Ken Nwadiogbu is plunging the Kristin Hjellegjerde gallery into an unusual and exciting fragmentation of colour with his exhibition ‘Fragments Of Reality‘. Organised until 25 November by Dolly Kola-Balogun in collaboration with Retro Africa, this presentation by the contemporary artist features a series of flamboyant figures in reference to his personal memories created in London.
The Nigerian artist arrived in London in 2022, having decided to continue his art studies at the Royal College of Art, a decision that has profoundly influenced not only his approach to art, but also his wider perception of himself and the way he views the world. The selection of works in the ‘Fragments Of Reality‘ exhibition is drawn from photographs taken by the artist in the UK. These are personal captures of his friends, family and other members of the black immigrant community. Extrapolating the aim of simply creating the images photographed, Ken Nwadiogbu focuses on the specific details of the captures, highlighting the vivid emotional residue that lingers after a while.
He offers the public a striking visual through a series of characters depicted in a dazzling colour palette of yellow, red and orange. Emerging or descending into abstract and textured backgrounds, Ken Nwadiogbu’s personal memories give the impression of being shared right in the art space. Through these portraits of ephemeral moments that have nevertheless remained engraved in his mind, the artist wishes to invite the public to a shared exploration of his memory and his new way of perceiving the world.
“Fragments of reality“, his first solo exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, addresses his experiences of adapting to life in London, and his constructive approach to building a sense of community and a desire to return home.
In keeping with his psychological state and the musical rhythm set in his studio, Ken Nwadiogbu spreads paint over his canvas and lets the movement of the colour define the detail to be reproduced at first sight. This is followed by the deep, vivid, textured materialisation of the character and strokes of contextual information, such as the edge of a mattress, a metal fence or escalators. This creative method offers a spellbinding rendering somewhere between reality and fiction.
The brilliant palette of colour in these recent works allows precise details to be illuminated simultaneously, helping to project the image into a space of transition that, according to the artist, is akin to the “spiritual realm, the side of the world that we don’t fully understand and can’t comprehend“. Painted in images as in words, the warm tones that emerge from these canvases are inspired by this idea as well as by the aesthetics of thermographic cameras that record thermal energy. As Ken Nwadiogbu explains: “When a moment passes, the memories become energy, so that even when the visual experience fades, the feeling remains and is anchored in who we are.“
The depiction of anonymous figures with their backs to the viewer, or sometimes masked, has a significant connotation. Sometimes depicted in intimate domestic contexts, these figures nevertheless seem distant and indecipherable. This analogy is a reference to Ken Nwadiogbu‘s experiences of anonymity on his arrival in the English city. In addition, this impersonal trait allows visitors to attribute their own image to these figures, according to their perceptions of the world.
In contrast, other paintings in the ‘Fragments of reality‘ series feature figures staring directly at the viewer. The features of their gazes are underlined by dark circles cut out of them, which appear as glasses or portals to their souls. Explaining this form of gaze, he says: “It’s like when you make eye contact with someone on the bus or train – at that moment there’s an instant life: they become an individual with their own history and emotions that you can sympathise with and identify with.“
In relation to this explanation, Ken Nwadiogbu’s work appears as a portal for identifying and creating moments of intense connection that break down social, cultural and political boundaries. His paintings focus on the everyday experience of black immigrants in the UK, while at the same time acting as a reminder of a shared humanity.