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SLAWN: A Radically Open Approach To Art

Artists

SLAWN: A Radically Open Approach To Art

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  • “Artists like Slawn mark the visual culture of our age and will inevitably shape the topography of the contemporaneous art ecology.” - Elikem Logan - Sotheby's (2024)

     

    The past few years have seen a meteoric rise in recognition for London's African-born artistic communities. Some of the most thought-provoking and exciting art that London has to offer has stemmed rapidly from these sections of the city, with pockets of creatives producing quickly evolving and deeply personal work that's become some of the most sought-after in the contemporary art world. Arguably the most prominent of these artists to emerge in recent years is Nigerian-born Olaolu Slawn (simply known as just Slawn).

    Slawn's work is a self-confessed expression of his identity, channeling not just his Nigerian upbringing but his Yoruba heritage, into multi-faceted works that provide challenging insights and sometimes shocking imagery while remaining visually accessible and unmistakeably unique, bringing the polemic spirit of similar artistic predecessors such as Keith Haring or Banksy.

    He playfully refuses to call himself an artist and has largely operated outside of the traditional spaces that contemporary-art has provided. Well known for his Instagram presence and his methods of promoting his work, he has gone viral several times for his subversive nature, including putting on 'fight clubs' where people brawl for a chance to own one of his works or through his heavy involvement in the skateboarding scene, having himself founded the skate crew/clothing company 'Motherlan' whilst still living in Nigeria. Throughout his already spectacular career he has turned his hand to painting walls, canvases, skateboards, clothes, watches and perhaps most famously – vehicles.

    Slawn's affinity with painting vehicles draws another comparison to artists like Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf - both artists pioneered a radically open approach to their work, one that provides a common, generational foundation expressed through tackling taboo subjects and endeavouring to bring their work into as much of the public eye as possible. Even to this day, Scharf's 'Karbombz' series and Slawn's work share a lot of commonality through a continuation of the uniquely challenging artistic landscape of 80's New York, a decade where artist's choice of canvas became more varied than ever. To date, Slawn has painted; a double-decker bus, a helicopter, a Cessna aeroplane, a Mercedes G-wagon, a Bentley Turbo R, a 1974 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000 and most recently, especially for us at Helm, a Bentley Continental GT Supersport.

    Slawn made the journey down to Brighton for the first time in his life, painting an original canvas work titled 'Rouge' while simultaneously working on spray-painting the Bentley in the early hours of the 17th April. Decorating the supercar with his classic motifs, he adds Brighton to the ever-growing list of cities that his work is visible in, putting our name alongside fans, collectors and institutions such as Skepta, A$AP Rocky, Virgil Abloh, Tremaine Emory, Circa Art, Efiɛ Gallery and Sotheby's.

    Slawn's creative approach has been characterised as 'anti-art' - where much of the art economy relies on a sense of exclusivity and artificial scarcity, Slawn's incredibly open approach has seen him lauded by high-profile collectors while also enabling people to obtain his work for free through mass giveaways and public releases. His outsider perspective to the industry has allowed him to carve his own lane, using his provocative and often comedic work to stand up to established perspectives on an unprecedented scale. Slawn is keen not to be over-intellectualised however, claiming recently through his Instagram that he's “not that smart” and that he just wants to “take care of my girl and my family and do sleepovers at my friends house”, a grounded attitude that contrasts his ascent as an artist whose importance in the wider art canon is only getting stronger.

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