Friday, January 29, 2016

Of Context And Without: The Very Important Language of Toyin Ojih Odutola

Expect a lot of daring twists and turns in Of Context and Without.
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s multifaceted drawings at Jack Shainman Gallery grace the white walls with compelling black and white compositions redefining a viewer's contained knowledge of racial identification in figurative portraiture. Using a wide scale variety, with pieces either grouped together or standing alone, cultural makeup is not told in its usual visual language. Odutola's strength lies in creating an alternate reality, a sophisticated kind of noir that evokes and stimulates our perceptions, asking questions, retaining answers.

The Future is Romantic, 2015, charcoal on board, 32 x 80 inches (board).
On black paper, black faces are either outlined in white charcoal or sculpted out completely in white charcoal. Their negroid features-- broad noses, protruding foreheads, full lips, hair styles, and clothing-- signifies categorized identity. The use of line and pattern entail an intriguing range of shapes, breaking away from traditional contour drawing.

In a larger scale marker and pencil drawing, housing graphic implication, white afrocentric hair differs from background space as opulent pearls grace the monochromatic voluminous body looking up in the air. Is it an absent space? Is this ghostly light that surrounds her? She is certainly not trapped. She is poised, tentative. Her ready gaze speaks of an acknowledged presence, of knowing the unseen. Patterned semi circles shape her lithe provocative body. She appears to be all eccentric nakedness immersed in tender longing.
In another marker drawing, frustrating agony aggrieves a female figure whose face and upper body take ample control of the picture plane. The shapes again are heavily present in this smaller work. Odutola has such a remarkable gift at rendering hands, making hands at time become a protagonist's primary instruments of sharing emotional strife.
Part of The Treatment series, pen, gel pen, and pencil on paper, 12" x 9," 25 pieces altogether.
"Of course the figures are black, but not all are of African descent."
Odutola's small white framed pieces form a grid. In each separate work, white human faces are seemingly choked with coiled black hair, almost liked curly ribbon strands embedded on their features, forming a unique yet compelling three dimensional complexity.
However, the physical hair character of each figure contains large, flat shapes of opaque white.
Again, these beautifully detailed portraits defiantly offer up a brazen challenge, an irrefutable hook. Care and thoughtfulness are in the delicate rendering, in the precise quality of line weight and shading-- the sclera is especially a highlight among the ribbon faces. Yet these nightmarish faces, these gritty, forlorn stares off in the distance or towards the viewer brings psychological intensity that is both threatening and surreal. 

Close up of a particularly sinister expressive face.
On the far side of the gallery wall features four incredible white framed works of seemingly blank white paper. On closer inspection, inscribed textural quality drawings could be seen and valued for their haunting discovery. These four "ghost" pieces were only visible to human eyes. Perhaps an intelligent state-of-the-art camera could capture the intricate uniqueness discovered in the light of Odutola’s white on white compositions.

They may look empty, but inside these four white frames contain the most academically rendered portraits.
Double portrait.
Odutola's comprehensive breadth of daring techniques challenges the social, political, and at time environmental assessment of racial identification. Fascinating strategies take a risk with space and audience, testing their inhabited visual cues and boldly turning them around.
Isn't that a part of an artist's duty to the community-- changing the way we understand the world?
Toyin Ojih Odutola's Of Context and Without is up at Jack Shainman until January 30, 2016.

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