artist’s reception for Olu-Jimi Adeniyi of Springfield, resident artist for the Springfield and Central Illinois African-American History Museum. The exhibit, which completed its run on Nov. 26, is intended to be the first of many to grace the mansion’s gallery once renovations are completed sometime in 2018. The exhibit was a collaborative effort between the museum, the Governor’s Office of Public Engagement, the Illinois Executive Mansion Association and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Adeniyi’s ambitions for this work extend beyond the mansion exhibition. “I want to put the African-American History Museum and Springfield itself on the map for the art world,” he said. “I figure this might be a start.”

Adeniyi, 47, is originally from Nigeria and settled in Springfield in 1994 shortly after graduating with a degree in art from the Edwardsville campus of SIU. He now works as an information systems analyst for the Department of Children and Family Services and strongly feels that the Springfield arts community does not get the credit it deserves. “There are incredible artists here, there’s a lot of culture,” he enthused. “I asked myself, what’s the spice that I can bring in to piggyback on what’s already existent here?”

He describes the ongoing project which brought about the mansion exhibit as a brainchild sired by himself, museum executive director Doug King and Justin Blandford, superintendent of Springfield historic sites. Their aim is to collect artwork unique to Springfield.

Adeniyi’s work is nothing if not unique, combining elements he synthesized from studying in Nigeria, London and Illinois. His works include a startling depth of field which gives viewers the sense that they could just walk into the scenes of African village life he depicts. The artist describes his style as owing as much to sculpture as traditional painting. However. there is literally more to some of his canvases than meets the eye of the average viewer.

“In my signature series,” he explains, “there is actually a second painting behind the painting you see on the surface. I figure that 300 or 400 years down the road, when the top layer of the painting fades, the underlying painting will emerge.” He says that a careful, detailed look at these works will reveal the second painting, patiently waiting for its moment in the light.

A major part of what allows for this sort of multilayered work is the technique Adeniyi employs called impasto, which accounts for the the thickness you see in his paintings. Rather than brushes, his work employs knife strokes – to the point where he considers his paintings to actually be sculptures on canvas. “When you are close to my paintings, all you see are globs, generously applied – but when you stand back, that blob becomes a facial expression, for instance.”

These effects are time-consuming – Adeniyi says that his painting entitled “Evening Market,” included in the mansion exhibit, took between three and four years to complete. “A face alone, which only measures one inch, can take me up to a month,” he said. “I immerse myself in the painting, I become part of the painting, I talk to the painting.”

In addition to artistic techniques, Adeniyi says he spends a fair amount of time studying anatomy which, along with a preternatural memory for faces (“I could actually paint your face right now, Scott,” he told me over the phone, having briefly met me once. “I see your face right now in my head.”) informs his method of dissecting facial features into shapes and forms.

He describes most of his actual painting technique as having developed in Nigeria but credits his studies at SIU-Edwardsville with focusing his approach. “I had the raw talent but when I came to the western world my talent became refined,” he said.  

Scott Faingold can be reached via sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.

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