London, 19 June 2012:    Alongside the visual arts activities programmed in association with the Olympics this year, London will host an astonishing array of exhibitions and art installations put on by independent organisations which promote work by emerging artists.

Just one year after graduating, British artist Damilola Oshilaja, who demonstrates enormous passion and determination in pursuit of his career, has been chosen by curators, art critics and appointed selection panels across the city to participate in a series of independently run exhibitions this summer. His story is heartwarming and his programme for June/ July 2012 represents a neat snapshot of the London art scene.

A 2011 MA Fine Art Graduate from Central St Martin’s, Oshilaja, who lives in London, works relentlessly to apply for exhibitions, exposure and funding in his home city and on the international art scene. After many setbacks of different kinds throughout his life, his tenacity and hard work is finally paying off.

As a child growing up, he contracted polio at the age of 12 and was temporarily paralysed down the left side of his body, putting an end to his earlier sporting ambitions. While in hospital he rediscovered his childhood interest and considerable talent for painting and drawing. Fortunately, his family supported his interest in art and provided him with professional materials to work with from his hospitable bed, using his right arm. Within two years, Oshilaja astounded his doctors by making a full recovery and developing an intense determination to become an artist. He also went on to achieve several sporting accolades.

Oshilaja initiated a studio practice in 1997, and exhibited work regularly over a ten year period from 1998-2008. In May 2005, a collection of paintings were vandalised and defaced in Oshilaja’s studio. Upset but undeterred, Oshilaja simply set about re-working the paintings, referring to the vandals in the exhibition catalogue of 2008 as “the fairies from the dark side of the moon”.

In 2009, Oshilaja, who says he “tries not to regret or hold on to negative energy of any sort”, was accepted on to the MA Fine Art degree course at Central St Martin’s as a mature student without a BA degree, proving the strength of his portfolio of work and complete commitment to his career as a painter. This is an extremely rare feat. While at CSM, disillusioned with the enduring dominance of conceptual art, Oshilaja developed strong theoretical principles on which to take his work forward, culminating in his thesis, ‘Ethical Art for Art’s Sake’.

“’Ethical art for art’s sake’ is about pinning artistic integrity on artists’ skill and imagination. I want to ‘re-mystify’ art by shifting the concept from being the end product to being an ingredient in the process of making art, so the work of art = idea + imagination x skill.” Damilola Oshilaja

Through practice, Oshilaja has learned how to access funding to finance his career. While at CSM, he was awarded the University of the Arts London Artists and Collectors Programme Bursary. In 2011 he was awarded grants from the Nancy Balfour Fund and Access to Learning Fund and shortlisted for the Red Mansion Art Prize, established to promote artistic exchange between China and the UK.

Since completing his MA degree, Oshilaja has sought and gained representation with galleries, organisations and individuals who share his determination for achieving success in a crowded market - and for bending the rules.

“Getting accepted for exhibition and exposure opportunities in London is notoriously hard for graduates and emerging artists now, due to the enormous field of competition. Working with organisations who adapt or shun the traditional commercial gallery model and who are redressing the artist/ gallery relationship seems to be the name of the game.” Damilola Oshilaja

In May this year, Oshilaja was chosen by a committee which included critic, Edward Lucie Smith and artist, Chris Levine, to exhibit at ‘The Other Art Fair’ alongside selected graduates and emerging artists. Oshilaja is full of praise for the new organisation, founded last year by art entrepreneur Ryan Stanier, which promotes a better financial deal for emerging artists by offering them the opportunity to sell directly to buyers, commission free, in exchange for a rented pitch at the fair. Stanier plans to hold two fairs in London each year.

Oshilaja is represented by several online galleries. Through his involvement with The Other Art Fair, his work was recently selected for representation by ‘’, which has enjoyed meteoric success selling a “hand-curated edit” of high quality work by new artists and designers online. Culture Label, whose founding partners include Tate, V&A, Saatchi Gallery and the Whitechapel Gallery, was started five years ago by Peter Tullin and Simon Cronshaw, the authors of ‘Cultural Entrepreneurship and Commercial Income Generation for the Arts’.

