Courtesy the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery.
Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2017, Jadé Fadojutimi's rise as a painter has been meteoric.
'To be thrown in the spotlight and to have all these opportunities, it felt like an opportunity for me to share myself,' Fadojutimi explains. 'I am really hard on myself when it comes to painting. I want so much from it. And I think I sometimes evolve faster than I realise.'
This sense of openness — willingness to have conversations around her work, share perspectives, bring others into its development — is tangible in Fadojutimi's large-scale paintings, characterised by looping, overlapping lines and ecstatic colours.
Fadojutimi is a keen observer, incorporating elements from her surroundings into her paintings, though they are not tied down by specifics. For her recent exhibition Jesture at London's Pippy Houldsworth Gallery (16 September–31 October 2020)—where the artist held her first solo show upon graduating—layers of oil and oil stick formed glimmering scenes on canvas that were drawn from her immediate environment during the city's lockdown.
In Cavernous Resonance (2020), for instance, dark, curving mauve and blue lines cut through lighter hues in yellow, green, and purple. The resulting canvas resembles a stained-glass window with light seeping through it, recalling the city's ever-changing skies.
With increasing engagement abroad, including her first solo museum show in the U.S. at Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (30 November–17 April 2022) as well as 2022 presentations at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin and the Hepworth Wakefield, U.K., Fadojutimi's practice is becoming ever more fluid, as it shifts across sites of reception. Having spent extended periods in Japan, where she is due to have a solo exhibition with Taka Ishii Gallery in Tokyo in 2022, the artist is no stranger to channelling the unfamiliar in her work, as she negotiates her own sense of identity.
In this conversation, Fadojutimi discusses her interest in Japan, relationship to London, and the joys of teaching painting.
TMAn aspect of your practice that interests me is its engagement with different aspects of Japanese culture. You've long been interested in anime, and in 2016, you lived in Kyoto where you undertook a residency. How did that experience inform your work?
JFThe exchange I did in Kyoto was my second time in Japan. After graduating from the Slade School of Fine Art, I took a trip with my friends. That helped me process my frustrations the second time I went. I wasn't able to forgive myself for the difficulties I was having while there the first time.
After that, I went six times. I go every year. I was fortunate enough to be picked up by Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in 2017, and my life changed from there. I had more freedom and that's certainly the privilege that comes with being a full-time artist.
In the beginning, I would go for five weeks at a time, after completing a show. That would have been my holiday or break from the studio space. It was also an opportunity to revisit a new connection with Japan in some way.
I'm quite a reflective person. Kyoto started so much for me, that's my whole painting language, and the country has this preciousness of a start. So I go there to draw a lot.
I have this back-and-forth relationship with my work. When I change, the work changes. We hold each other up.
In 2019, I went for seven weeks. The more I was there, the more I wanted to stay, though that began feeling like a conflict with my practice as an artist. Going for seven weeks at a time became quite complicated, but then I realised through someone else's recommendation that I could break up seven weeks into three times a year.
The year before the pandemic, I went that May for seven weeks and then I went back in September for ten days. I went back in January for two weeks. I was starting a rhythm of going more often.
TMWhen drawing, is that just from observation? How does that process work for you?
JFThere are a lot of things in Japan that steal my attention, and I'm still trying to understand what that is. But my work is mainly about noticing the connections between why I am drawing something, or why I am obsessed with something.
When I am in Japan, the whole experience of being there is me trying to understand my relationship with it. When I went to Japan on exchange for the first time in 2016, the intention to go became a very distorted reality for what happened while I was there.
I had this great interest in anime, which had led to my interest in painters like Yoshitomo Nara and Makiko Kudo, which created this wonderful cycle of me finding more interest in painting. So when I went to Japan the first time, I was like, okay, this is why I am going.
If a painter like Makiko Kudo can make paintings like that living in a place I love, then maybe there is something about the visual aesthetic of Japan that feeds into the work—the nature, but also the colour sensitivity of the shops, the place, everything.
I feel like every country has its own aesthetic. Every country has its own smell. Every country has its own rhythm as well. Because I was drawn to another country's rhythm, I wanted to understand why it harmonised with my rhythm.
