top of page

Brushstrokes of Emotion: Interview with O. Yemi Tubi

In this interview, we'll delve into O. Yemi Tubi's artistic journey, exploring his inspirations and the profound messages he conveys through his extraordinary artistic expression.

2023-07-24

Joana Alarcão

In this interview, we delve into the work of O. Yemi Tubi, born in Nigeria, who hones his craft in the United States before settling in the United Kingdom. His artistic style is truly one-of-a-kind, drawing inspiration from the political and social turbulence of our contemporary world as well as the classical masterpieces of the Renaissance.


Tubi's paintings are a testament to the profound connection between art and emotion, echoing the words of Paul Cezanne. His politically and socially influenced works, such as "The Eagle Has Landed" and "The Bleeding Rose," address topics like the American-led war on terror and solidarity with victims of violence in Iraq and Syria.


Beyond political subjects, O. Yemi Tubi showcases his ingenuity in portrait paintings. Rejecting mere imitation, he uses his subjects' professions to create unique and captivating portraits. Also a recurring theme in Tubi's art is "The Facts of Life: Roses and Thorns." Through striking floral iconography, he masterfully captures life's ups and downs, celebrating achievements and positive aspects with roses while also shedding light on painful challenges and negative experiences with thorns.


Firstly, could you provide a brief overview of your practice and background? What pivotal moments or experiences motivated you to start a career as an artist? 

I am Nigerian-born, I started my career as an artist in 1978 in Nigeria. I was employed as a Graphic Art Assistant with the Ministry of Information, Oyo State Government Secretariat, Ibadan, Nigeria. The position of Graphic Art Assistant was more or less an Apprenticeship position because I never had any art training before, I studied for a degree in Fine Art in the United States. I am currently residing in the United Kingdom as an artist with a unique personal style. Most of my recent paintings were influenced by the political and social upheaval of our world today and the works of Renaissance artists.


“A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art” so said Paul Cezanne; I was moved by emotion to do most of my political and socially influenced paintings “THE EAGLE HAS LANDED” was done to speak about the American-led war on terror. My painting “THE BLEEDING ROSE” was done in solidarity with Christians beheaded by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. I used my paintings “AFRICAN’T”, “HUNGER IN THE LAND OF PLENTY” and “OIL: AFRICANS’ WEALTH AND WOE” to speak about the exploitation of African nations. The Painting depicts paradoxical poverty and the riches of Africa. My work, “THE FISHERS OF MEN” is about the horror of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. I also used my painting – “UKRAINE: THE UNFORTUNATE BRIDE” to speak about America and Russia-influenced war in Ukraine.


I desire my portrait paintings to be uniquely creative. I do not copy images from pictures. I create what the camera cannot create. I use portrait paintings to tell the stories about my subjects and often use my subjects’ professions to create their portraits as I did with the portrait of Professor Wole Soyinka, 1986 Nobel Prize Winner in Literature in painting “SOYINKA: An Africans’ Literary Icon”, I used artist materials to create my painting “PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST” and I used the violin to create the face of my subject in the “THE VIOLINIST”

My works progress from political paintings to paintings of the facts of the life of people.


In your statement, you mentioned that your works are" influenced by the political and social upheaval of our world today and the works of Renaissance artists." Can you elaborate on the intriguing connection between these two seemingly disparate topics? What drives you to explore and intertwine these themes in your work?

Just as the Renaissance artists used their works to speak about the political and social upheavals of their time, I am also using my works to comment on the political and social upheavals of our time.


I created my painting “Arab Revolution” in the wake of the Arab Spring of 2012. It was influenced by the work of the French artist, Eugene Delacroix – “Liberty leading the people” of 1830 which he created to comment on the French Revolution. Just as Eugène Delacroix painted a woman holding up the French flag in one hand and a gun in the other hand in his painting “Liberty Leading the People”, I also painted the woman in the middle of my painting leading the Arab Revolution with hand raised high clenching a Blackberry mobile phone. The most powerful weapons for this Arab revolution were mobile phones which were hence called the Blackberry revolution.


