A Decision at the Crossroads - Isimi Taiwo

Like Van Gogh, Alex Katz, and Claude Monet, Isimi Taiwo also started late in the world of art. “I was seven years old when I started drawing and I taught myself. When I was in secondary school I practiced everyday and I started to take it a bit more seriously” Unfortunately for him his parents didn’t share the same fascination with art and they felt that their son wasn’t focusing enough on his studies, “I got beaten when they found out how I was spending my time” Through his time at school, he drew anything that caught his eye and his skill in the craft increased. He wished to take his passion for art a step further, by studying art in after high school; but his parents had other ideas. “Art is a good career choice-said no parent ever and likewise, my parents wanted me to pursue a career that they deemed respectable like an engineer, doctor or lawyer.”

Despite seeing his passion and penchant for art, he was made to study mechanical engineering right out of high school. “I tried to study, but after a while I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I still needed a degree and I was still under my parent’s jurisdiction. Every time I wanted to change my course, my parents were against it.” Eventually he decided to cross the Rubicon and much to his parent’s chagrin and seven years after secondary school he enrolled himself in a creative arts course at the University of Lagos; a decision that he does not regret. “Looking back at it, I now realize that if I hadn’t made the change, I would be stuck doing something I wasn’t keen on.” Eventually he also earned back the support of his parents, after winning a creative art competition before enrolling himself in a creative arts degree. With the prize money from that competition he was able to buy all the supplies he needed for his bachelor’s degree in creative art.  

After graduating he spent some time in the Nigerian Youth Service Corps at the end of which he had to make a decision, either choose a regular 9-5 job and forget about art and appease his parents, or choose art as a career. It was at this time that he was rescued from this dilemma by art, as he painted a piece called ‘Where do I go from here’ during his service year at the NYSC. The painting had him sitting at the crossroads, with his bags of talent and picking up leaves from the sidewalk, “Right then I found out that hyperrealism was the medium for me, it helped me to express myself visually. It made me think and try to compose my thoughts, like a diary; it was also challenging, as I had to squeeze all of my emotions in a single shot on the canvas.”

Though he has a day job, he tells me that he still considers himself to be a full time artist. “I have my job and I have my work, and I use the former to support the latter.”

Taiwo tells me that he has no particular influences, as he was exposed to the works of other artists quite late in life, but he has high praise for Rembrandt, Da Vinci and Michelangelo. “I felt like they were scientists who were dissecting things through their works, while also creating prototypes for many modern implements” Even when he was studying mechanical engineering, he was fascinated by the art in engineering; at this moment he realized that a part of his life that was behind him, could subtly influence what he was doing today.

Now apart from taking commissions, he also teaches art to others through workshops. Though he enjoys teaching, he tells me that it was not something that he set out to do at first. “I went a few months barely making ends meet, and a friend of mine kept asking me to teach him. I was hesitant at first, but I eventually warmed up to the idea; and he became my first student.” After to Taiwo’s surprise, many more people followed and eventually he started conducting workshops.

He tells me about his first exhibition which was at his final year of art school, where he exhibited his first set of works across a variety of mediums. Later on he exhibited his first hyper realistic painting, the aforementioned ‘Where Do I Go from Here’ at the Terra Kulture exhibition. “It felt good to show my works to people while in the company of other artists”. He adds that his was the only hyper realistic painting in the whole exhibition. After the pandemic, he has been a part of a few online exhibitions and viewing rooms, which he sees as a viable alternative to exhibitions, but he feels that it will not be equal to the real thing as “Traditional galleries will always be there as seeing art with your bare eyes is the best experience to have”. He also feels that online exhibitions make it easier for collectors to acquire works from different places.

Beside all this last year he has also done a case study on hyper-realism through an exhibition called the Insanity exhibition. He exhibited alongside ten other artists and he was awed by the whole spectacle so he took that as an opportunity to write a thesis, “So that anyone who is looking into Nigerian hyper-realism can use it for their research” he adds. His thesis documents the emergence and growth of the medium through the Insanity exhibition, and he adds that a lot of people have gotten into hyper-realism because of it. Taiwo also exposes new artists to his followers every week through a thread called “Sunday Geniuses”. He tells me that he found a lot of kindred spirits through this initiative, in the thread they normally converse about art and their artistic journey.

According to Taiwo, it doesn’t matter when you start out in art, “If you start when you are young, it’s fantastic. But it’s not a bad thing if you start old either. Age isn’t a requirement, what’s important is that you have patience and remain persistent.” He also adds that an artist should never think that they have arrived, as there is always room for improvement. Taiwo emphasizes that one should never become an artist solely with the notion of making money, “An artist should motivate themselves through passion and not profit. Most of my best works weren’t commissions.” But this he does say that one should learn ‘the business of art’, “talent is not enough, as artists like most people have bills to pay; so an artist should know how to market their art”

Talking about the future he says that he is planning on a solo exhibition sometime next year; so he will be cutting down on his workshops to focus on that. “I won’t have them as often as I have them right now” He also plans to open a school someday and teach others, but that idea is still on the drawing board, “I don’t know yet, I let the spirit lead the way” and with that, he signs off.  

Isimi Taiwo can be reached on Instagram @isimi_taiwo

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