Tega Akpokona at PM/AM
I always seem to bump into art that is just meant to be for me. I was looking for visiting this space for a while, and on my way to another private view, here it presents to me in all its splendour. I do not know if the style is slowly coming up or if I am just increasingly attracted to it myself, but I am starting to see the figurative abstract emerge.
Discover with me the incredible work of painter Tega Akpokona in his solo show with PM/AM gallery.
Held at PM/AM gallery in London, this untitled show by Tega Akpokona (b. 1991, Benin City, Nigeria) gathers around 8 pieces by the Nigerian-born artist. Using oil painting, he combines figurative with abstract in colourful eerie landscapes which transports the viewer into the artist’s reality and stories.
Formerly depicting Black figures set in a 17-18th century décor and apparel, this show gives us an evolution version of the artist’s style. Using bright green, blue, gold yellow and some notes of earth tones, Akpokona paints Black figures which are predominantly male in this exhibition. For me, the invitation into the painting’s stories starts in the face, the eyes, the gaze of the characters, which is always painted beautifully clearly and staring at you. From this realistic fragment of the painting, we enter into the abstract that is surrounding the protagonist in the work. They are all comfortably sitting or standing against an abstract background, into nature or into their home it seems. Lines of drawings are present in all works, like a memory of something: the shadow of a cat, the hair piece of the character or the plant interacting with the character.
Courtesy of PM/AM, Copyright the Artist
In each of them the figure is drawn and disappear into the abstract world around them. As if by a gaze we penetrate into their mind and everything else vanishes. Is that some sort of love explained to us? Or would it be a love of yourself and nature? On this note, nature is always present in each works in the room, either in plants or animals. The scene sets human beings surrounded by nature, as though we are part of it, and also disappear with it, striking the importance of both, and the interdependence between one another.
One work that particularly attracted my eyes was A Day and A Thousand Years. You see a man sitting down on a red velvet armchair with a glass of wine in his left hand. His locks are tied up in a bun on the top of his head and he is staring, with no specific emotion. The face and the hand is executed in a realistic way, lights reflecting on the beautiful melanin skin. The remain of drawing lines lies on a side of the man, while on the other side, brushstrokes seem to remind that it was here before and now going away. The detail that most attracted me somehow, is the water. Although the character is at peace, under him is painted a reflection impression, like rising water, coming at the height of his ankles. This detail, as beautiful as it is, gave me angst but strangely put me in admiration in front of it: I was in awe at the sight of this work, and still wanted to come into the character’s space. The Gallery has qualified Akpkona’s work as ‘atmospheric’ and ‘timeless’, a major trait that the artist pursues in the process of his work: a creation that ‘transcends time’, he shared in his interview with Art Dependence Magazine. Considering the gallery space as a place of divinity where one should let his emotions go, be at awe, the artist certainly managed to do this to me.
Graduated in Fine and Applied Arts from the University of Benin, Tega Akpokona obtained his BA in painting in 2011. His early influence started during childhood with a compulsive need to draw people around him. The Bronze sculpture and wood carving of Benin inspire the use of his colour, which he sees as another language and additional means for storytelling. Akpokona was under the mentorship of the great painter Adiobun Olaku in the Universal Studios of Art in Lagos, who sustain the same fascination and importance of light in his work. Much inspired by the Dutch Baroque master painters like Rembrandt or Italian master Caravaggio, Akpokona gives a great importance to light and how it interacts with human beings: he sees as something tangible, and the reason why colour appears to us. Through thorough observation of how light interaction with objects, Akpokona executes dramatic lighting and like to study the movement of forms.
Blending abstract and realism brings to life what he likes to be timeless paintings, where it can be understood through time. His fictional characters, all Black, are set in what seems to be a contemporary setting. Tega Akpokona sees art history as a continuum, something that is slowly evolving while keeping in mind what has been. It actually is the evolution of his paintings, starting from an 17-18th century characters and décor, to today’s more contemporary scenery and fashion style of his characters.