From the series, Unexpected Sittings © Collins Obijiaku

From the series, Unexpected Sittings © Collins Obijiaku

Self-taught Nigeria-based artist Collins Obijiaku is currently taking Roberts Projects by storm with his inaugural solo show, Unexpected Sittings. Featuring fifteen new portraits completed over the last year, the exhibition explores the untapped potential of everyday interactions.

Running until 4 June, Unexpected Sittings is the first solo show from Collins, who has previously exhibited internationally in New York, London, Lagos, and Accra. Having completed a residency at
Black Rock Senegal, a multi-disciplinary residency program founded by Kehinde Wiley in Dakar, Senegal, in 2020, this new exhibition represents the next step forward in his career.

Using people close to him as subjects and strangers he encounters on the street, Collins uses various materials, including oil, acrylic and charcoal, to create the soft, gradient-like shading in his work. When viewed up close, his elegant portraits of black men and women staring directly at the viewer are said to have a cartographical appearance thanks to his beguiling line work and seductive texturing of brushstrokes.

From the series, Unexpected Sittings © Collins Obijiaku

From the series, Unexpected Sittings © Collins Obijiaku

From the series, Unexpected Sittings © Collins Obijiaku

From the series, Unexpected Sittings © Collins Obijiaku

From the series, Unexpected Sittings © Collins Obijiaku

From the series, Unexpected Sittings © Collins Obijiaku

For his first solo exhibition at Roberts Projects, Collins chose to include portraits that explore “the potential behind every interaction”. These loaded paintings navigate dynamic and sometimes complicated spaces where the viewer can become inspired to an unfamiliar degree.

“There is an unlimited wealth of ideas bound within the fabrics of chance conversations or interactions that unfold and progress naturally,” says Collins. “And many of these ideas, or fresh perspectives, carry the potential to nudge us, as [either] individuals and groups, into the path of positive change.”

Inspired by a “deep familial connection” to his cultural heritage and the world immediately surrounding him, Collins’ paintings are infused with a sense of everyday life and personal experience. This connection is reinforced by his practice of depicting vulnerability at the same time as examining intimacy.

From the series, Unexpected Sittings © Collins Obijiaku

From the series, Unexpected Sittings © Collins Obijiaku

From the series, Unexpected Sittings © Collins Obijiaku

From the series, Unexpected Sittings © Collins Obijiaku

From the series, Unexpected Sittings © Collins Obijiaku

From the series, Unexpected Sittings © Collins Obijiaku

Featuring members of his family, as well as friends old and new, Unexpected Sittings contains quarter-length portraits where the subjects stare at viewers with the same unbroken eye contact people familiar with Collins’ work have come to expect. Set off with a shallow depth of field, his paintings are further enhanced by the lack of an identifiable background and the presence of muted and organic colours.

By working directly onto paper and canvas, Collins slowly builds up the textures and contours of his portraits with considerable skill. “The effect is one not unlike silverpoint, a technique of drawing difficult to correct mastered by Albrecht Dürer,” says the gallery.

“This embrace of both spontaneity and skill captures the intricacies of mark-making, as well as the intangible qualities of the depicted subject.” The result is a series of paintings with rich textural quality loaded with intricate details that highlight Collins’ skill as an artist.

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