Charcoal, pastel, and pencil on paper
76.2 x 101.6 cm / 30 x 40 in (image size)
Nigerian-American artist Toyin Ojih Odutola (b. 1985, Ile-Ife, Nigeria) is 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 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 a 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 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.