Physicality is important to Tunji Adeniyi-Jones. “The bodies in my paintings definitely feel present, weighted, and animate,” he says. “That’s something I really enjoy—creating a felt presence. I hope people feel themselves in relation to the figures, shapes, and forms I’m depicting. A bit like what happens when you stand up close to a Greek sculpture.”

Artist Tunji Adeniyi-Jones
Tunji Adeniyi-Jones: “My work is bold and striking. I like to use really bright and saturated colors, so the work ends up being quite eye-catching.” Image: Laura Barisonzi

While the artist’s works may have a spatial impact on the viewer, visually they could not be further from those pale figures from Greece. “Color is probably the main feature of my work. It’s definitely the first thing you notice, and I like it that way,” he observes. “When used in the right way, it can leave a lasting impression.”

There’s a natural correlation between my personal development and the development of my visual language

Adeniyi-Jones grew up in London, an only child but with “a lot of cousins” and in a house that was always full of visitors. “I’ve always had a sense of how expansive my family was, and the house was almost always full,” he explains. “We had West African art and decoration around the house, and I was definitely exposed to a variety of eclectic colors, arrangements, and textures. It didn’t seem like much at the time, being so young, but I can see all those early influences manifest in my current work and practice”

The Prince's Decoration (left) and The Prince's Red Serpent by Tunji Adeniyi-Jones
The Prince’s Decoration (left) and The Prince’s Red Serpent, from Adeniyi-Jones’ 2017 exhibition, Flash of the Spirit, which reference the bronze head sculptures that were first crafted in the ancient Yoruba city Ile-Ife.

There were musical instruments too, and for a while it seemed like music might be his future—he played the piano for nine years and the tuba for five, and sang in choirs, but “always knew that I didn’t quite have the dedication required to pursue a career in music.”

His inspirations are varied, incorporating everything from “Art Deco designs and motifs” to “fabric and textiles, architectural schematics and designs.” But he credits a move to the United States to study at Yale University with exposing him to entirely new catalogue of work. “It was an extremely valuable introduction to artists like Bob Thompson and Barkley Hendricks,” he says.

Artist Tunji Adeniyi-Jones at work
“I normally start with line drawings, moving on to color studies,” says Adeniyi-Jones. “If I’m stuck, I’ll try some ideas out through printmaking. But generally I start small and work my way up, with drawing at the root of everything.” Image: Laura Barisonzi

Before COVID-19, Adeniyi-Jones would regularly travel between London and his Brooklyn studio—and hopes to again—where he works on several paintings at any one time, each of them inspired by his Nigerian and Yoruba heritage, which he began to truly explore during undergraduate studies.

Color is probably the main feature of my work. It’s definitely the first thing you notice, and I like it that way

“I was getting really frustrated and felt really underrepresented, both in the historical material we examined in lectures and in the art we studied. I definitely acted out and felt a need to declare myself and my Africanness, which is something that I was suppressing up until this point. It was a cool moment of self-revelation.”

Devotion (left) and Pattern Makers by Tunji Adeniyi-Jones
Adeniyi-Jones’ 2019 exhibition, Patterns & Rituals, featured highly stylized figures or animals set amid lush foliage and bright color, such as Devotion (left) and Pattern Makers.

His heritage is also partly what draws him to figurative art. “It just seems like the right way to express what I want to express for now. The black body has experienced a great deal throughout history, and all of those experiences get passed down through generations. The body is a great conductor and storyteller. So, focusing my art around it makes perfect sense.”

The figures he depicts are also inextricably linked to the evolution of his art. As he explains: “The bodies in my work are constantly morphing and changing. There’s a natural correlation between my personal development and the development of my visual language.”

Banner image: Adeniyi-Jones’ Nightfall, part of the 2018 Dreams Through Seasons exhibition at The Cabin gallery, L.A.

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