I discovered Odutola when I was looking for new portrait artists to introduce to my 5th grade students. Portraits can be and mean so many different things, so I was looking for artists that were doing more than putting a face on a surface. Toyin Odutola was one of those artists.
Much of her work has this similar quality in her figures – the anatomy is somewhat hyper extended in a way that you can get a sense for every muscle of the face and body, black is used in its extremes (Odutola herself describes the joy of using black ink on a blackboard to create something that is so black it’s not black anymore), and lastly – the highlights are done in this manner that feels metallic and slick. The figures have a look like they were sculpted out of audio or video tape strands, both retro and futuristic in their composition and style. While most of the figures and portraits she creates are “black” it is important to understand that this does not mean that the people she is capturing are “black”. Black is simply the color she prefers working with, but the misconception plays a role in the ideas she wants to express and questions she wants to ask. – What is black? Do the drawings inherently look black, regardless of color? Do viewers assume they are African because she is? What does it all mean? I came to know her as a portrait artist, but now feel a bit more of a connection to her work that is not so much a portrait. Her works that show a head looking a way, a pair of legs walking, or just a subtle hand are really filled with a lot of emotion for me. I also feel that I am likely missing out on something significant by not seeing her work in person.
Toyin Ojih Odutola is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in New York, but has shown her work all over. Currently, she is one of 25 artists with work in the show Disguise: Masks and Global African Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Her work is featured in several books, both as collections of her own work and as accompaniment to other texts. See more of her work on her website: http://toyinojihodutola.com/