Ed Cross presents Sola Olulode’s Burning, like the star that showed us to our love, an immersive solo exhibition of new work in yellow, focusing on the near-universal – and all-consuming – experience of falling in love. Charged with the electricity of a budding romance, Burning imbues everyday scenes with something preternatural.
Echoing the sunny bliss of romantic infatuation in its palette, Olulode’s latest work follows blue and green series in which the artist depicted relationships across communities as well as between couples.
In a sequence verging on storyboard, the artist returns again and again to a couple as their romance blossoms: meeting, dancing late at night; huddled around a table on a date; wrapped around each other, blissful. And despite the variability of Burning’s works – in terms of narrative, materiality, scale – Olulode’s insistence on joy for her protagonists is unwavering. Her symbolism is intuitively legible: in In the Bubble of Your Love, bubbles rising around the lovers evoke the anechoic obliviousness that can accompany infatuation; elsewhere, a recurring sun motif represents warmth, light, love. In the immersive surrounds of Burning, that mood proves infectious.
Working from found images as well as imagination and experience, Olulode’s tableaus balance introspective subjectivity and expansive generosity; wielding the soaring cinematography of a still from If Beale Street Could Talk (as in Whatever the Weather) and the irresistible appeal of a music video, the artist intersperses aspirational snapshots with her own fantasies: in her words, I paint the things I want to see. In Burning as elsewhere, Olulode paints Black queer women and non-binary people – demographics for whom pop-culture has historically offered little in the way of happy endings. Intent on illustrating success and pleasure for the marginalised communities with which she identifies, Olulode’s Burning beguiles its audience, entreating them to settle in the gallery space and luxuriate in the love story unfolding on its walls.
Here, blue fabric wall hangings underpin the sunny yellow of Olulode’s canvases, offering an all- encompassing sense of sky and space. Burning’s simple palette imbues the show with a chromatic coherence, liberating its individual surfaces from any such requirement – just as well, because almost every piece has been subject to a different series of techniques. Combining ink with paint, or scratching into pigment; layering yellow over blue, and using Batik wax as a material in its own right; Olulode’s process, wherein deviations from a vision are worked over, incorporated rather than discarded, makes for an oeuvre of extraordinary depth. While many pieces have been purpose-made for the exhibition, others have been part of the landscape of Olulode’s studio for years before arriving at their final Burning incarnations.
Scant clues – leaves on the floor, a passerby on their phone in In the Bubble of Your Love – hint at settings, offering context for a work’s intensity and anchoring it in the physical world; yet, Olulode always maintains one foot in dreamlike fantasy, nodding to the fiction of her source materials but also to the crazed hyper- focus that love induces in us all. Like any romance, Burning, like the star that showed us to our love’s scenes are at once tender and quotidian, special and totally ordinary. As Olulode knows, that’s what makes them precious – holding universality and specificity in generative tension, the artist consistently reaches for and rather than or, keen to linger a little on the brink of the heart’s highest stakes. Aren’t we all?