TMIn an interview you did around 2016 about your experience in Kyoto, you discussed the limbo states and difficulties you encountered. You mention that while there was a draw to Japan, your personality felt shackled to London.
I know that you are originally from here, but there are people who come to London and say they are going to be here for a year but end up staying for ten years and it defines their whole way of working and their identity.
How does London feed into your practice as a painter?
JFI started to notice that every time I come back to London, it's because I start to miss it. And I was starting to wonder, what is it that I miss about London?
There's something about the light here that is very special, something about the change in seasons that's special, too. There are so many colour shifts in London, so many compositions. So many nooks and crannies. So many patterns. I kind of love it when I am in Japan, too, but I don't find that when I am in New York, because it's such a linear city.
I feel like London is always changing in ways that are very visual and I notice changes a lot, because I am very sensitive to colour. That's my theory.
TMThat's true. The skies of London are very magical. That sense of immediacy and an awareness for your surrounding environment was visible in the paintings of your 2020 exhibition Jesture with Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, where all the works were created during lockdown.
In comparison with your first exhibition with the gallery in 2017, Heliophobia, what would you recognise as the most significant transitions in your practice or outlook on painting?
JFThat's such a big question. I have this back-and-forth relationship with my work. When I change, the work changes. We hold each other up. I think the biggest difference I notice is in myself.
Having conversations around my work means I have been having more conversations around myself. I feel like I am seeing a lot more of myself and I'm becoming confident in the process and overcoming that confrontation.
My work becomes more confident as well, because I feel more fearless. Through feeling more fearless, I am expanding and challenging the work more by using new mediums. Since Jesture, I have started using pastels and acrylics as well, and I feel like the work is separating and evolving at a pace that even I am surprised by.
I try really hard not to contaminate the experience of painting with unnecessary, premature questions.
But when I look back at myself, I think, wow, look at how far I have come since 2017. It hasn't been that long. I am still quite young. But that also comes from the conversations I've had, because the work is open enough to invite people into conversation as well. It's such an intertwined process.
TMOf course. And you've been thrown in the spotlight in a way, because your practice has generated so much interest from museums and galleries and collectors. I wonder how that experience has been for you? It must have been quite a rollercoaster after graduating from the Royal College of Art.
JFI've shown work for four years now, but it didn't come without struggle. Of course, life does not come without struggle. It helped me sense a bit more of my character.
I really enjoyed speaking with people and having conversations. I paint in so many ways other than just painting. I paint through my clothes, I paint through spaces. And I am very sensitive to space in that sense.
To be thrown in the spotlight and to have all these opportunities, it felt like an opportunity for me to share myself. One thing the pandemic has done for me is that it has given me too much time to reflect.
Parts of my character are really suited to what I am doing. I crave the fast-paced nature of making a show or realising ideas. I am a quick thinker, and I love to work with all types of perspectives.
The thing that I had to confront recently is not the pressure the world puts on me, but the pressure I put on myself. I am really hard on myself when it comes to painting. I want so much from it. And I think I sometimes evolve faster than I realise.
TMYou've held quick successions of exhibitions over the last few years. Do you draw boundaries between each show? Or does the work progress fluidly?
JFIt varies. There are new challenges that present themselves. Before I did the show with Pippy, I remember these opportunities were coming in and suddenly I can't even imagine the possibilities.
In 2019, I did two shows at the same time, at PEER UK and Galerie Gisela Capitain, and that was a challenge for me. I decided to split the work into two different conversations I was having at the same time.
My frustration is with my spectrum, which is between figurative and abstract. Each work is on its own position on the spectrum. I remember at the time, I noticed I was overly making more figurative paintings, which frustrated me because I wanted to make more abstract paintings.
But I think that was the reaction to what was happening. It's like a pendulum shift. You do a lot of one thing, and it makes you miss the other thing you were doing. And in that process, I realised I could do both and that was okay. The pandemic has made me overspill with ideas. I feel so lucky. I have so much to say.
TMWhen I was looking at your recent paintings, it looks like there are sections that have been cut out and glued back on.
JFThere's no order to the way I work, that's the beauty of it. That's why I have so many options when I am painting. That's why I feel like anything is possible, which means the work has a freedom to be what it wants to be. Sometimes I cut out parts at the end. Sometimes I draw with pastels, and sometimes it's just painting.
