MY CRAFT: Oladipupo Odelola Talks ‘Whatever Is Noble’, Ibadan People And More In New Interview
Creativity starts from the mind, it starts from within first before you put it out, it starts from the situation I want to address, it starts from how I feel about a particular situation and about a particular occurrence
Nigeria’s Creative Industry is one of the industries putting the country on good spotlight with works off Nigerian talents spreading like wildfire across the globe. Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, describes the Nigerian creative industry as the ‘new oil’, the industry has contributed immensely to the growth of Nigerian economic.
Despite high rate of unemployment in the country, through the creative industry, Nigeria now has more self-employed people who are also job-creators using their intellectual property to transform the country – for the better. Recently, individual creativity, talent and skill have berthed more CEOs than other professions in the country.
Being a musician, instrumentalist, actor, actress, poet, artist, writer, comedian, graphics designer, fashion designer, you can earn yourself good living without worrying yourself about Nigeria’s unemployment and underemployment that are frustrating graduates. We’ve even seen a lot of people quit their jobs in other fields to join the creative industry and they are doing better.
An economist cum visual artist, Oladipupo Odelola has carved a niche for himself in the city of Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, as one of the notable artists in the state. Recently, MY CRAFT paid him a visit at his studio, ‘Dipo Art Studio’, which he described as ‘not-so-big place’, located at Awolowo junction, to have a chat with him.
It’s fascinating to know Odelola is among the few Nigerians doing what they are passionate about, he has been able to have his stand and moved away from the ideology of going to school and settling for any job you find yourself in ‘any company’ that most Nigerians follow.
As the chat was ongoing a lot of questions popped into my head, I was quick to ask the relationship between economics and art, he laughed and responded like he was expecting the question. “There’s none, except the marketing aspect. Economics has been helping my marketing strategy,” he said.
Odelola studied Economics at Bowen University, but has always been drawing from childhood. After his education, he worked for a year after his NYSC, then decided to follow his heart to be a professional artist. He went for six months training at Paddy art gallery in Ibadan, and worked there for another six months before he left to float his own studio in 2016.
“I’ll be satisfied when I have my works hanging all over the museums in the world.”
How has the development been since you floated your own art studio?
“It has been amazing, although there were little huddles when I started, but I sailed through because I know this is what I want to do. I can’t say I was perfect when I started, I kept developing myself, even in the process of me training others, I develop myself and till now I’m still developing myself. I saw some of my old works when I just started in this studio, ‘Dipo Art Studio’; when I compared them to my recent works, the differences are there, in essence of creativity and quality of the work I produce, there’s a big difference. This should be like a benchmark for artists, you should be able to track your progress, where you started, where you are now and where you want to be. Since I got here, I’ve been growing, I have a goal ahead and where I want to be. It has been an amazing journey.”
In terms of where you want to be, what are you looking at?
My dream? My own dream? It should be among one of the greatest if not the greatest. I’ll be satisfied when I have my works hanging all over the museums in the world, then, I will be fulfilled. Then, I can say I have tried, e.g. if I go to Switzerland today, and have my works somewhere I there, same thing in Australia and all countries of the world. When I get to that point, then I can set another goal for myself, but for now, that’s what I’m aiming at.
How are you navigating the art industry?
I’m still very young in the art industry [laughs…] in the little time I’ve been in the industry, I try as much as possible to learn every day and that has been a torch light for me to see through the darkness of art. I reach out more to other artists, I reach out more to people who have been there before me and have gone far in the art business. When you reach out to them and you rob minds, they show you some secrets about art and the business aspect of it. Every day we have new emerging contemporary artists, everyday there’s a new thing in art.
Who are the big names in the industry you’re looking up to?
I have a long list of the people I’m looking up to, in fact an unending list. Kelvin Okafor is one of the guys I adore most in the industry, he’s like a mentor to me. He’s an amazing artiste. There are many others like Steve Brown, Ayo Draw, Arinze, Maas, Ben Nwoka and the list goes on. These people inspire me.
“Art is priceless”
What defines your art?
Creativity starts from the mind, it starts from within first before you put it out, it starts from the situation I want to address, it starts from how I feel about a particular situation, about a particular occurrence. For instance, I might be working and see a happy child, the happiness I see can attract me to produce something similar, then I’ll start thinking of how to portray the happiness in art. My mind is where the creativity journey starts first before I produce it and represent it on a canvas, after creating it and I’m satisfied, then I can title it.
When asked whether the type of satisfaction he derives after making an art is determined by the monetary value he gets or just happiness, he said money isn’t his core determinant of fulfilment but happiness. “The thing is I don’t always like putting money first before creating anything, if you put money first, you may not like the outcome of the art and you may be frustrated. The first satisfaction I derive is happiness, I feel happy about my art.”
How do you price your work?
“[Laughs…] Art to me, it is priceless. It depends on who’s asking for the price, if Obasanjo comes to ask for the price of any of my arts, the price I’d give will be different from what I’d give a ‘common’ man. I can only put a price range, but I can’t say this is how much a particular art must be sold. There’s a price for the portraits, but the creative works, there’s no fixed price for them.”
“Whatever is Noble”
As a young Nigerian who appreciates hard work, Odelola came up with a series named ‘Whatever Is Noble’, to appreciate hard working Nigerian youths. He told MY CRAFT the idea behind ‘Whatever Is Noble’ was developed from the internet fraud that became a trend among the Nigerian youths and how people have been generalizing that all rich youths are involved one fraud or another.