“UKRAINE: THE UNFORTUNATE BRIDE” is a piece done in 2014 during President Obama American government when Russia President Putin first annexed Crimea which led to the ongoing war in Ukraine.


Domestic Abuse by O. Yemi Arts. Image courtesy of O. Yemi Arts

How do you approach a new topic and gather the necessary knowledge and inspiration?

Unlike some artists that often use sketch pads to create their works, as a graphic and visual artist, I use my laptop as my sketchpad to create my works. As ideas of works come to my mind, I will first collect images that I will use for references for my works through Google search. I will use Photoshop to manipulate the images and create my own reality. I don’t like to copy nature or pictures to create my works; my works mirrored surrealism. I like to use portrait paintings to tell the stories about my subjects as did with the portrait of Professor Wole Soyinka, 1986 Nobel Prize Winner in Literature in painting “SOYINKA: An Africans’ Literary Icon”, “PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST” and the “THE VIOLINIST”


Maintaining a balance between social and political awareness in your artwork while preserving your creative voice can be challenging. How do you navigate this delicate equilibrium and ensure your message resonates authentically with viewers?

You are right; it was a great challenge. When I was about to start my professional art career, I worried about how I would get material and ideas that will keep my art going for a long time. I thought it was possible to run out of ideas to paint. I often say I don’t like art to be just for decorations. I like arts to evoke emotions and feelings, and provoke dialogues that will promote positive changes but still maintain aesthetics and creativity that will catch the attention of the viewers. To navigate the delicate equilibrium of political and social commentary with aesthetic creativity, I chose not to copy images that I am using as reference for my works but recreate those images in a surreal style that will captivate the viewers as I did with my painting “SOYINKA: An African Literary Icon.” This painting is the portrait of Professor Wole Soyinka, a Yoruba man from Nigeria and the first African to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. I did not create this portrait realistically but surrealistically. I painted books, words, letters and the titles of his books to create this piece so the viewers that never met the man nor knew his profession can easily guess that the subject of this piece is a man of letters and words, a poet, and a writer.  


Hunger in the land of plenty by O. Yemi Arts. Image courtesy of O. Yemi Arts

Can you tell us more about the work Hunger in the Land of Plenty?

In most of my recent paintings, I take a critical view of social, political and cultural issues. In this painting, as an artist with roots in Africa, I did this painting with a passion for my continent which is plagued with famine and wars.


"Hunger in the Land of Plenty" is saying something about the paradoxical situation of Africa- a continent blessed with many natural resources but still poor. 

In the foreground, I put an African mother breastfeeding her baby while there are two empty bowls in front of her with nothing to feed herself. Surrounded by drought-affected land, dead vegetation and livestock. In the middle ground is a woman tilling the dry ground with her crude tool, a hoe.


The background shows a fertile part of Africa that produces enough food to feed the people of the land but the products are exported to other parts of the world. At the top left corner of the painting, I put a cargo ship that takes African products to other parts of the world. Africa's natural resources and agricultural products are being exported leaving Africa in poverty.


As an artist of Nigerian origins, who studied in America and now resides in the United Kingdom, what striking differences have you observed in the art world across these diverse environments? How does this change influence and shape your work? 

I have the opportunity to mentor a few young Nigerian artists. Most of them do portrait paintings of individuals to make a living. Some do their art without passion or emotion, only just a means to make a living. I am trying to educate them to do their art with passion and commit to issues that are global rather than individual. Only a few appreciate arts in Nigeria as in the Western world so there is a limited market in the country. I have been fortunate to sell some of my works in the UK and America but there is a bigger art market in America.


The Broken Liberty by O. Yemi Arts. Image courtesy of O. Yemi Arts

Contemporary art often serves as a platform for social critique. From your perspective, how do you believe art can effectively contribute to the political sphere and influence discourse and change?

Mr William Jones is one of my art collectors and below is what he said when he was about to buy my painting “The Broken Liberty”.


