Rising star painter Joy Labinjo has shows on two continents. She told us how she gets there

British Nigerian painter Joy Labinjo has celebrations in store.

Last month, she inaugurated Tiwani Contemporary’s new space in Lagos to open her first-ever solo exhibition on the African continent, titled ‘Full Ground’. On view until May 7, it marks a new direction for the artist, who presents a series of monumental nude self-portraits based on images taken with his phone.

In the new works, Labinjo swapped his bright saturated colors for more muted earth tones, and the social exchanges were replaced with solitary figures. (We can understand.)

When we spoke to the artist, she was also about to open a second solo exhibition at the Chapter Gallery in Cardiff, Wales, with a different subject. The exhibition features history paintings that confront the misguided notion that black people only arrived in the UK with the Windrush generation in the late 1940s. Informed by art historian David Olusoga Black and British: a forgotten history, this body of work is also inspired by the life of the 18th century writer Olaudah Equiano.

We caught up with the artist from her studio in London about how she prepares for her exhibitions, which artists excite her and why she can’t stand light marks on paintings.

Joy Labinjo’s workshop. Courtesy of the artist.

What are the most essential items in your studio?

Oil paintings and liquin by Michael Harding!

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?

It’s honestly just paint. I have the morning uninterrupted, so [I hope] get lost and make good progress on a few jobs.

What atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence?

I always listen to something. I don’t like silence. However, what I decide to listen to depends on my mood and the task I’m doing, so it varies between different podcasts, music, and radio.

Joy Labinjo's workshop.  Courtesy of the artist.

Joy Labinjo’s workshop. Courtesy of the artist.

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you despise the most?

I admire the techniques in many works. Regardless of medium, artwork that makes me think, “Wow, how did they pull this off?” Sometimes when I look at paintings I don’t really look at the subject but rather find the materiality fascinating. Layering, paint drips, texture, etc. I think maybe I’m drawn to works that are completely different from mine.

What I hate the most is a bit hard to explain. Contempt is perhaps too strong a term. However, I really don’t like paints with very faint marks or thin paint. I think they can give the impression that the artist is out of paint and overall I don’t find it aesthetically pleasing.

What snack could your studio not run from?

I try not to eat too much in the studio. However, when I’m working towards a deadline, I turn to Flavored Super Noodles for a quick lunch or dinner, and Big Grapes as a snack. I also constantly drink coffee throughout the day.

Joy Labinjo's workshop.  Photo by Deniz Guzel.

Joy Labinjo’s workshop. Photo by Deniz Guzel.

Who are your favorite artists, curators or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

I really only use Instagram and at the moment I only check every few days so I’m not sure. I am, however, really excited about the Rachel Jones show at Chisenhale Gallery.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to unblock yourself?

I read articles, flip through books that are loosely related, read a novel, or just go home and relax. Ideas can come when I’m doing really mundane tasks or just before I fall asleep.

What is the last exhibition you saw that made an impression on you?

In fact, I saw two exhibitions for the last time. I went to Tate Britain and saw ‘Hogarth and Europe’ and ‘Life Between Islands’. I really enjoyed both exhibits for different reasons. Hogarth helped me put my research on Equiano into perspective and “Between the Islands” was really enjoyable because I got to see a lot of work that I had heard of but never had. views, which was really special.

If you had to create a mood board, what would it be right now?

I’m at the end of work preparing for my next show, so I can’t really think. The mood board I created in preparation contained images of Thomas Gainsborough, Hogarth and bouquets of flowers. I’m not normally a moodboard person. However, with this body of work, I really needed to visualize the period I was interested in, and I found the mood helpful.

“Joy Labinjo: Full Ground” is on view at the Tiwani Contemporary, Lagos, until May 7.

‘Joy Labinjo: Ode to Olaudah Equiano’ is on view at the Chapter Gallery in Cardiff, from March 26 to July 3.

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