‘Whatever Is Noble’ is out to make a statement and correct the bad notions about the Nigerian youths. Some youths are hard working and they are making it big in their various line of occupations.
In his words; “There a series I did recently, it is called ‘Whatever Is Noble’, and it is to encourage young Nigerians doing meaningful things for themselves and the society. This idea came when internet fraud was really the talk of the town, illegal business was becoming the real thing and we have people who are really doing well without involving themselves in illegal activities and no one is really appreciating them, so I came up with the idea of celebrating and governor Oshakuade was one of the people I celebrated. He’s not a governor in the political world, but people call him governor as nickname. I did the art and I sent it to him. It’s just to appreciate young guys doing noble stuffs and the series is still continuing because there are still a lot of young guys I want to paint.”
What feedback are you getting from the series?
“It is really doing fine, I’ve done an art for Mobolaji Daudu, ‘Governor’ Oshakuade, about six so far. The feedbacks I’ve been getting are impressive. I do the art, send it down to them with a note in it, explaining why they are receiving the art. This is a way of me appreciating them and they show their excitements about it and feel encouraged to do more goods in the society. This is also a means of promoting positive things in our society.”
What do you think the influence of Art is on the society?
“[Responding with enthusiasm] Art is a powerful weapon for an artist like me and others to express themselves, it’s just like music, which is also a powerful weapon. As an artist, I can carry my canvas to express what I feel about the government and I’ll achieve it. For example, Lemi Ghariokwu, renowned for providing many of the original cover images for the recordings Fela Kuti, explained he started art as a rebel against the government, criticizing government’s oppression, he has a voice with his art and I really admire him for that. In recent times, I’ve not seen artists do rebellious arts, after Lemi, there’s no one else. Art is a tool for transformation, depending on how you’re using it to communicate.”
“People in Ibadan are more interested in drawing themselves, they are not ready to pay for other arts that don’t have their face on it”
Do you think the Nigerian economy is affecting art and how people purchase?
Recently a friend of mine, Arinze was called for an exhibition in Miami, they sold one of his works for about $60,000 in the last Miami art week. He’s young and pushing, but it’s hard to sell here in Nigeria.
Somehow, the economy is affecting how people purchase, however, I like the way there is this kind exposure for art now, it’s different from the past, there’s a whole lot of exposure now. Some people at the last Art X in Lagos were like wow.
Art is beyond portrait, some people think it is even all about drawing; this is my creativity I’m selling, not just anyhow thing, if you see it on the wall of your house, you will be happy and relate with it.
I thought of bringing a kind of art presence to Ibadan, arts that people will see and will remind them of their traditions, but from my observation, people in Ibadan are more interested in drawing themselves, they are not ready to pay for other arts that don’t have their face on it. Apart from art, there’s still stingy mentality in Ibadan people, it is also hard for them to give.
Why are you now staying in Ibadan since you know this?
Ibadan is my home, I was born in Ibadan and I cannot betray my source, we’ll just have to sensitize them about the importance of art, so that they can start appreciating it more.
“Consistency; when you keep going, you keep getting better”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about what you do?
“The best advice I’ve ever received was from Sage Barnes, he was using himself as an example. He dropped out of art school to follow his heart because the teachers in art school were teaching him directly what they know and he’s beyond that, he wanted something different, so he left. There was a time I messaged him for advice, he replied me and told me ‘be true to yourself, know that this art is what you want to do, never back down from it’.”
What’s the worst criticism you’ve ever gotten since you’ve been making arts?
“[Without thinking so much, he recalled the moment] I think the worst was when a client rejected a work and she was like this is not the person. She did a work of her siblings and the selfie picture, showing the three siblings was funny and didn’t portray what she wanted to use the art for because the picture lacked the tendency of standing the test of time, after two years, it will lose value. I requested for another photo, but she said that was what she wanted, so I did it and I gave it to her, it was around 2015.
“The client took the picture to Abuja, but she later sent me a text that the art was rejected, that everyone hated it. I felt bad about it, but it made me work harder, when I even saw the art recently, I just laughed at myself, because I’m now better than then. That’s the power of consistency, when you keep going, you keep getting better. If I’m to recreate the work they rejected now, I’m sure they will not have any complain about it. Notwithstanding, I’m always open to criticism, it’s part of my job.”
The Nigerian system wants you to get 8am to 4pm job and they think by being in an office from morning till evening is when you can get financial security. Odelola narrated a scene with is supportive mum who perhaps wasn’t feeling art as at that time, saying; “Recently my mum still told me that [speaking in Yoruba/English] ‘Nkan temi mo, ti mo de shey laye mii ni pe mo ma n gba salary at the end of the month”, which means what she knows and does is a job that pays monthly salary, not art that doesn’t… indirectly advising his son to go get an office job.
He recounted another encounter with a lady who felt being an artist cannot guarantee strong financial power. “I met a lady I told I’m an artist, she then asked, what another thing do I do? She thinks being an artist isn’t enough to live a good life, she expected me to have another stream of income,” he said, adding that “I’m not against having another job, I do have one too, but don’t lose yourself doing another job for money. I don’t blame her because that’s how it is in the society we find ourselves, if it is not 8am – 4pm job, then it’s nothing else. It’s just in recent times that we have people deviating from the mentality. We now have musicians, footballers, actors making good money, so why can’t we have artists too?”