Outside, it’s a pitch-black afternoon on a bleak South London industrial estate. But inside Jadé Fadojutimi’s studio, there’s a world of radiant color. Half a dozen huge canvases are propped up against the walls, bursting with exuberant pinks, blues, and greens. They are destined for her show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami, on view from November 30 to April 17, 2022. “I only have two more to make and three to finish,” the artist tells me. “In four days!”
Exuding confidence, Fadojutimi sits on a settee surrounded by soft toys from her childhood (a stuffed panda, a turtle, teddy bears). The studio is studded with lush plants. It’s 5pm and she pops a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. Does she like to paint after a few drinks? “I can paint sober and I can paint while drinking—it doesn’t make a difference,” she says. “But you’re on track to being an alcoholic if you use alcohol all the time to access your feelings to make work.”
Fadojutimi isn’t going the Jackson Pollock route. Nonetheless, the 28-year-old has plenty of reasons to open the fizz. She graduated from the Royal College of Art in London four years ago, and this May became the youngest person to have a painting bought by the Tate (“I Present Your Royal Highness,” from 2018). “I don’t know how to feel about it because it’s a lot to take in, so I just go about my day like I’m a normal person,” Fadojutimi says. “But it’s incredibly flattering.” In October, two of her paintings were auctioned in London on consecutive nights. At Sotheby’s, “A Muddled Mind That’s Never Confined” (2021) sold for $1.4 million. Then the following night, Phillips sold her 2017 picture “Myths of Pleasure” for $1.6 million, 15 times its estimate. “I was like, that’s ridiculous,” she says, laughing. “But I move past it. I don’t know what it means, and I don’t really want to know what it means.”
One thing it definitely means is that Fadojutimi’s work has connected in a major way, not least with people her own age. She is a young Black Londoner whose paintings—halfway between abstraction and figuration—don’t represent anyone other than herself. Full of energy, they reference Fadojutimi’s teenage (and ongoing) obsession with Japanese anime, her ambivalence about foliage (she has a terrible fear of insects), her love of fashion (she has a wardrobe of clothes that inspire her paintings, as well as the clothes she actually wears to paint), the studio environment itself, and, above all, her childhood. “As a kid I had a lot of abstract questions for myself, and I still want to be able to access that,” she says. Fadojutimi’s paintings mine her identity, but not overtly through the lens of race.
“I love it when people bring the whole ‘You’re a Black artist but you’re not making work that looks Black’,” Fadojutimi says ironically. “You can make work of whatever visual degree and it doesn’t have to represent who people want to define you as. I think that’s something that people of our generation who are minorities can engage with. We’re still caught up in so many discussions about an unhealed past that we’re not paying attention to our present. It’s important to have more artists like me who are just doing what they want and are reflecting the moment.”
Fadojutimi’s next show after Miami will be at the Hepworth Wakefield museum, in West Yorkshire, England. Chief curator Andrew Bonacina says: “As paintings by a Black female artist made as part of a journey of self-understanding, Jadé’s work resonates with the heightened identity politics of the current moment, but it isn’t defined by these concerns. They are emotionally charged, psychological landscapes that mirror Jadé’s own inner thoughts and emotions but can also reflect our own. Their power is in their abstraction and porousness to a range of ideas and emotions.”
Fadojutimi works on her own, at night and quickly—she can finish a painting in a single session. She puts on anime or video game soundtracks to remind her of her childhood (sometimes she also listens to the soundtrack of The Crown) and embarks on “very active” painting: “There’s a lot of running, jumping, dancing,” she says. Halfway through, the title of the painting might occur to her, or she’ll break off to do some writing. (There are texts displayed on one wall of the studio, and she is also trying to write a book). She’ll finish at dawn, whereupon she’ll go home to sleep while her assistants come in to get the studio ready for her to start again.
The canvases being shown in Miami “are going towards more of a landscape end of the spectrum, but I prefer to call them environments,” she says. They’re immersive due to their size but they also showcase Fadojutimi’s unique and ever-developing sense of color. “During the first lockdown, I was making these compositions with pastels only, and that really opened up my use of color,” she says. Her major influence is still Japanese manga, but she has artistic role models too. “Makiko Kudo, Phoebe Unwin, and David Hockney are my top for color,” she says. “And then we can go back to Saint-Jean and Renoir and Matisse.”
It’s this sense of confidence, of an artist rapidly taking giant strides, that makes Fadojutimi’s work so exhilarating. “Over time, the works have become lighter, impasto has given way to a layered translucency,” says Bonacina. “There are nods to art history, but the work doesn’t feel weighed down by a need to acknowledge or process what’s come before—it’s completely in and of the moment in its physicality, which is what I think most draws people to it.”
And if painting had ever been out of fashion, Fadojutimi has put it right back on the agenda. Not that she ever paid any attention, even at art college, to the critics who proclaimed it a thing of the past. “I wasn’t concerned with people saying painting is dead because that’s just silly to me,” she says. Indeed, she communicates with her paintings as if they're living beings. “I have this need to listen to them,” she explains. When she’s compelled to finish a piece in one night, “it’s because I’m held hostage by it. Painting gives me life.”