Less Is More: Infinite Minimalism by TEDA
TEDA’s distinctly stylish brand of abstract artwork straddles the creative and corporate spheres alike, with displays in exhibitions across Nigeria and design projects for TV titan CNN Africa under his belt. Drawn to abstract expressions of self and inspired by the hustle and bustle of his native Lagos, Toby has wowed us with the subtle power of his imagery. We took a look through his minimal lens to find out more.
What draws you to abstract work?
I’m fascinated by line and shape and spend hours exploring where they can take me. I love experimenting with colour combinations too. There are no boundaries or restrictions to what I can create – the possibilities are endless! With abstract art I can approach subjects and societal issues in a unique way – the African Woman and Modernisation is a theme I keep coming back to, depicting the strength and industrious nature of African women in a way that hasn’t been seen before. Sometimes, a slightly odd image is the perfect way to present a challenging topic; it can break down preconceptions, making audiences more receptive to new ideas.
Talk us through your work process - how do you get started on a piece?
I carry a small sketchbook with me, noting down anything inspirational or interesting. Music, TV shows, topics of conversation, anything at all can spark an idea. Then I decide which medium fits the idea best – contemporary acrylic paint, charcoal pencils or digital. Some artworks feel right when drawn straight onto paper because of the natural definition I can give them. An artwork may then progress to digital if it feels right too, where I can easily adjust colours and tones.
The majority of subjects featured in your artworks are women – would you say women are among your main sources of inspiration? What else inspires you?
I’m very inspired by the women in my life. Everything we become is enabled by the woman who first carried us – my mother was the first person I knew, and she continues to welcome me without judgement whenever I need her support. We are part of each other.
Spirituality influences me greatly. However a person chooses to define it, ultimately spirituality keeps us grounded and aware that there is more to life than tasks and possessions. It’s also very much an African thing – I come from a Christian home; if you’re raised in an African home, regardless of religion, you grow up being told to say your prayers, to show commitment to whoever your God may be and to treat others with respect. If I didn’t have something in the collection showing my spiritual roots I’d be in serious trouble with my mum!
The swift pace of Lagos life captivates my imagination daily. The people, the music, the food – it’s all like beautiful scenery flying by the window of a speeding train. And the gallery scene is vibrant here too – live painting at the Nigerian Railway Mini Museum was a brilliant experience in a really cosy and intimate space – I’d like to do the same in larger spaces and see how a bigger crowd would influence what I create in real-time.
A trademark feature of your artwork has got to be the eyes of your subjects - whether it's eyes of different sizes, a face with one eye, tiny teardrops or an eye crossed out! What inspires you to play with the way eyes are presented, and what are you hoping to convey?
I think I’m drawn to eyes because they reveal so much about a person. Joy, sadness, anger, emptiness – you can try to fool people in any other way, but you can’t fake the expression in your eyes. The eyes of my subjects are a reminder that people hold emotion; that they feel, even if their form is super-stylish and seemingly self-assured. The teardrops are my own way of showing that behind every beautiful face, life, and person, there is also a sensitive part of ourselves that we need to share with others.
You’re using abstract art to touch on a lot of concepts in your personal artwork. How do you translate this abstract approach to corporate branding and design work? Are clients receptive to your style?
Some clients love what I do, but they may not understand it – you can be working on a design project with people who don’t even like art! With any type of collaboration though, teamwork requires all parties to work with and not against each other. When you achieve that balance the process becomes a great learning curve. I never compromise on including my trademarks and identity at all times, and I think that confidence inspires clients to take more creative risks. They may think I’m crazy, but they trust me in the end.
What do you want us to take from your work?
I want people to become more connected with their inner eye, to become more confident in the power of their own perception. People are so heavily influenced by external voices; I want my work to enable others to see and hear themselves for once. When ten people look at one piece of abstract art, everyone sees something different - the work is speaking to them directly, and how they interpret it reflects their mind-state at that moment in their lives. It’s fascinating – I like to be the catalyst for that as often as I can.
What's your favourite aspect of your own work and why?
The simplicity of my style – I LOVE IT! I pack a lot of detail into a simple set of lines, shapes and colours without creating confusing, overpowering or cluttered images. I enjoy provoking the imagination without bombarding the audience with too much to take in. And I feel like I’m getting better and better with practice.