When you're having a conversation with yourself through material, it's best to succumb to the experience. How can you really experience yourself if you're distracted by the noise of the world?
I try really hard not to contaminate the experience of painting with unnecessary, premature questions. When you're having a conversation with yourself through material, it's best to succumb to the experience. How can you really experience yourself if you're distracted by the noise of the world?
I think some of the conversations we have internally or externally on what we are doing are influenced by surrounding culture and society, including its flaws. When I'm in my space, I'm in my own world, and I let myself be. There aren't so many moments available to just be.
TMWe've spoken about pastels, but I was wondering if there were any other mediums that you work with that match the immediacy of paint? I understand you've been working on a sound piece. Is that right?
JFOh, I haven't started that yet. I am a painter and painting is the medium for me, but it doesn't mean I am not able to have conversations with other mediums.
One thing that happened during the lockdown is that I got a new space, and I noticed the importance of having space. And similarly, I noticed I have a huge interest in installation, and I think I am creating that through the process of painting anyway, because the space needs to match the painting.
When people visit the studio, the first thing they do is comment on the space. The space is quite unusual in its size. It's not really a space for painting. It's more a space to breathe. People often comment on the petite nature of it too.
And then I think about my connection to music. I resonate with music as a form of having a conversation with myself, but I never indulge in the idea that because it resonates with me, I have to converse through it. I am hugely interested in soundscapes.
I am very interested in environment, and painting is a form of environment, too. Recently, I've been talking about my interest in soundscapes because my space has made me realise that my paintings take the form of installations, which can extend through to other interests.
I have an interest in fabric as well. But whether those conversations are important for the context of painting is something I will only realise once I've done them.
TMThinking about space and your studio, I read that you work predominantly at night. How do you work towards getting the right frame of mind, or is it intuitive?
JFI think my choice to work at night is me knowing that it is the time of day when I have the best frame of mind to be able to work. My deepest thoughts and biggest questions always come at 11pm at night.
Since I was young, I've always been someone whose brain runs at night. I'd always have trouble sleeping because of the energy I have at that time. When I was a teenager, that translated to me doing more of the things I enjoyed, but as an adult, that turned into me appreciating that this is the best time for me to indulge in myself and make paintings.
That's mostly why I work at night. I work intuitively, but it's not only intuitive. I spoil myself in my space with visual information and I'm always careful to talk about intuition in my work, because I am a teacher too.
I think sometimes intuition can suggest it is something only one person can experience, and for someone learning from me, that might seem as though I'm working from intuition and nothing else. And whatever that person might want to learn from me might then seem impossible.
I learned to embrace my intuition, because I started drawing a lot, and because I was drawing a lot, I was seeing more. I had more to reach for and to take from. So I am very greedy with the objects I put in my space.
Intuition comes from confidence, and I think my confidence increased as I began to trust myself a lot more.
I think this is how I noticed I was naturally creating paintings in the form of the environment. Because to work intuitively, I need to have things to grab on to. It's intuition. But it's intuition created from thinking, looking, drawing, leaving the space, coming back to the space, and struggling.
Intuition comes from confidence, and I think my confidence increased as I began to trust myself a lot more.
TMHow does teaching inform your practice?
JFSometimes I feel like I love teaching more than painting, but it doesn't mean I don't love painting. I love teaching so much because I can share my discoveries in painting. Being an artist can be such a privilege.
We have these interesting conversations, realisations, and thoughts and we keep them to ourselves. And we make the space in which people can receive this information very exclusive. I don't need to be greedy with my self-discoveries. I get to be open with that.
And a lot of the work is about that too. The work is open, hoping I can invite some of the people to this conversation as well. My love for teaching is so big, because when I am painting, I realise I am teaching myself so much as well.
Sometimes I wonder, am I a painter or am I a teacher? But teaching in a broader sense, if that makes sense. Because I love to speak. I love to show. The things I like to speak about are the things that concern changing ideas about how to live in this world and just breathe.
Whenever someone asks me, do you want to do this talk? Do you want to come to this school? If I can, I say yes. That is my priority. I am never too busy for that. Because that's what this is all about, sharing that conversation. It's not just my conversation, I've just started it. —[O]