They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. So what happens when a picture is made up of words? The answer lies in the works of Olatundun Bimbo, an artist from Nigeria, who is spearheading a new style of art which he has christened as ‘Alphabetism’.
He has had a knack for art ever since he was six years old. He later enrolled himself into a government art school right after finishing high school. Right after finishing his course in the fine arts he turned to his attention to teaching in the very college he graduated from. He enjoys teaching others and says “You should be able to teach what you learn, and besides you learn a lot while you teach”. Apart from teaching classes, he also mentors students through online classes. He tells me that he handles a class of fifty students at the college and is currently mentoring around five people, two of whom are from India.
Though he is the pioneer of a new style of art, he tells me that he began by painting in the Impressionistic style, and he speaks in awe about the works of Claude Monet, Da Vinci and Picasso. Then he found his calling in Aplhabetism, in 2015. He tells me that he began by using that style in some of the assignments that he turned in at college. “A lot of things go through my mind, and I tried to write down those things, and then I started including them in my art and my works became a sort of a diary for myself.” Bimbo describes Alphabetism as a contemporary style that uses meaningful words and sentences to paint and shade. All of his works have a word or phrase that he repeats and shapes into his subjects. The result is nothing short of awe inspiring.
Another striking aspect of Alphabetism is Bimbo choice of colors. In most of hi s paintings, the colors red and blue are dominant. When asked about this he says, “When I started out I was painting with all the colors of the rainbow, but of late I have found myself going towards red and blue” he also adds that the colors have a cultural significance for the Yoruba tribe who live in the south western part of Nigeria. “Blue represents the good things about the world and it also represents the sky which is peaceful, calming and serene; while red tends to have a negative connotation as it represents aggression, blood, a volatile personality and danger” His works show the contrast between the red and blue aspects of his subjects.
For instance is his work titled This Generation-Technology he uses red and blue to show, how technology makes people apathetic. One eye of the model is shaped like a DSLR lens while the other has the three flashes from a phone’s camera embedded beneath the eye; “We don’t use our eyes to see anymore” he adds. Then a pair of headphones shaped like a cannula, runs across the model’s face; signifying that we only listen to other people through the phone. “This dependence on technology is slowly turning humans into robots” he adds.
Another work that catches the eye is titled the Angel of Dreams, where an elderly Angel is nodding off against a door. “Everybody has their own dream, and the plans to turn it into reality; but no plan is perfect and sometimes life gets in the way” In this piece the titular Angel is dozing because it is tired from its job of watching over people’s dreams. Bimbo adds that this painting is not yet complete, he tells me that it normally takes him about a week to complete a piece of art. Out of all his works, he cites a painting called ‘Enchanting’ which is a close shot of a model, done in acrylics and canvas and painted in an azure shade of blue; as his masterpiece.
He adds that the dominant color signifies the tone of a painting. He compares these binaries to the Yin and Yang that is present in ancient Chinese philosophy.
Though he has left his mark on many mediums like oils, acrylics and watercolors through Alphabetism, of late he has been captivated by the sheer simplicity of red and blue ink ballpoint pens which he uses extensively, to produce a wide range of surreal pieces; that bowl over the viewer and then make them think. He adds that he does not plan to stop there and says “I cannot stay in one place for long, and I will keep evolving my style.”Talking about the art scene in Nigeria, he proudly says that there are a lot of artists who want to represent their country and community, through their exhibitions. Bimbo tells me that he had done numerous exhibitions as a student, and he is also planning to have a solo exhibition sometime in the next year, where he wants to bring his style to the public. He advises budding artists to not see art as a quick source of income, he advocates having a day job, which they can use to support them and develop their art. “You should see it as a hobby, and then you will enjoy what you are doing.”