Adewale Lawanson, popularly known as Minjin, is an all-round creative person. The singer whose songs are hits unveiled a new side of him as a visual artist recently. In this interview with LEADERSHIP Weekend,the versatile artiste, who’s also a beat maker, speaks on his journey in visual arts since 2006.
Not people know that you are also a visual artist, what kind of arts do you do?
I am into a lot of mixed media arts, realism, super realism, abstract arts and all kind of stuff basically. I work with my imaginations a lot and I also work with what I see around me. I try to depict the African culture in my arts because this is where I am from and if I can showcase Africa in my arts, people from outside can understand where I am from and can appreciate it. So my art is basically about African culture, not just Nigeria. Some cultures don’t wear clothes, some have big ear piercings, so I study other cultures apart from Nigerian cultures.
When did you start this?
I have been doing this since 2006 but music took a lot of my time leaving me with no time for my arts. But you know, something that is always inside you will always prick you and tell you to harness it. So I decided I wanted to take it seriously and started participating in exhibitions on a low key. Now it has grown bigger because my clientele has grown bigger. I have a lot of clients that ask for my paintings. I had to start working more extensively, doing bigger works. I have my own studio now and I am doing my exhibition soon.
Do you think people will take this seriously?
That is why people like you are here to be affiliated with the fact that it pays because I have clienteles. Art is not for everybody, it is not like music. Arts is basically for people that feel they need to have it in their homes as a result of their stability financially or their status.
Although my own art is not just for those people, I have arts for people that are average because I do all kind of sizes. I am not doing arts for money, I am doing art for legacy. I want to have a name, I want to be like a Picasso and Michelangelo, people that have done things and are still being remembered and talked about, so that when I pass on eventually, my children can stand and sell my paintings to millions of fans, art is not perishable. The great Mona Lisa painting was sold for millions of pounds.
However, I think people will take me seriously because I have my own clientele. They might not even be interested in my music, they are really rich important people that just like paintings. I have people from America, Australia and Ghana. I ship my work abroad.
Which one pays you more, your art or music?
I am also a music producer which has even paid me more because I really do songs and collaboration with lot of artistes. I know the Nigerian music industry is not stable until you get the big break. But when upcoming artiste in Nigeria call me to produce beats for them, most times they cannot even afford to pay N50, 000 for the job. But a Nigerian upcoming artiste in America can afford to give you $500, 000 per beat. So music pays me. I do shows as well. I had a tour late last year in Malaysia and it fetched me some cash and I’m planning on another tour this year. Music is paying me, art is paying me but for which pays more, I just have to say that art is priceless whereas there is a price to performance.
I once sold a painting for over $140m. I don’t think any musician is being paid that to perform. But if I must answer the question, then art for me is paying me more now.
But don’t you think this would affect your music?
No! It won’t affect my music. It just depends on how much time you put into it. As a musician, there are sometimes that you have to go out of town to mingle, meet people, now my circle is now divided into two: I have the music fans and the art clientele. Mostly the music can be all that your fans see about you and cherish. So I prioritise my time. I pay cognisance to how I spend my time, it is not disturbing me. In the night, I don’t paint much because of my eyes. I work in the studio at night but during the day when I wake up where I’m supposed to just relax and rest after long hours at the night, I am painting again. So I think it is helping me to manage my time well actually.
So how has your painting evolved over the years looking at where you started?
Sometimes when you’re doing something, even in music, you need to carve a niche for yourself. Even if it’s not the best but let it be the most unique thing that you do. My art talents was bubbling forth within me before as I was seeing art around me and trying to create a landscape and other things but I discovered that we have a lot of people painting at Oshodi bus-stop for Nigeria. There is a man called Haliki, he is a Nigerian painter and he amazes me, more of abstract expressionism. Even if you don’t check his name, if you check one of his work and then check another work, you can guess it was the same painter that did both. But for some people, if you see their work, you can’t tell things like this. So I have been able to find the perfect niche for myself in that regard. Although I do portrait for people, I can paint you but when it is for exhibitions, I focus on a particular style and that is expressionism, that is my strongest point, but I still do hyperrealism very well. People that can do that are much but what I do I am sure if I create a very unique style for myself, you will pay me to teach you how I did it. So I have that part of my paintings but I still do the regular because Nigerians have a kind of notion to certain things. Like if you do abstract, some people will say it is scary, some people will want to see an abstract they cannot understand, others want to see what they understand, so you have to satisfy different taste.
