Abe Odedina, a professional architect, abandoned his career in architecture to pursue a second, less restrictive artistic path as a painter. No one can comment on his ability as an architect, but it appears to have been a sensible decision, as one of his paintings, The Adoration of Frida, was nominated for a BP Portrait Award nomination in 2013. Odedina, together with The Underground Museum, Los Angeles was awarded the 2017 Ellsworth Kelly Award by the Foundation of Contemporary Arts, New York.
Abe, who was born in the Nigerian city of Ibadan in 1960, now splits his time between south London and Salvador Bahia. Abe’s striking portraits in acrylic on plywood, which he describes as “folk art,” combine the figurative and oral traditions of African art with a heavy dose of magical realism. Abe’s distinctive, stylized paintings scream loudly with objects and symbols “from a global glossary,” as well as mystical characters dug deep into the dirt of time, including goddesses (like Afro-Brazilian spirit Pomba Gira and mermaid-esque Mami Wata), magicians (like Nigeria’s heralded real-life magic man Professor Peller), and creators (from voodoo practitioners to African craftsmen). Abe’s work isn’t all symbols, though: he uses a lot of languages, which he calls “Brixton baroque,” to tell stories about people and civilizations.