Odili Donald Odita at Florence Lynch and Riva

Gregory Volk
Art in America
May, 2002

Odili Donald Odita has earned a reputation for his colorful acrylic abstract paintings, in which slightly irregular bands, elongated triangles, stretched-out trapezoids and other off-kilter geometric forms extend horizontally across the support. While Odita's works have roots in patterned geometric abstraction, their choppy contours suggest both turbulence and organic growth. They also pull in hints of big landscapes, big skies, textile decorations and "traditional" clothing from Odita's native Nigeria. (He now lives in the U.S.) Odita's is a complex, poignant approach to this kind of abstraction, and he successfully melds Western and African influences.

These simultaneous exhibitions arose from a recent trip Odita took to Nigeria and provided a welcome opportunity to see not only a new selection of paintings but also other works- notably, drawings and sculptures-that flesh out this artist's enterprise. At Florence Lynch, small, seemingly rapid drawings on paper of figures and objects, in tempera, charcoal, pencil and pastel, comprised a visual diary of an expatriate's return. In Queen Mother (2001), a forceful, solitary woman is framed by an orange half oval in the background. Scattered glitter at the sides adds a touch of exuberance and bedazzlement. In Gentlemen (2001), a splotch of turquoise on a pensive male figure's shirt and the red and orange of a diagonally striped headband are precisely the kinds of colors that Odita uses to such advantage in his paintings. Several works, particularly Burning (2001), in which a reddish mass, suggesting fire and malevolence, is suspended in front of a male figure's chin, evoke the internecine violence and severe government repression that have plagued Nigeria for years. Other works are far more whimsical and lyrical. For an exacting painter like Odita, showing such drawings was a risk, but it worked. Coupled with a small selection of his paintings, they gave you a real sense of just how much Odita's experience of Nigeria affects his esthetic.

Odita's exhibition at Riva included three sculptures of modest interest. One was a wooden structure, akin to a small house on which construction has stopped (Halfway, 2001). Pink on the outside and blue on the inside, it refers to similar, half-finished structures Odita saw in Nigeria but equally conjures a bare-bones bus shelter or a broken prison cell. The real stars here, however, were wonderful, large-scale paintings that have an unusual mix of ultracool geometric patterning, landscape-based serenity and visual agitation. With Horizon (2001), various horizontal beiges, pinks, russets, and a single line of blue suggest sweeping arid expanses and a lake or a seashore. With startling oranges and deep blues, Over Here, Over There (2001) is a perfect fusion of garish neon advertisements and African textiles.
-Gregory Volk

© Gregory Volk / Art In America