Odili Donald Odita: Mirror
"MIRROR - a reflective surface that casts back a clear image.
In life, the only face that you will never actually see is your own. This is the beginning of an inter-relationship between figuration and abstraction. It is also a space of discourse between the notions of objectification and the imagination.
Consider the process of making a self-portrait – a representation of oneself as a painting. This is the plateau of inherent disconnect. The examination of oneself as a representation is an exceedingly conceptual process. The self-portrait is in itself abstract, as it objectifies the separation of self and image at its start.
One cannot ignore the rise of black figuration as a trend in painting today. This genre asks a great question of how, and in what ways possible, can one represent the eternal qualities of black skin through paint. Willem de Kooning once said, “Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented.” An expansive exploration of black identity in paint has allowed for an emancipation from and beyond the historical exclusivity of a type that de Kooning’s statement implies.
But what happens when the civil-self becomes anti-social? When discourse is meant to undermine social-cohesiveness? When the hand that attacks the body is only doing so to establish a new normal?
Activism is at the heart of this exhibition, where agency exists in the constructive use of creativity, however imagined, to make the change needed to move one towards better and greater horizons.
Mirror is an exhibition about self-reflection. With an understanding of the difficulties that this task may entail, I am asking that we begin to look into ourselves and reflect upon the consequences of thoughts and actions that shape identity in the age of Trump."
-Odili Donald Odita, March 2020
"Last summer, I was invited by Carol LeWitt to attend her residency at the family home she shared with husband, Sol LeWitt and their children in Praiano, Italy. The LeWitt home is set on a magnificent hillside that faces the crystal blue waters off the Amalfi Coast. My stay was nothing short of a dream. On a daily basis, it felt as if we were inhabiting an intimate museum of Sol LeWitt’s wall paintings installed throughout the house. I was learning directly from LeWitt’s paintings. The one that had my focused attention was painted for the dining room. Over time, this painting provided me a specific understanding of color placement within Italian Renaissance painting. Dark Angel and Blackbird, both directly relate to what I have recently learned about color in its notion of focus and locality within western painting’s history."
"In the wood panel paintings, I am wanting to engage an interaction between abstraction and figuration, as well as address socio-cultural interplays of race, narration, and mythology through color.
The two color-areas in the painting, Dark Angel, are meant to represent light as 'wings’ – i.e., as movement, speed, flight and desire. I purposely organized the color sequencing to convey the movement of light as it passes through a day. I also wanted to depict light, and subsequently shadow, as forces projected and cast onto objects and things within a given space.
The color sections in this painting are composed to frame a central area of wood, which I emphasize as the 'body' of the painting. This area is also meant to be narrower than the other separate areas of wood siting at either edge of the painting and evoking space. I wanted to create a figure and ground relationship to convey both body and space through the optical and conceptual charge that is occurring between the color areas, and the wood grain surface."
“Blackbird is the sister painting to Dark Angel. In both Blackbird and Dark Angel, I wanted to address the question of race through color identification, as it applies in their titles. If I am to title a painting on black wood, ‘Black Angel’, as opposed to ‘Dark Angel’ – how does meaning evolve and change in the mind of the (western) viewer – and how does the engagement of western mythology and prejudice affect this thinking?
I also make a connection to the Beatles song, "Blackbird," which Paul McCartney has said was written in reflection on the Civil Rights struggle and crisis in 1960’s America. There is an abstract/figurative icon of a ‘bird’ within the painting. There is also a structure created by the wood and painted sections, where the wood becomes a bar like barrier that appears to impede the bird’s imagined movement. At the same time, the bird’s representational force is still present, intact, and cannot be taken away. Through this painting, I also think of people who are actively trying to escape some catastrophic plight, despite the institutional forces that do everything in their capacity to stop their flight."
"This painting was made after the death of Okwui Enwezor. It exists as a commemoration to the work we did together for the magazine, NKA, Journal of Contemporary African Art, that Okwui founded in 1994. With this title, I also want to make reference to the meaning of the word, NKA, which is an Igbo word for 'Art' in Nigeria. What fascinates me about this word is that in the Igbo language, Nka speaks to a traditional idea of Art as being an object in a sculptural and masculine sense. For me, this notion brings into question the function of painting, which in a traditional Igbo and African context exists in the socio-conceptual space of ritual, performance, time, and the feminine."
"This painting is from the same series, which consists of Duke's of Hazard, Phantom, Phantom's Shadow, Iron Butterfly, and Flower. All these paintings are critiques of the populist forms/formats of fascism existing in today's America, and in the world at large.
I am using pop color to speak to the attraction the world has currently with fascism. Like the other paintings in this series, the main motif is a swastika that clusters as a pinwheel, and as a flower. This image is meant to emanate danger, like the brightly colored flowers in nature that utilize this same force to attract unwitting prey.
Creep does have an image of a man in a hat spinning, and morphing in place. There are 4 main figures that spin in the center of this painting, and then this same figure shifts into other various apparitions of itself. The title is taken from the song, similarly titled, by Radiohead, as well as from the critique that Hilary Clinton had of Donald J. Trump after the second Presidential debate of October 9th, 2016."
-Odili Donald Odita, Philadelphia, April 2020