Age: “Le Reve du Phare”
by Rhoda Adeola
French artist Age Oliver was born in 1964 in France. Honoured with a master’s degree in art from Paris VIII, he has lived in Marseille, London, Bali, and recently, Lagos. He became interested in the arts at a very young age and is now involved in drawing, painting, writing, photography, and installation.
He enjoys connecting himself with humanity mainly through painting and writing. Inviting his audience into a dizzying array of allegories, he mixes complex images with signs that look like scriptures. Age wishes to engage his viewers in such a way that they lose their ordinary view of the world and find themselves with deep echoes. He also likes to deliver his message by touching the feelings of his audience, including their senses and soul, with his mix of personal calligraphy, abstraction, and figurative images.
In this interview with Omenka, he discusses his style, inspiration, and Le Reve du Phare, his ongoing solo exhibition at Omenka Gallery, Lagos.
Along with being a painter, you are also a writer. What themes inspire you? In what way has your writing influenced your artworks, and what connection exists between the notepad and drawing board for you?
The pseudonym that I chose a long time ago to re-qualify my own identity and display my singularity says a lot about my main interests: time and action. I have the deep conviction that our time is limited, so we must act without haste but with determination for the common good on this limited time.
Among the other themes that condition my artistic production are the interactions of humans with their environment and vice versa and the relationships that humans have between them.
Writings, just like images, are transmitters of information (factual and emotional), which I like to use. They allow me to partially deliver a bit of my sensitivity to the rest of the world. I write about the colours of my worlds and our world, and I paint words to heal its ills.
For me, art has magical and essential functions, such as transporting, alerting, and healing. At least, that is what I like to believe because I do not have other “weapons” with which to help my neighbour and participate in building a new, more respectful and more equitable global civilisation.
You are currently preparing for your first solo exhibition in Nigeria, Le Rêve du Phare, scheduled for November at Omenka Gallery in Lagos. Please tell us more about the exhibition, what meaning the title suggests and the pieces you’ll be showing.
Like my identity, the title The Dream of the Lighthouse is both an indicator and a troublemaker—a trigger to stir your thoughts and free my fantasy as much as the spectator’s. The exhibition will bring together my latest works in painting and poetry, all imbued with my life in Lagos. But in order to introduce myself more fully, there will also be some less recent work in photos and volumes. In collaboration with my six-year-old son, who is interested in the production of images, I have created a work that invites the public to participate in the transformation of an image. The profit on the sale of this work will be used for the purchase of felts and sketchbooks that will be offered to poor children. Le Rêve du Phare is also the title of my first book, which allows me to weave links between a literary work and a visual arts exhibition, like the unions that occur between writings and images in my productions.
Your new series of works are inspired by the organised chaos of Lagos. What information are you trying to pass across in your work?
Lagos is, to me, a great caricature of the issues that are at stake on a global scale. Among other things, this concerns the lack of consideration that certain decision-makers, with their construction programs, have for nature and for the human beings in our growing cities.
Beyond our rulers, who govern based more on their personal ambitions than on altruism, what place does each one of us personally give to nature—I mean, to the flora and fauna, that is, to other animals, but also specifically to other human beings? What are the links we have with those around us, with those who are distant, with those who live otherwise, and with our ancestors and our descendants? Where is the place of spirituality in the scattered geographical areas of our modern life, in the minds confused by the urgency of existence and inhabited by the permanence of economic crises? How is the quest for living together, for common well-being, lived and manifested? Having in mind the ubiquity of the internet and the omnipresence in our lives of our machines and other paradoxical tools that teem in our digital worlds, both at the collective and the individual level, what are the current elements that contribute to our development, and what are those that harm us?
I like to consider the heterogeneity and similarities of human profiles in contextual variations. I like to question the values and ambitions of our current societies. I like to think of the future of our civilisation(s). I like to consider the pettiness and greatness of humanity.
You like to invite your audience to a dizzying array of allegories with a hybrid of complex images and symbols which recall the Scriptures. What informs this style?
For me, the message and the intention are more important than the media; the essential thing is to get in touch with the audience. To convey this emotion, I take hold of whatever I believe will best help me master the making of images and the arrangement of texts. (In other places and times, I could have added “the organisation of cultural events.”)
