adebanjii alade,  adelaide damoah,  modern art

Adelaide Damoah in Conversation with Adebanji Alade

I was introduced to the the man himself one day in 2009 during an artist meeting.  While six artists sat around a table in MacDonald’s, discussing a possible group show, Adebanji Alade shocked us all with a remarkable sketch of one of the artists which he completed while we  talked. From that day forward, I have paid close attention to his career and art and have a great respect for his talent and work ethic and his passion for drawing has influenced me in a number of ways.

Born in 1972, Adebanji Alade says that his interest in the arts first started at the tender age of six when he became obsessed with drawing his favourite football stars.  Between 1992 and 1997, Alade majored in Fine Art at the renowned Yaba College of Technology in Nigeria. Between 2003 and 2005, Alade further enhanced his portraiture skills by attending Heatherleys School of Fine Art in Chelsea, London, going on to win the  John Walton Figurative Prize and the Heatherley Award for the “Student with the most Outstanding Paintings.” Since then, the artist has won countless awards and had a number of high profile exhibitions, including exhibitions with The Royal Society of British Painters and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. He is notoriously prolific, sketching from life on a daily basis. Alade has come to be known to many of his followers for producing masterful small sketches while travelling on public transport. Remaining humble, yet quietly confident, he has an obvious passion for the human form and states,

“My goal is to bring out the beauty of whatever I portray.” 

From the man himself…

“I think I am greatly blessed to be bestowed this wonderful talent by the Lord God Almighty and it is my utmost desire to glorify Him in whatever I do. “

Adebanji Alade took time out from sketching and painting to give me his thoughts on art and success…

Adebanji Alade. Image courtesy of the artist.

Adelaide Damoah (AD): How would you describe your work?

Adebanji Alade (AA): In my work I simply paint people and places. Everything I love about life has to do with these two categories.

My work is an integration of Impressionism and expressionism. My paintings are purely impressionistic as it’s the light and its effects on the subject matter that comes first. Then I try my best to express myself. By this I mean that I try to add a bit of myself into the painting so that it also has an emotional content. My drawings have the same process. In my sketches I purely respond to what’s in front of me with the time and materials available at my disposal.

Sketch of St Pauls Cathedral in London

AD: Tell me a bit more about your outdoor paintings and drawing.

AA: My outdoor painting is purely founded on my love for places. I like places, both rural and urban. How light affects these places, the organic stuff like trees, water and architecture interest me a lot. When I’m not painting I am always looking at places and scenes in my head and I’m thinking, “That would look good in paint or with strokes!” So when it comes to my outdoor painting and drawing, whenever I have the opportunity I’ll always be right there in the outdoors painting and sketching away! In these works, you’ll always see an element of sketching which is the common denominator in all I do outdoors, as I try to capture the freshness and vitality in a location so that it evokes such responses in the viewers mind when they see them.

The pochade box  has also revolutionised the way I approach outdoor painting, as it has freed me up to take just a small box with a  few pieces of equipment anywhere to paint. The sketchbook for the drawing is my greatest weapon, I love anything from the A4 size and less, as it is also easy to carry about and to pull out once I see something that captures my attention.

Rain, Rain, Rain I, London Streets, 48 x 30, oil on canvas

AD: When was your first solo show?

AA: I wish you asked me about my second solo,  that was in Bath in 2010 and it was a blast, and you won’t believe, I’m still selling work from it as I decided to paint 212, 6” x8” plein air paintings of Bath! The first was in 2003 at Hammersmith during the Black History month in October.

AD: Did you sell any work?

AA: I sold only 2! I was so wild  and young at heart, I just wanted to make my mark with my African based Works but it seemed that I didn’t think about every other thing that makes an exhibition a success, like contacting punters, collectors and having a solid marketing strategy. But when I look back, I look back with joy because it taught me so much!

AD: Do you regularly sell work at your shows?

AA: Yes, I do. My main sales come through my the galleries that represent me in London (Enid Lawson Gallery) and in Bath (The Bath Gallery)

AD: Are you a full time professional painter now or do you do anything else to supplement your work?

AA: I am a full time painter, I went full time in 2008, when I couldn’t stand not doing this with all my time I quit my job I had been doing for 8-9 years and jumped into this art bubble fully!

