Nigerian American artist Doba Afolabi, 59, started painting right out of college about 30 years ago. Now he’s an international award-winning abstract expressionist painter represented by notable galleries worldwide.
“In my paintings I don’t want like something static looking at you,” said Afolabi. “There should be a little bit of movement, looking away, a variance of puzzles. It’s like as if I’m singing this like music notes. Now this one up, this a little bit down, half again, half right there, and right there. And that’s something interesting, the essence of creativity.”
Afolabi was born in southwest Nigeria. He studied at the Zaria Art School, where he was known for his rebellious “experimental style and bold color palette.” Afolabi said he was invited to the U.S. to attend a major art show. Around that time there was a lot of “political tension” in his home country and he made the decision to stay in New York City. His first solo exhibit was in Miami in 1999. He worked briefly for New York City government until downsizing in the department inspired him to pursue a studio art career full time by the early 2000s.
He’s been featured in global art markets such as Basel, ArtExpos, Frieze and as a contemporary artist with ArtAfrica Basel, Miami, and Dorseys galleries. He can also be found in the U.S. State Department Art in Embassies program.
The subject matter he paints varies, but mainly focuses on water, swimming, strong Black women, African imagery, jazz, hip hop, music, history, landscapes, and occasionally, political commentary. He has included portraits of figures like Serena and Venus Williams, Beyoncé, Jay Z, and Queen Elizabeth II in his works. He often uses an ‘impasto art’ technique that employs thick swabs of paint to express confident and colorful strokes. He said he can take years to think about composing a painting sometimes before starting and months to finish one. Depending on the painting, his works can sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
“I would say I like social scenes. Things that make people happy. Things that will entertain you. I’m more like an entertainer on canvas,” said Afolabi, who isn’t fond of labels.
He thinks about communicating with paint in every part of his paintings, even down to the signature which is simply his first name all lowercase. Afolabi describes each painting as if they were his children calmly playing across the hall as opposed to hanging on a wall. He even likes to visit galleries, offices, or public spaces where his works live around the city when he misses them. His latest solo show is called the “Post Pandemic Palette,” a dedication to the spirit of hope and recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown New York City.
His next adventure is to teach art to young students at The Art of Words Community School (TAWCS) in DUMBO Brooklyn. He currently has several of his works displayed on the walls of the school at 52 Bridge Street.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w