Life's A Beach: Victor Ubah @ Bill Brady, Miami
Bill Brady in Miami is currently presenting an exhibition by the Nigerian artist Victor Ubah which is simply reflecting on countless weekends spent at the local beach through a series of paintings grouply entitled Life's A Beach.
"My environment inspires me the most," Ubah told Juxtapoz when we recently talked about this body of work and discussed what inspired it. "Lagos is a dramatic environment with an artistic style and culture. Contemporary fashion also plays an important part. It influences the way I perceive my sitter, as not only an individual, but also as a reflection of a moment, a mood and a particular story." And the story these images are telling is one of leisure and enjoying life, the type of story mainstream media isn't covering often when talking about places like Nigeria. Comprising mostly portraits, the body of work is depicting the Lagos-based artist's friends and family set against the clear blue skies, the ocean, and the beige horizon of the beach. With the patterns and surfaces of the clothes coming through as an element of contemporary culture, these sunny snapshots have an otherwise timeless atmosphere. Some of it comes too from the way that the artist is depicting his sitters, heavily influenced by Picasso, Braque, and Condo, the greats of Cubism. "My style of rendering skin was developed in my earliest studio which had broken tiles all over the floor," the artist told us how his observations led to developing such visual language. "Whenever I took a good look at the arrangement of the tiles, I would see human faces and figures in them. It was fascinating to me, and inspired me to learn more about cubism."
With fairly loose gestures depicting the fabric patterns, the clouds, beach sand, or the surrounding elements, the blocks constructing the faces and bodies seem to be carefully calculated and meticulously painted. But at the same time, this technique allows for experimentation both with materials and the ways of depicting his subjects. "I try to follow the human anatomy of my sitter," Ubah told us about the way he constructs the striking portraits. "I give their natural forms and shapes more structure and detail." And indeed, the exaggeration of facial features through linear strokes of brown hues does create unnatural looking surfaces through which piercing eyes and big smiles are coming through. Both accentuating the uniqueness of each sitter and the universality of the scenes depicted, the whole body of work feels like a familiar collection of vacation photos seen through an updated cubism lens. Going against the focus of mainstream media on tragedy and celebrity within Black communities, it's the depiction of such mundane, relatable moments that are necessary to continuously remind us of our shared experiences. And spending time in the sun with friends, family, music, snacks, and drinks, is certainly one of those scenarios which everyone can identify with, regardless of the background or the culture we're coming from. —Sasha Bogojev