Toyin Ojih Odutola is the third highest-paid Nigerian artist of all time.
She earned this prestigious title after selling one of her drawings, titled ‘Compound Leaf’, for £471,000 (roughly N215 million) at the Sotheby’s.
This record-breaking sale puts on her on the list of the top three highest-paid Nigerian artists led by the legendary Ben Enwonwu and followed by Njideka Akunyili Crosby.
How Toyin Ojih Odutola became the incredible artist she is today
She was born in 1985 in Ife, an ancient Yoruba city in Nigeria. She moved with her family to Berkeley, California five years later.
There, she became aware of her ‘blackness’ and started to question her identity. During this time, art became her coping mechanism, her way of dealing with this new transition.
Telling Vogue how art helped her, Odutola said, “I was obsessed. Capturing everything I saw and being fascinated with the incredibly simple task of looking at something and transmitting it onto paper. It’s immediate magic.”
Over time, art became an “investigative, learning activity” and eventually her career after she got a Bachelor of Arts degree in Studio Art and Communications from the University of Alabama inHuntsville in 2008. She later earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the California College of the Arts in 2012.
Odutola, best known for highly-detailed portrait drawings, entirely or primarily done in black pen ink, charcoal, pastel, and pencil, is influenced by African American portraitures like Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden and Barkley L. Hendricks. They were introduced to her by her high school art teacher, Dana Bathurst.
Artsy describes her work as drawings that “question physical and sociopolitical identities as they pertain to skin colour. Treating the skin as topography, she layers ink as a means of mapping a person’s subjective, individual geography built from real-life experiences.”
“Her interest in surface qualities stems from the history of African textiles, which inspires the artist’s rich textures on flat planes. Concerned with historical representations of black subjects in portraiture, Odutola undermines notions of blackness in her drawings by exploring what it means to look or be perceived as black, as, while drawn in black ink, not all of her subjects are of African descent.”
Her work has landed her on the Forbes‘ 2012 list of 30 notable individuals under 30, Juxtapoz Magazine in November 2017, The New York Times Magazine ‘The Lives They Lived’ issue, published on December 30, 2018, and on the shortlist of artists for the Future Generation Art Prize for 2019.
Odutola has participated in several exhibitions including The Drawing Center, New York (2018–19); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2017–18); Brooklyn Museum, New York (2016); Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2015); Studio Museum Harlem, New York (2015, 2012); Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield (2013); and Menil Collection, Houston, (2012).