Rising Star Painter Joy Labinjo Has Shows on Two Continents. She Told Us How She Gets It All Done

We caught up with the artist from her London studio.

Joy Labinjo. Photo by Deniz Guzel.
Joy Labinjo. Photo by Deniz Guzel.

The British Nigerian painter Joy Labinjo has some celebrating to do.

Last month, she inaugurated Tiwani Contemporary’s new space in Lagos to open her first-ever solo show on the African continent, titled “Full Ground.” On view through May 7, it marks a new direction for the artist, who is presenting a suite of monumental nude self-portraits based on images taken on her phone.

In the new works, Labinjo has exchanged her vivid saturated colors for more muted earth tones, and social exchanges have been replaced by solitary figures. (We can relate.)

When we spoke to the artist, she was also about to open a second solo show at Chapter Gallery in Cardiff, Wales, with a different subject matter. The exhibition presents history paintings that confront the misguided notion that Black people arrived in the U.K. only with the Windrush generation in the late 1940s. Informed by art historian David Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten Historythis body of work also takes inspiration from the life of the 18th-century writer Olaudah Equiano.

We caught up with the artist from her London studio about how she prepares for her exhibitions, the artists that excite her, and why she can’t stand faint marks on paintings.

Joy Labinjo's studio. Courtesy the artist.

Joy Labinjo’s studio. Courtesy the artist.

What are the most indispensable items in your studio?

Michael Harding oil paints and liquin!

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?

It’s honestly just painting. I’ve got the morning without interruptions, so [I hope] to lose myself and make some good progress on a couple of works.

What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence?

I’m always listening to something. I don’t enjoy silence. However, what I decide to listen to depends on my mood and the task I’m completing, so it varies between various podcasts, music, and the radio.

Joy Labinjo's studio. Courtesy the artist.

Joy Labinjo’s studio. Courtesy the artist.

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?

I admire the techniques in a lot of works. Regardless of medium, artworks that make me think, “Wow, how have they managed that?” Sometimes when I look at paintings, I’m not really looking at the subject matter but rather find the materiality fascinating. The layering, the drips of paint, texture, etc. I think perhaps I’m drawn to works that are completely different from my own.

What I most despise is a bit hard to explain. Despise is maybe too strong a term. However, I really dislike paintings with very faint marks or thin paint. I think they can look like the artist is running out of paint, and overall, I don’t find it aesthetically pleasing.

What snack food could your studio not function without?

I try not to eat too much in the studio. However, when I’m working towards a deadline, I turn to flavored Super Noodles for a quick lunch or dinner, and big grapes as a snack. I also constantly drink coffee throughout the day.

Joy Labinjo's studio. Photo by Deniz Guzel.

Joy Labinjo’s studio. Photo by Deniz Guzel.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

I only really use Instagram, and at the moment seem to only have a look every few days, so I’m not sure. I am, however, really excited for Rachel Jones’s exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?

I read articles, flick through books that are loosely related, read a novel, or I’ll just go home and chill. Ideas can come when I’m doing really mundane tasks or just before I fall asleep.

What is the last exhibition you saw that made an impression on you?

I actually last saw two exhibitions. I went to Tate Britain and saw “Hogarth and Europe” and “Life Between Islands.” I really enjoyed both exhibitions for different reasons. Hogarth helped me to put my research regarding Equiano in perspective and “Between Islands” was really enjoyable because I got a chance to see a lot of works I’d heard about, but had never seen, which was really special.

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?

I’m at the end of the work I’m preparing for my upcoming show, so I can’t really think. The mood board I created in preparation had images of Thomas Gainsborough, Hogarth, and flower bouquets. I’m not normally a mood board person. However, with this body of work, I really needed to visualize the time period I was interested, and found the mood helpful.

Joy Labinjo: Full Ground” is on view at Tiwani Contemporary, Lagos, through May 7. 

Joy Labinjo: Ode to Olaudah Equiano” is on view at Chapter Gallery, Cardiff, from March 26 through July 3.


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