“Hello Mr. Tubi, My name is William Jones, an old Black retired military man, and the custodian of the GEORGE FLOYD PROTEST MOVEMENT MULTICULTURAL ART COLLECTION. I would like very much to have your painting as a “CENTRAL” part of the Floyd exhibition. You are already an international artist, but this painting of yours (The Broken Liberty) may make you a household name in America. Americans will cherish you for saying in one painting, what we have been trying to say in words for decades.”  


My painting “The Broken Liberty” was bought in 2021 by the GEORGE FLOYD PROTEST MOVEMENT MULTICULTURAL COLLECTION in South Carolina, USA as the central part of the Floyd exhibition as a platform for social critique of the social inequality experienced day by day by non-white people in America.


Artists of all generations have successfully used their works to contribute to the political sphere and influence discourse and change their world from Eugene Delacroix‘s “Liberty leading the people” to Picasso’s “Guernica” to Banksy’s “Well Hung Lover.”


The imagery of roses and thorns appears prominently in your current body of work. Could you share the significance and symbolism these icons hold within your artistic practice?

I create my own style that will distinguish my works from the rest as the old masters work. Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh’s works are noticeable by his bold dramatic brush strokes, French artist Seurat is known for his pointillism style and an American artist Jackson Pollock is known for splashing paints across the canvases. I got the inspiration for my own unique style from my church Easter programme’s pamphlet on which I saw a wooden cross, a rose plant and drops of blood. This influenced my first work with Roses and Thorns “The Bleeding Roses” created as my solidarity with the Christians in Iraq and Syria during the reign of terror of the Islamic State in that region in 2014


Eureka! The birth of my own unique creative and the general theme of my work.

The theme of my works, in general, is "The Facts of Life: Roses and Thorns." Life is roses and thorns; sometimes it emanates the sweet aroma of pleasantness and sometimes it pricks and causes pains. I often use Roses and Thorns for portrait paintings of the facts of the life of people. I first used Roses and Thorns in my political painting - “THE BLEEDING ROSES”, since then I adopted this floral iconography style - Roses and Thorns as my own unique style in some of my paintings like “DOMESTIC ABUSE”, GELE (African Head Wrap): Vintage and Modern, SENSUALITY1: Pain and Pleasure, “MY MOTHER, Her Majesty Platinum Jubilee: Her Rosy Reign” to name a few. Roses are for achievements and other positive parts of life and Thorns are for painful challenges and negative parts of life.


SOYINKA An African Literary Icon by O. Yemi Arts. Image courtesy of O. Yemi Arts

How do you navigate the intricate landscapes of the contemporary art world? And what are your overall critical observations and opinions regarding the current atmosphere of the art world?

There are lots that I would like to change in the art world if I could. Visual art is the most abused art of all the arts. Being an artist nowadays takes courage, perseverance, and tenacity. That is being a visual artist, especially in these post-pandemic years, when the income of many self-employed people has been affected since the 2020 lockdown. In 2020, many art fairs and exhibitions were cancelled and that means zero income for many visual artists. I really envy the Renaissance artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, and others that did serious art and got matrons and patrons that financed their art. Performing artists and musicians are well-valued and called celebrities; many of them climb the ladder of success often at the earlier stage of their careers. Unfortunately, this is not the same with visual arts; visual artists do not climb the ladder of success at the early stage of their careers, and they are often called starving artists.


The works of visual artists are more valuable after their death in modern society which I consider robbery and a crime against artists that used their sweat and blood to create works that are making billions for modern art collectors. Open calls that collect submission fees from thousands of artists for group exhibitions for the opportunity to sell their works and for exposure but only shortlisting a few artists is extortion and exploitation; this I would like to change. I disdain the so-called “contemporary art”. Ascribing the word ART to a pile of rubbish is absurd and an insult to those artists who spend many hours and use their blood and sweat to produce beautiful and great art. What is tagged as “Modern Arts 'is a contentious subject to me. Calling a banana with duct-taped a work of art is an abuse of art and sold for $120,000.00 is crazy. The most contentious modern art is Unkempt Bed titled “My Bed” by Tracey Emin which was sold for a ridiculous price of £2.2 million; this I would like to change.


