Toyin Ojih Odutola creates intimate drawings that explore the complexity of identity as it relates to her personal journey of having been born in Nigeria before moving and assimilating into American culture in conservative Alabama. The artist renders life-size drawings in charcoal, pastel, and pencil while employing a distinctive style of intricate mark-making. Her lush compositions expand and turn the genre of portraiture on its head. Often set against decadent environments of domesticity and leisure, her subjects have a mysterious quality. Such shifting of context is an important motif throughout her work, representing the impermanence and precarity of “home” as an emotional and physical sense of belonging.
LTS (or Like the Sea) (2013 – 2014) is a series of large-scale, mixed media drawings portraying the artist’s two younger brothers. The artist explains:
“I was interested in creating a narrative that was ambiguous to any sort of overarching, direct definition, while emphasizing this idea of creating these drawings as, in and of itself, an act of love. For me the theme of ‘love’ in this series is two-fold: it is in the idea of shifting changes as well as an act of doing. It can change, but the beauty of it is when it is consistently present even when everything else feels uncertain.”
The subjects are surrounded by a variety of tapestried landscapes indicative of the diverse locales in which the siblings have resided. Delving into ideas of presence, placement, and personal attachment, the series exemplifies themes within the realms of the intimate and the universal. The series title is inspired by an excerpt from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937): “Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different from every shore.”