The Nigerian artist talks us through his detailed portfolio – a mix of textured, juxtaposed and context-rich paintings
Ayla Angelos for It's Nice That
What constitutes a good day’s work? For Johnson Eziefula, it goes a little like this: “Painting, painting, painting, in the presence of great music,” he says. Self-taught, the Nigerian artist was first brought to the medium of painting – and the arts in general – by his eldest brother, who was the “creative one” growing up. “I used to attentively watch him draw and paint, and that was probably the genesis of my interest in the arts,” Johnson tells It’s Nice That.
Ever since developing his own unique language, Johnson has gone on to do many wonderful things; this includes countless exhibitions, as well as upcoming shows at Christie’s New York, Art X Lagos with SMO contemporary art, Art Basel Miami and more across Singapore, West Indies and New York. His enchanting works are also housed in prestigious private collections in the US, Asia and Europe, and he’s now in the collection of Jorge Perez El Espacio 23 museum in Miami. He’s garnering much attention for his intricate and complex pieces, and all for the right reasons too.
Johnson’s practice is wholly mixed-media, where at first glance you’ll notice the textural combinations of charcoal, acrylic, pastels and fabric. In one image, for instance, the softness of the fabrics are highlighted with detailed shadow play and fuzzy brush strokes, while the sharpness of the subject’s jewellery has been accentuated with a glimmering sheen. Another artwork sees comparable juxtaposition, where the fringing of a hat contrasts delectably with the texture and tones of the skin. But Johnson’s work is far more than just the visuals or techniques applied; each painting has a purpose and a message to convey, roused by his inquisitive outlook on the world and means to open up conversations on culture, identity and all in-between.
“I find my major inspiration as an artist in a mix of my environment and its components,” he adds, citing people and their social, behavioural and cultural characteristics as key drivers to his creations. “Environment in this case goes beyond my immediate physical environment. But as far as a totally different region or space, the world as of today has grown smaller and we’re much more interconnected than ever before.” Johnson is also inspired by his own emotions and imagination, along with his daily observations and encounters, plus the “endless conflict between one’s understanding of what is and the unending curiosities, amongst other things. It’s an endless list.”
With this in mind, Johnson’s works are expectedly loaded with context and history. Take 22 & the Maltipoo as an example, which is a piece from a body of work titled Newness of Self. Here, the artist is exploring the concept of westernisation and cultural hybridisation. The former is the adoption of western culture in society, and the latter a process by which cultural elements blend into another culture. In the series as a whole, Johnson is “highlighting young and vibrant individuals” from his life, namely his friends and family. “It’s a body of work which expresses the consequential effect of the inter-diffusion of cultures across separate spaces and regions; on the embodiment of the contemporary African being; and making portraiture to do so.” The piece specifically encounters these elements, wherein he “subtly created an interaction between historically and geographically distinctive entities and elements, therefore triggering a contemplation and thought-process in an attentive viewer.”
Visually, within this piece, the subject is a “young contemporary of an apparent African origin”, wearing westernised fashion and cradling a Maltipoo puppy, a cross-bread of Maltese and Toy-poodle which was first bred in America during the 90s. It’s a powerful piece that both juxtaposes and merges different cultures, showing how the individual has the means to choose, mesh and adopt different elements from such. “This piece, just like others from this particular body of work, was created with the intent to stir up the consciousness of the viewer, to the interrelationships between the elements portrayed in the image, hence stretching back to the realisation of cultural hybridity as a phenomenon in this present day. Culture is a social behaviour as well as lifestyle; particularly in contemporary fashion.”
Gloria’s trip to Paris, the first piece from his latest body of work, Home away from Home, equally looks at the concept of cultural hybridity and migration. The subject lays on the bed, comfortably, as they read a French novel titled La Cuisine Bette by Honoré de Balzac. “With this piece I intended to highlight the interrelationships between the subject of African origin, French as a language, France as a country and the obvious western clothing,” he says. “As conflicting and diverse, yet soothingly harmonious.” He places Gloria, the subject, in a world without borders, where everyone coexists in a place of belonging. This unequivocally forms the crux of his practice: “We are all cultural hybrids.”