Interview: Kehinde Sanwo on the progression of his art

Documentary painter, Kehinde Sanwo carved a niche for himself in documentary painting over a decade ago. Now Sanwo is carving another niche for himself with his darkroom light technique. Kehinde Sanwo is showcasing his work at the ongoing Transcending Boundaries exhibition in Lacey Contemporary Gallery, London, from 24 April to 11 May 2015.

The Artist {Photo credit: Kehinde Sanwo}

The Artist {Photo credit: Kehinde Sanwo}

You have been described by many as a documentary painter of old and lost architectural designs, but your work is changing. Would you say that the documentation era is over for you?

The art of documenting old and lost architectural design has become a social concern. I know I am playing a vital role in visually documenting these landmarks for posterity. So it is still an ongoing project as long as my passion for history and beauty exists.

Who/what are your greatest art influences?

In the early years of my career, the impressionists and Plein-Air British artists were my greatest influences, especially Edward Seago.  But now my work is inspired by the history of African arts, which I find intriguing, and the harmony of light and darkness.

Your exhibition, Light Artmosphere, in 2014 was nothing like you’d ever done. What was the experience like for you creating those works? And how did avid followers of your work react to this new style?

It was an awesome experience for me to be the channel through which such mind blowing ideas and design came into existence. Even now, I still take photographs for the purpose of using it as a means to an end (painting). My foray into light painting photography was a divine coincidence.

On your darkroom light technique, you said the calling of artists “is to send light into the human heart”. Could you expound on this?

The statement meant Art is a means to an end. A means to communicate spiritual enlightenment or when light is seen as a metaphor for knowledge, then the artist can “transmit” knowledge, through the vehicle of art, thereby communicating to the whole being of man. This gets him inspired.

You have had several solo exhibitions. Which would you describe as ‘most successful’ and why?

Yes, I have had five solo exhibitions and several group shows. My first solo exhibition titled ‘Legacy’ was held in 1996 at the Brazilian Embassy in Lagos. It was the beginning of a new order in landscape painting combining aesthetic with history. I was able to create a niche for myself in documenting these architectural landmarks

What is the painting process like for you? How long does it take and when do you know the painting is finished?

Tribal Influence {Photo credit: Kehinde Sanwo}

Tribal Influence {Photo credit: Kehinde Sanwo}

The process typically starts with a creative thought of what I want to achieve. Once I am able to see it in my mind then it’s time to hit the canvas. I then lay a background colour tone on which the sketch is made, after which I pause to have fun mixing the colours I will need. The dialogue continues with laying of the various colour strokes, manipulating colours to create forms until what I have in my head and the painting becomes what I want. The journey could take a week or more.

Your piece, ‘Tribal Influence’, is an interesting take on traditional art in contemporary spaces. Is it part of a series of works? And what was the influence behind it?

‘Tribal Influence’ – oil on Canvas this visual pictorial rendered in rich colours on a uniquely pixilated textured surface seeks to celebrate and document the influence of African mask and sculptures on Picasso’s career, especially his ‘Negro period’. This painting captures a moment in a gallery, in which art enthusiasts are analysing how Africa influences the artist.


Categories: Meet the Artist, Painting, Visual Art

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