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Odili Donald Odita’s Mesmerizing Paintings

Nigerian-born artist Odili Donald Odita’s third solo exhibition at the Jack Shainman Gallery is entirely stunning. The paintings at first appear abstract, perhaps referencing Picasso’s early abstract paintings, but in reality are careful studies in color and light refraction. Sister Midnight is theoretically an interpretation of a veil falling. Plane Shifter articulates the refraction of sunlight through a stream. Many of his paintings are abstracted Nigerian landscapes, kaleidoscopic visions of remembered mountains and rivers obscured by time and space.

His color sensibility is akin to a mathematician’s. The painter meticulously maps out each painting’s angular design and chromatic scheme. Inspired by the vibrant textiles of his home country Nigeria, Odita fuses these patterns with elements of Western modernity. The splintering effect of his designs speaks to the idea of the “other” and parallels the displacement he felt growing up in Midwestern America. Odita’s family fled Nigeria just before the start of the Biafran war in 1967. The fragmented nature of his paintings visually represents the postcolonial existence, which lacks a definite center.


Says Odita: “Rather than work in institutionally grounded aesthetic systems where the containment of color occurs because of assumed and prejudiced notions of color as aberrant, abject and superficial, it has always been my intention to work without the ‘fear of color,’ which is in itself a censoring, limiting and debilitating condition.”

Each of his large-scale works, including a mural in the entrance of the gallery, is mesmerizing. Though the arrangement of the colors and shapes are exacting, they are sometimes intentionally irregular, making the patterns even more compelling.

Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY

Odita has been commissioned to produce many murals, including one outside New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in 2012. Previously a drab grey wall sat across from the patient’s rooms (which was so oppressive that nurses avoided putting patients in that room), Odita’s new mural now brightens visits.

Odita also is interested in music and says he explores this medium to understand the human condition. He has had solo exhibitions at the Yerba Buena Center, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. He lives and works in Philadelphia.

Sister Midnight

“This, That and the Other” is on view at the Jack Shainman Gallery through November 16.





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