I shot a few quick glances at the geometric designs hanging in the Jack Hanley Gallery on the first floor, threw a greeting to the two gallerists – in their office, busy rolling a canvas, and listened to the quiet knock-knock-knock of my Nike’s as I tiptoed up the wooden staircase to the Nicelle Beauchene Gallery space. There, on the top floor, where there was still a view of the floor below, I felt an immediate sense of suspension, as if I was standing in the sky. From the white walls – clouds, if you will indulge this reviewer in extended metaphor – several large swaths of color beamed from their canvases, striking me like a veritable rainbow, and successfully ushering away the frost of the winter morning, ushering in a decidedly warm presence projected by the artist Tunji Adeniyi-Jones in his Flash of the Spirit exhibition.
Adeniyi-Jones draws influence from West African tradition and uses it to create his own world of captivating mythologies. The figures in the paintings alight from their surfaces, with voluptuous figures reminiscent of Matisse and colors reminiscent of those tropical flowers or butterflies that are so precious to rainforest landscapes. The characters on each canvas are at once regal, revolutionary, and filled with a near-animated spirit that cannot be named by the viewer. There is a sense of power and mystique emanating from many of them – a result of their belonging to stories which we do not have the privilege of knowing.
Particularly striking are the Blue Dancers, displayed as a pseudo-diptych along one wall and bringing room for further comparison to Matisse and his Blue Nudes. In them, bright pinks forge their own paths amid an undulating sea of light-to-dark cobalt, and the bodies depicted are caught mid fluid-motion.
The singular piece, Resting Oryx, of a depiction of an animal — an antelope species native to Africa — further contextualizes the fictionalized ancient mythological domain to which Flash of the Spirit makes its claim. Bright eyes eerily alight from a blue beast in a forest of bright green, projecting a wisdom more similar to that captured in the humanesque figures on the canvases it accompanies.
The world of Adeniyi-Jones is a world of glassy surfaces, delicate lines, and long strokes. The topographic quality of each makes them feel deeply personal in a way — as if you could imagine the hand tracing the lines. Although the mythologies depicted are largely unknown to the viewer, that is part of what makes them so intriguing. Along with imagining the physical creation of the pieces, one can imagine beyond them to the histories which prompted their creation.
Flash of the Spirit is not to be missed and is on view at the Nicelle Beauchene Gallery at 327 Broome St. until December 23, 2017.