Ken Nwadiogbu stakes his artistic claim with “Fragments of Reality” – Toni Kan
...with solo exhibition in London
The colour yellow can be tricky for the artist.
A dash of blue and it becomes green, a spot of brown and it becomes unsightly but paired expertly with red; it becomes a luminescent orange.
Artists who have displayed a facility for and shown a mastery of the sunny hue include Vincent van Gogh with his vibrant and intense yellows in works like “Sunflowers” and “The Bedroom”; Henri Matisse in works like “The Dance” and “The Joy of Life” as well as the pioneer of abstract art, Wassily Kandinsky, whose “Yellow-Red-Blue” is a study in the use of luminescent yellow and orange.
That luminescence and masterful handling is evident in the works of Ken Nwadiogbu whose solo exhibition opened at London’s Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery in the South East.
Curated by Dolly Kola-Balogun of Abuja- based Retro Africa and proceeding under the theme; “Fragments of Reality”, the solo exhibition, his first since relocating to the UK and completing his studies at the Royal College of Art, will run from 7 October – 25 November 2023.
Opening at the beginning of Frieze week, Nwadiogbu’s paintings are attracting footfalls and wowing art patrons and dilettantes by the numbers.
The paintings rendered mainly in yellow, red and orange are mostly portraits of unnamed individuals which began life, first as photographs which were then turned into paintings in a Wordsworthian “spontaneous overflow of emotions recollected in tranquility” – and blazing colours.
In “transferring” photographic images onto canvas, Nwadiogbu is striving to reinterpret fleeting moments captured on film and then recollected in oil on canvas.
As he notes in the statement accompanying the exhibition, “when a moment has passed, memories become energy, so that even when the visual experience fades, the feeling of it remains and becomes embedded into who we are.”
Those memories are heightened by his mind focusing and illuminating specific details. In Wish You were Here, a female figure stares into the distance, her hands resting on the grille of a fence; in No Way Back, another female figure with her back to the viewer is captured at the top of an escalator while in Stranger in London, a third female figure with her back to us is captured at a moment of contemplation.
Nine of the 11 works on display feature female subjects, caught in moments of reflection with their gazes averted thus heightening the feeling that these anonymised subjects could be anyone or everyone.
In the three images where the faces are visible Visitor V, Summer Shower and Empire State of Mind, the eyes are the focal point of the pieces seemingly engaging the viewer with unspoken eloquence.
There is in these anonymous portraits an overwhelming feeling of reflection and contemplation, loneliness and solitude, longing and a pining for something if not wholly lost but in abeyance.
Nwadiogbu’s relocation to the UK and his disconnection from the familiar seems to find eloquent expression in these portraits but his choice of bright and warm colours manages to keep the portraits from slipping into gloomy abjection.
The works reflect the thoughts process of the émigré but where a less competent artist would have presented gloomy and depressing images we have an exuberance borne out of his choice of colours which manage to save the portraits from depressing the viewer.
In the accompanying installation pieces, Journey Mercies, for which credit must be given to the curator, a series of stacked boxes present headshots of anonymous individuals glimpsed on Nwadiogbu’s wanderings around his new city.
The subjects are in many ways akin to Ezra Pounds “the apparition of these faces in the crowd” from his 1911 imagist poem “In a Station of the Metro”.
In those images, the eyes have it! Highlighted eyes stare at your from spherical orbs which engage and yet refuse to be engaged.
But for this newly arrived immigrant, the overwhelming emotion that comes across from engaging with his works is, as has been noted, not one of gloom but of defiant acceptance of his new surroundings and this is most obvious in the confident pose of the lone male subject in the already referenced Empire State of Mind which recalls Jay Z’s lines in the song of the same title where he raps:
“I’m the new Sinatra, and since I made it here/I can make it anywhere.”
This may not be New York but it is obvious that Ken Nwadiogbu, a recipient of The Future Awards in his native Nigeria is staking his claim in London and the UK with swag despite the fact that as Jay Z raps on the same song “Lights is blinding.”