At the same time, calligraphic entrelas recall ancestral writings while vaguely cursive writings escape from their signifying function. Abolishing the meaning, cursive writings revitalise the gesture, try to forget the trace of events, fade the ordinary, morph into arabesques. Can we stop trying to read the unreadable? Should we find parcels of words? Yet, each visual act is accompanied by its literary counterpart, in verse or prose, but always in legible poetics.
In your work, you find ways to draw emotive responses from your audience. Please tell us how you developed this approach and more about your philosophy and working methods.
My knowledge, my worries, and my hopes about our world mysteriously commit me to produce works of art but also guide my artistic approach. These works are always born in my mind in a visual form and in a literary form—two concomitant languages. The visual imposes itself as a vision, which I recompose with the weight of my aesthetic experience, and at the same time arrangements of thoughts/words are organised to amplify or reveal the vision. Of course, many others are concerned with these same preoccupations, but even if they approach them from their own point of view, they may appreciate a different perspective and be interested in the way I look at these things.
You have lived in Marseille, London, Bali, and recently, Lagos, which is a melting pot of the many diverse tribes and cultures of Nigeria. What influences have these varying cultural experiences exerted on your art?
I love to live simultaneously in different places. Indeed, I consider myself a world citizen, an inspired and nomadic animal who needs to travel to survive, a speck of dust in the universe, blown by some strange wind of curiosity. I have always been interested in the variety of cultures, but I hate the boundaries between people, and I don’t recognise myself in the usual qualifications of limited identity. I’ve always fought to promote the strength of originality against the monster of uniformity, which is what usually happens, and I’m scared by it. By building my own identity and trying to share my personal (and, I hope, my singular) views with others, I expect to participate in the quest for harmony in respecting differences. Different tribes can have their own beliefs and customs but can still live together and grow a better place together.
I would like for us to keep this wealth of diversities as long as possible. Art must be a way to promote it. At the same time, even though I can be a dreamer, I’m also very conscious of the reality that we are kind of unfortunate witnesses of uniformity in all ways—thinking, behaviour, architecture, culture. So as I travel in each culture that I have the privilege to physically approach, I take it as a gift. I love to observe and pick up the elements from history and present time which feed my “knowledge, worries, and hopes” about our time and our world. And I act, trying to create positive and provocative images to tilt the changes towards a better future.
Through many events at your own gallery, you have actively promoted art to the widest possible audience. Quite a difficult task! How has running an art gallery affected your studio practice?
Yes, indeed, through my art gallery and a lot of outdoor and free cultural events that I’ve created and run, I have succeeded in sharing with a huge audience my passion for art and for helping people realise how precious and influential our common time and actions on earth are. Because of my actions, with the help of thousands of social activists, artists, and craftsmen, we have rebranded a large area in Marseille, one of the biggest cities in France, as “The Creator’s Neighbourhood.”
I was “initially” an artist who succeeded in earning a lot of money with his paintings, but I decided to stop my studio practice to become an active citizen to promote creativity—mine and others’. I create the gallery and I get involved in collective, huge projects in different cities with a focus on Marseille. In the past 23 years, I’ve done event organisation, art installations, photos, and writings, mainly. Beginning 2018, I decided to come back to my own studio practice of painting. I started with an art studio in London then moved to the heart of Africa, to Lagos.
Who would you say are the artists who have most profoundly influenced your artistic career?
I’ve grown and continue to live and get inspired by plenty of influences from philosophers (Socrates, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Nelson Mandela, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Gilles Deleuze, Immanuel Kant, Alain, Henri Bergson, Michel Onfray, Sylvain Tesson, and so on); artists (Emile Zola, Victor Hugo, Louise Bourgeois, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Gérard Fromanger, Paul Eluard, James Joyce, John Fante, Aimé Césaire, Albert Camus, John Irving, Sergueï Prokoviev, Bob Marley, Erik Satie, Andreï Tarkovski, Ahmad Jamal, Nitin Sawhney, Stanley Kubrick, Jean Dubuffet, Maurice Béjart, Alvin Ailey, Philippe Decouflé, Frank Lloyd Wright and more), and others, shamans and scientists. Life is a beautiful mosaic; one needs a broad vision to appreciate it better.
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