This month, Oshilaja’s work is represented by Debut Contemporary gallery on Westbourne Grove, run by energetic duo Zoe Knight and Samir Ceric. A solo exhibition will follow later this year. The Debut website makes important statements about the couple’s work ethic and transformative approach to working with artists:

 “Debut Contemporary is an innovative platform aimed at talented and ambitious artists eager to turn their art practice in to a successful career and a viable business. Debut is the only professional development and career empowerment platform of its kind in the UK.”

Oshilaja has just been shortlisted for the ‘Young Master’s Art Prize’ exhibition (21 June – 4 July), organised by dynamic London gallerist, Cynthia Corbett. Initiated in 2009, Young Masters operates as a not-for-profit initiative of the Cynthia Corbett Gallery. The competition attracts emerging artists inspired by the work of the Old Masters. Artists are asked to reference the art of the past, either through technique, imagery or subject putting their own spin on the work. The competition is judged by a panel of well known critics and established artists. Oshilaja, whose artist heroes include Egon Schiele, Jean Michel-Basquiat, Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Turner, and Bosch submitted a piece entitled, ‘Landscape Redux: Prologue, the Illusions of Trivialities’ from an ongoing series of work.

“’Landscape Redux’ is the title of a large collection of paintings I have been working on since 2004.  The term literally translates as ‘the Landscape brought back’ or ‘revived’. The collection as a whole is my effort to redefine and reinterpret the visual, physical and historical framework of landscape painting”. Damilola Oshilaja

Oshilaja was thrilled recently to be selected to exhibit with ‘Art Below’ for the first time this July, an organisation which shows work by emerging artists on the London Underground. Art Below sells work by the artists it represents through its website.

“Art Below is an interesting model for artists, offering a dynamic platform which takes art out of the gallery and into the underbelly of London. My perception of Art Below is that it is the first cousin of graffiti and street art; it enables creative exposure in a setting devoid of, but calling for creative intervention.” Damilola Oshilaja

Oshilaja has a keen interest in graffiti and visual language. He uses and adapts symbols and characters from eastern cultures, (Ainu, Tao, I Ching), Scandanavian cave drawings and the iconography of the Mayans, Aborigines and the Yoruba people of Nigeria in his work as well as scientific and mathematical symbols and astrological maps of the cosmos. His use of coded symbols interest all who encounter Oshilaja’s work, their hidden meaning adding layers of mystery to the work.

Oshilaja has lofty ambitions in terms of his practice and is very eloquent on the subject, but he is also keen to “keep it real” and that extends to where he chooses to display his work in London. From 28 June he will exhibit a series of digital fine art pigment prints in a salon in Soho called ‘We Are Cuts’.

As well as having talent and great tenacity, Oshilaja’s experience as a practising artist prior to his MA degree course stands him in good stead for the future. He is fortunate to be in demand. Many artists living in London lose faith in the first year after graduation because of financial pressures and they simply do not have time to pursue a career as an artist outside of paid work.

London based independent curator and consultant Katharine Cockshaw, who is currently working with Oshilaja, advises any school leaver who is considering embarking on a career as an artist, to seriously question themselves before making any radical decisions about their future. She stresses the need for a complete overhaul of creative careers education in schools and universities so that pupils can make informed choices and learn practical skills:

“Teaching art students business skills, fundraising techniques, web presentation skills and PR and marketing early on would at least give young people some preparation for survival in the contemporary art world”,

Katharine Cockshaw, Independent curator

Due to the enormous breadth of work on offer in terms of style and subject, it is frequently surmised that in retrospect, the current wave of successful young British artists will be collectively characterised by their hungry entrepreneurial spirit and extreme determination to break through, learning from Saatchi’s YBAs who trod the path for them some 20 years ago. There can however be no substitute for talent and originality in impressing panels of esteemed art critics and curators, as Damilola Oshilaja has done.

With characteristic confidence and enthusiasm, perhaps echoing that of his celebrated forebears of the 1990s, the artist says that his priorities now are to “… find a new studio, see the Northern Lights and to show my work in international museums!”




GS on Social Networks. Follow & get in touch.
Profile Selected Texts Text Press Release