Rush Hour IV, 48 x 30 , oil on canvas

AD: I see you have won a number of awards, can you tell me a bit more about them and how you entered into the competitions to begin with?

AA: Yes, the competitions and awards are what really gave me the confidence that I could really make a mark in the art scene over here in the UK. I think I just started buying Art Magazines and I’d try any competition I saw going on in them. I started this in 1999 when I came over from Nigeria but I didn’t get a breakthrough until 2002 when I got a runner up prize in the SAA (Society for All Artists Competition) it used to be The Society for Amateur Artists.

Since then I have just always made it my habit every year to enter a least two competitions and see how it goes. Some have ended up being disasters with rejections and some have been great with awards. I prepare myself for both possibilities! It’s my job to keep putting my work out there and it’s their responsibility to accept or reject, I have no power over that. This has always been the way I’ve handled the competitions and I went from constantly being a runner up on some to actually winning. The competition that meant so much to me happened in 2007. It was at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Exhibition. They normally have a prize going sponsored by Winsor and Newton and the awards go to the under 35’s. I had previously put in for this and I got rejected. So I went to the Awards ceremony in 2006 and I said to myself, “I have got the potential to win this award next year”. I soaked in all the winning paintings that year and I challenged myself with 2 entries the following year. I ended up having one accepted and one rejected. But the one accepted won the First Prize of £1,000 worth of Art materials from Winsor and Newton and my winning work sold for £1, 150! I was so pleased and winning that competition plus another Watercolour competion organised by Winsor and Newton earlier that year got me into the full swing of confidence and courage. I must say,  it takes a lot to build courage and confidence, but winning these things really gave me that extra” umph” that I needed to take my career forward!

AD: There is a palpable increase in interest in the work of African artists with recent news about big sales for people like El Anatsui. How do you think this will affect African artists like yourself in the diaspora going forward?

AA: I think it’s amazing! I always love to hear Africans in Diaspora succeeding because it takes a lot of guts to practice and get success in the UK, especially if you are African! So success for one means more rippled successes for others.

That’s why I’ll do all my best to make a mark so the upcoming black generation can be encouraged. Too many African artists in diaspora are living under their shells yet they have great potential and I know it! So when they see and hear about the successes of others it serves as a great encouragement and that’s what El Anatsui’s success means to me!

Summerlight,clapham common, 24 x 18, oil on canvas

AD: What is your definition of success in art?

AA: It’s hard, but thank God you mentioned,” My definition”. I would say you are successful in art when you are able to produce your very best work on a constant basis and have a constant following of critics, collectors and punters who are always there to affirm that excellence with sales and great publicity.

AD: By your definition, would you describe yourself as successful?

AA: Not yet! Seriously! I am working on constantly putting out my best work. I have had ups and downs but once I am able to get my very very best work done on a constant basis. That would be the beginning. At the moment I am almost there!

AD: What advice would you have for a young artist wishing to follow in your footsteps?

AA: The best advice I would give any young artist wanting to follow my footsteps, if it’s really worth following, (they have to judge that),  is to work hard on improving in any aspect of their art that they really know and think they have to improve upon. Work at it daily. For instance my creed and motto has been to sketch from life every single day because in the kind of art that I do, these sketching skills are very important in being able to perform in the bigger picture. Everything I am able to do is as a result of sketching, sketching from life daily. So I’ll say sketch, sketch and sketch- just make sure your drawing skills are always up to scratch! In representational art this is vital!

AD: Do you have any exhibitions coming up this year where people can see your work?

AA: Yes, I am currently a Provisional member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and this year I’ll be exhibiting with them in December at the Mall Galleries.

I am also a member of the Plein Air Brotherhood, a group of 6 Plein air painters who paint outdoors and are all friends. This one would be in October at the A& K Wilson Gallery in Hertfordshire.

I am  going to be part of an exhibition in Nigeria between November and December. It is going to be an international Art Expo event that would include works of some Nigerian Artists in diaspora with other well known Nigerian artists.

Evening light, from battersea bridge, 24 x 30, oil on board

AD: Where can people view your work online? The most comprehensive place to see everything I’ve been doing since 2006.

Gracie, 14 x 10, graphite

An abridged version of this interview will be published in the August edition of Lime Magazine, with thanks to editor Vernia Mengot.
Thanks to Mark M Whelan

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