Opeyemi Matthew OLUKOTUN Nigeria, b. 1989

My works celebrate humans, their amazing facial expressions, body gestures, extreme enthusiasm to work, behavioural activities, and their passion. "
Opeyemi Olukotun 

Opeyemi Olukotun was born in Ipetu Ijesha, Osun State in 1989.

Browsing absentmindedly on Instagram, my gaze was immediately drawn to a portrait painted by an unknown artist, but one that seemed so obviously real and present despite the narrowness of the smartphone screen that I remembered it. Later I would discover that its author was Opeyemi Matthew Olukotun, a young and talented Nigerian painter.
I have seen other portraits painted by him and in particular those that are the subject of this exhibition. While they never resemble one another, they are indisputably part of the same whole that is visually identifiable thanks to certain characteristics whose sum is what is called style.
Generally painted in acrylic on large canvases (often over 1m x 1m) and rather square, these works highlight the face and only the face that occupies much of the surface, except when it overflows the edges of the canvas.
These portraits are part of Olukotun’s "paradoxical" works that, while giving the impression of perfect realism, borrow artifice and false pretence from techniques which make it possible to achieve a result that is more evocative than real.
If we go beyond the first visual perception, we quickly realize that the painter plays very skillfully with shades and transparencies, solids and voids, reminders of color, blurred lines— or on the contrary, with a very clear line; in short, a quite remarkable set of processes that allow Olukotun to obtain the results he desires.
Beyond the simple representation of people who we do not know if they are real or anonymous, it is above all a portrait of the essence of these people that the artist intends to paint. The title of the works, which often constitute a series, clearly confirms this: "State of mind", "Thinking" or “Feeling". Opeyemi Olukotun says it himself: “My works celebrate humans, their amazing facial expressions, their body gestures, their enthusiasm for their work, their behavioral activities, and their passions.”
With these portraits that succeed several previous series ("Okada" series; "Night" series; "Market" series and faces), the painter demonstrates his great technical mastery. And we mustn’t be surprised when he passionately and truly declares himself a master of drawing. Only an experienced draftsman can have such a formal mastery of forms and expressions.
The artist says that he is fascinated by the human anatomy and is passionate about drawing the different aspects of it: movements, facial expressions, proportions, etc. His color palette is harmonious and fairly unified, although he provokes "breaks" with spots and lines that create a visual contrast that, as he explains, are intended to provoke dialogue and connectivity around them.
All his characters wear head coverings (military beret, scarf, toquilla straw hat) without any particular explanation.
More than anything, it is his desire to understand the state of mind, the psychological condition of the subject that demonstrates his originality and above all his strength. The painter tells us: “I make sure that the faces I paint represent the people I intend to paint. When I paint a soldier's face, for example, it should look like a soldier's face, not a farmer's. I make sure to pay attention to what makes human faces different based on their life experiences.”
These life experiences can be read not only in the looks, but also in the physiognomy, the rendering of the skin and its tensions, the lighting, the vibration that runs through them. The artist affirms that this work, this play of colors, allows for "questioning perception, perspective and assumptions". We are surprised to want to recount the life story of each of his subjects because there we can read everything, pride, boredom, emotion, fear. Likewise, a form of melancholy dominates, we do not know if it belongs to the creator or to his subjects and, in the latter case, why he chooses them…
Viewers want to challenge the artist to ask him to represent this or that expression of the soul and I have no doubt that Olukotun is quite capable of doing it. In any case, his evolution towards portrait painting has been welcomed by his fans and critics and we understand them without difficulty.
Opeyemi Olukotun was born in Ipetu Ijesha, Osun State, Nigeria in 1989. He is only 33 years old! He graduated from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, Nigeria with a degree in Fine and Applied Arts in 2012, then he began his career as a creative art teacher in an upper secondary school. In 2016, after a few years teaching, he chose to leave this administrative career and live full-time from his artistic creation. He has participated in several group exhibitions and competitions in Nigeria, but this exhibition is his first solo show outside of his country.
Olukotun undoubtedly has the material and the spirit to be among those who will count in contemporary art in the coming years.


Art Critic
Dakar, Senegal
August 2022