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Interview With Biodun Omolayo

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Artist and art gallery owner, Biodun Omolayo has passed through diverse phases of art, from training people to practising. This makes his input into the fledging Nigerian visual art scene cuts across the board. In this interview, Omolayo shared his experience and thoughts on several aspects of art, including the challenges of being an artist who is also in the business of art gallery.

Tell us a bit about your background?

My name is Biodun Omolayo. I was born 51 years ago in Owo, Ondo State. I had my elementary and secondary education in Owo as well. I went to St. Andrews primary school and then Imade College, Owo and after that I proceeded to Ibadan Polytechnic where I had my A levels and I moved to University of Ilorin where I studied Performing Arts and I majored in Technical Theatre. After service, I secured a job with a bank, then i had to switch from theatre to banking. I did that for about 10 years after which i had to leave to follow my passion. Since then I’ve been running galleries and I’ve been doing programmes for children because I am so concerned about visual education for children.

How was the transition from the banking industry to the art industry like for you?

It was smooth because it was a deliberate thing. Before I resigned from the bank, I started going to school for a part time programme in arts. It was challenging however because of the fact that i had to go back to school since i did not study art originally. It was even tougher because i had to leave a salary earning job to set up my own business and in turn start paying other people and manage other things. But I am enjoying it anyway because this is where my passion is.

Can you remember the first artwork you ever sold?

I think that was when i was in the university in 1983. I painted a dancer and my lecturer’s husband who happened to be an American purchased the painting. Infact, my first earning was in foreign currency.

Describe your art in 3 words

Colourful, Pleasing and Soothing.

What is the most indispensable item in your studio?

I don’t think there’s anything here i cannot dispense with. The only thing i would not joke with is my own brain. Anything here can be replaced.

Do you have a favourite spot, a place where you get inspiration from?

I love vegetation and countryside where you have a lot of green, flowing stream and animals. That is why most of the time you see a lot of green in my work.

What is abstract about Abstract art?

Before you talk about abstraction, you must have a plan. It’s like music, until it is organised then it is just noise. In the same manner, in art what is abstract is that a lot of things are hidden within the work. Then you need to look deeply to understand it whether in terms of colour or characters there in. The art let’s you interpret it your own way.

Do you subscribe to the thought that everybody is an artist and every profession is an art form itself?

Yes. I usually tell people “You’re an artist but you’re not aware so you’re dormant and somebody needs to wake you up.” For instance, applying makeup is an art, writing is an art, your footprint is an art etc. Arranging all of these with the help of an expert can bring out the best in you. Professions too can be considered as an art form; architecture, engineering, writing, fashion designing, plastic surgery. So art is everywhere.

In your opinion, what is the hardest step in creating a master piece?

It’s the conception. Once you can conceive it, you’ll bring it to life. The conception is the foundation; it is then you consider what message you want to pass across, how to, with what and in what form.

What would you describe as creativity?

For me it is problem solving. It is not limited to painting, sculpting or writing. If you are creative, you are proffering solutions to a problem using resources at your disposal. There’s this impression that only artists are creative because of visual arts but I believe that people who use their work to solve problems in the society are creative, whether you’re a doctor, engineer, singer etc.

What role does the artist play in the society?

The artist documents, captures events visually, beautifies. The artist is a therapist because the on lookers can be emotionally lifted by looking at an artist’s work; the artist is also an employer.

What kind of messages do you pass across in your art?

Most times i pass a message of hope, a message that lifts, motivates, encourage and energizes. There are ugly situations out there but then as an artist, rather than draw peoples attentions to the bad events again, i do something that can take the pain away.

How do you ensure you stay relevant in the industry?

By passing the knowledge i have acquired to other people. This is evident in the Young @ Art program i run for children. When one acquires knowledge and refuses to give out, they become like a stagnant pond that is stale and smelling; but if you’re like a flowing stream that is fresh and alive, then you’ll forever be relevant.

What are the challenges of the art industry in Nigeria?

One of the challenges is appreciation. The appreciation is low hence there’s no attention given to the art industry. However it is getting better as more individuals are getting involved. Government patronage is almost nil and all over the world, the government is the biggest spender and when the government decides to be your customer or client, you know what you’re going to get from that. It is only when the economy is doing very well before this industry will benefit because most people would rather attend to their basic needs before thinking of buying luxury (as art is luxurious in most cases).

What is your definition of the African dream?

I see myself as a human being not just as an African. I’m a global person because in whatever I’m doing, i don’t want to be relevant only in Africa but all over the world. I’m not losing my identity as an African but i’m not limited to this environment because I want to impact lives everywhere. So talking about the dream, the dream is to be useful to other people with my own gift.

Besides art, what else are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about children, i love kids a lot. I also love the environment; i love to see a neat environment not a damaged one. That is why i adore the ex governor of Lagos State for implementing the planting of flowers all around the state. Most people didn’t understand that besides beautification, the flowers helped take out the pungent smell of faeces laid around. I’m also passionate about education. Education is light which allows you see beyond where you are presently and allows you appreciate other people as well. Education gives you the ability to solve problems which in turn makes you happy because you can solve these problems.

Five things you can’t do without

Word of God (everything is there for me), relationship with people, perfume and sweet smelling flowers, paint, paper and pen.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given? By whom?

The best piece of advice given to me is by my paternal grandmother. She used to say in her local dialect that “Mind your business.” When you’re minding your business, there’s a whole lot to do and you won’t have time for gossips and all. It’s about focusing on you first by putting things right within yourself before paying attention to anything else.

How do you unwind after a hard day’s job?

I read and I listen to music

What kind of music do you listen to?

I love classical music and jazz a lot. I love dancehall as well but while working i listen to jazz or classical music.

What is your philosophy of life?

Live and let live. See what you can do for other people at all times and don’t create more problem for people while trying to solve their problems.

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