Did you have a formal training in arts?
I am a self-trained painter. But apprenticeship is ideal so I did that for about a year and from there I started learning from a lot of people like bigger painters. I didn’t know I was going to take it serious. I did my apprenticeship with Lanre, somewhere in Ikeja. I know how much he sold his work at the time. By the time I was done there, I did my painting and it was sold for N50, 000. The populace and late minister and arts collector, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi bought it. I was probably 16 years or 17 years then. And my boss that taught me on the street has never even sold a painting of N50, 000. So I am telling myself why didn’t he move from there and go for the bigger picture? Now, I charge in dollars for my paintings. I wish I can use this art to connect to people, even children that don’t go to get formal education that with your street skills or raw talent you can make things happen, it is only for you to channel yourself in the right direction and work with the right people, people that can really help you up and push your creativity, you are limitless. There are so many graduates in Nigeria that are not making money and there are people that didn’t go to school and are making money, it is just for you to channel that skill into satisfying both the illiterates, literate, the high class, middle class, lower class and then you will see the result.
So do you think being a musician gave you an edge in doing what you doing?
I don’t think it gave me an edge as a painter, it only attracted people to know that he is a star but the truth is that the buyers don’t care about that, they care about the quality you are delivering. Most people are critical about their art, if it’s not good enough they don’t buy it because it is their money they’re spending. But I think it would bring some sort of love for me because some people find out that I sing after checking my profile.
If a client calls you to do a nude painting for them, will you do it?
By all means I will do it. I have done it for people before. I am used to seeing naked people, not because it’s what I like to do but because I have to understand it’s what the work demands. It is just like we studied in school, we need to know the anatomy and body parts and know how to draw them.
So have you ever had a situation where you were aroused?
When I am working I take my mind off and focus on what I am doing but that doesn’t mean that if it’s looking so good I will not say it is nice in my mind because it is nice. But I will never open my mouth to say it. I just do what I have to do, then later I would be like God save me again today.
But are there people in Nigeria that patronise you for nude paintings?
Yes, basically young ladies. But I have gotten a picture to paint for a pregnant woman, she covered some parts because I am sure her husband will not let me draw his naked wife.
Which area is your specialty?
I would just say abstract expression is my strongest part. I have mentors outside the country, professors at American universities or French universities; I watch them paint live online. All these people are people that have shaped my mind into knowing that art is not just for your immediate environment.
Music wise, what are you currently working on?
I just shot a video for my new single ‘Slowly.’ I did a bit of dance because I can dance and it came out really fantastic. The video will be out in a week from now. And I did a bit of sketch in it because it is a love song. The song is about a guy in love with a girl, trying to express his love in the best way he can. But he’s not extravagant but just wanted to give her the true because most times people are preaching love but love is supposed to be for free. So I am just trying to bring back that pure love. It is still danceable even in the club, like an afrobeat, you can also listen to it with your loved ones. The message is strong.
Have you ever wondered how some artistes like Davido made it in a short period?
This is something that always comes to my mind but one thing I discovered is that sometimes we don’t use our strength the right way, we are more focused on just one thing. I have always wanted to do an art meet music event, if I had started it like probably four to five years ago it might have been big deal now but because I was thinking I just want my song to go far, I would have been able to marry them together, that I am doing now and I am getting the attention that I want now. Another thing is sometimes, if your management is not the right management it will crash your talent , just like putting a square peg in a round hole, it may not work out not because it is not good, both parties might even be good but it just doesn’t work out as planned sometimes. So that is some of the things artistes face, I faced it, other artistes will face it and some are still facing it. It will still happen in the future. But I hope for the best and I know bigger things are coming my way but I have let my mistakes go. That is why I say management comes in because sometimes when new artistes come in they don’t know what they want. When asked what they want all they say is “I want to blow.” But to blow there is a lot of things that surrounds it, the things you say, where you go to but some want to be everywhere, being everywhere doesn’t make you 100 per cent. It is choosing the right place to go and being with the right people.
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