What message would you like to leave artists pursuing political themes in their work?

“We are the World” was the charity single originally recorded by the super-group United Support of Artists USA for Africa in 1985 with pop icon Michael Jackson and others that raised $50 million for African famine relief. Like every other media, the role of the artist is to use his or her works to educate, enlighten and promote a positive change in the world. We do not live in a perfect world. There are lots of things wrong in our world. An artist should use his or her works to passionately advocate for change in our world of crisis. 


See more of thw artist work here.

Social Medias: https://www.facebook.com/yemi.arts

                        https://www.instagram.com/oyemiarts

                        https://www.twitter.com/OyemiartsOyemit

                        https://www.linkedin.com/in/olabamiji-yemi-tubi-b0ab9a15/

                        https://www.youtube.com/result?search_query=o.+yemi+tubi


Cover Image:

AFRICAN'T Africans cannot Say NO to Exploitation by O. Yemi Arts. Image courtesy of O. Yemi Arts

unnamed (9).jpg

O. Yemi Tubi - An Artist and Advocate for the World’s Peace.

I am a Nigerian-born, American-trained Artist, currently residing in the United Kingdom as an artist with a unique personal style. Most of my recent paintings were influenced by the political and social upheaval of our world today and the works of Renaissance artists.
“A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art” so said Paul Cezanne; I was moved by emotion to do most of my political and socially influenced paintings “THE EAGLE HAS LANDED” was done to speak about the American-led war on terror. My painting “THE BLEEDING ROSE” was done in solidarity with Christians beheaded by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. I used my paintings “AFRICAN’T”, “HUNGER IN THE LAND OF PLENTY” and “OIL: AFRICANS’ WEALTH AND WOE” to speak about the exploitation of African nations. The Painting depicts paradoxical poverty and the riches of Africa. my work, “THE FISHERS OF MEN” is about the horror of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. I also used my painting – “UKRAINE: THE UNFORTUNATE BRIDE” to speak about America and Russia-influenced war in Ukraine.


I desire my portrait paintings to be uniquely creative. I do not copy images from pictures. I create what the camera cannot create. I use portrait paintings to tell the stories about my subjects and often use my subjects’ professions to create their portraits as I did with the portrait of Professor Wole Soyinka, 1986 Nobel Prize Winner in Literature in painting “SOYINKA: An Africans’ Literary Icon”, I used artist materials to create my painting “PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST” and I used the violin to create the face of my subject in the “THE VIOLINIST”


My works progress from political paintings to paintings of the facts of the life of people.
The theme of my works, in general, is "The Facts of Life: Roses and Thorns." Life is roses and thorns; sometimes it emanates the sweet aroma of pleasantness and sometimes it pricks and causes pains. I often use Roses and Thorns for portrait paintings of the facts of the life of people. I first used Roses and Thorns in my political painting “THE BLEEDING ROSES.” Since then I have adopted this floral iconography style - Roses and Thorns as my unique style in some of my paintings like “DOMESTIC ABUSE”, and “MY MOTHER, Her Majesty Platinum Jubilee: Her Rosy Reign” to name a few. Roses are for achievements and other positive parts of life and Thorns are for painful challenges and negative parts of life.

In conversation: Mark Lawson Bell

In this interview, delve into the captivating journey and innovative creations of Mark Lawson Bell, a visionary artist whose story unfolds from the rural landscapes of Cornwall to the vibrant streets of London and beyond. Discover how his childhood as a naturalist laid the groundwork for a multifaceted career spanning photography, sculpture, and creative direction. Join us as we explore the inspirations, challenges, and triumphs that have shaped his remarkable trajectory in the world of art and design."

In Conversation: Natalia Kapchuk

In this interview, step into the world of Natalia Kapchuk, a Contemporary Artist, Eco-activist, and Philanthropist, where artworks become a powerful dialogue between Earth's beauty and human impact. Journey through her artistic evolution, from childhood inspirations to environmental revelations, as she crafts a visual narrative echoing the ongoing struggle between nature and humanity.

bottom of page