Dressed in a black silk shirt, black jeans and a signature pair of opaque shades, Irvin exudes a powerful masculine energy. There’s no doubt who the star of the night is as we gather to witness ‘The Nenaissance’.
The Nenaissance Man: Irvin Pascal, the mixed media artist giving African art a fighting chance
As we step into the exhibition, brimming with Lagos elite and art lovers, the artist himself, Irvin Pascal, cuts quite the figure.
Standing next to Irvin, Nkechi Cryan, the art consultant who facilitated this whole exhibition gestures enthusiastically towards his work, walking guests through the pieces. They’re quite the combination and the more you get to know them, the more lethal that combination becomes. The professional boxer turned artist and the sharp-eyed art connoisseur; joining forces to make their mark on Lagos’ flourishing art scene.
Talking about their union, Irvin explains that the two met at an art fair with Nkechi being a long-time admirer of the artist and his work. ‘’I met Nkechi at an art fair last year in London and then from there we had a conversation about potentially having a show here [Lagos]. We had a conversation over a couple of months and I started to think about what I was taking in from the influence of the popularity of contemporary Nigerian music particularly African fusion and afropop which has been received really well in the UK and across the world. I wanted to look at that and develop a series around that influence and also kind of related to the history of British culture how that links to Africa.’’
The power of African culture in the British scene is undeniable with many Africans in the diaspora seeking out music, art and culture from the continent, eager to connect with something deeper. Irvin, having grown up in the United Kingdom, insists that he has always remained very much in touch with his roots with African art being very much a part of his identity from a young age.
‘’I always knew that I was a part of the culture because you know, from a young age I was always around African art, my Mum and Dad used to bring African art back from Nigerian but it was more of an everyday thing you know, you can access art everywhere. Even looking on Instagram, it's easy to see how the art world in Nigeria is developing and it piqued my interest. It was the right time.’’
An artist from a delicate age, Irvin has always maintained that he was born with a love for creating. ‘’I did start off as an artist, I've been an artist since I was 5 years old. I did my own work outside of school and I've kept my sketch books from when I was a child, and I just kind of developed my own painting style.’’
Irvin’s journey to where he is now is rather unique. Having studied architecture and finding his way into the world of boxing, Irvin found himself going from amateur to professional and carving out a career in the sport. A career that was sadly cut short by a shoulder injury. ‘’I went to university I studied architecture. From there, I started boxing to keep fit and then it developed into an actual career. I turned professional but before then, I was an amateur boxer and I trained with the likes of people like Chris Eubank Jr so it was a great experience. My boxing career ended because of a shoulder injury which affected my ability to throw punches and that had an impact on my confidence.’’
It was during this difficult time that Irvin rediscovered his love of art and decided to pursue it professionally. ‘’When that [boxing] ended, I rediscovered my passion for painting and I went on to do my Master in 2015 in Fine Arts at the University of Brighton.’’
Almost as if it was always meant to be, Irvin’s art career took off in spectacular fashion and he found himself in privileged spaces for such a new artist. His talent preceded him and his work opened doors that would catalyse a career that took him across continents. ‘’I was selected for the Bloomberg New Contemporaries which is an exhibition where they select from 47 schools across the country and it was well received by the British media, the public and the art world and it boosted my career.
I then found myself doing a show at the Stephen Friedman gallery curated by Yinka Shonibare. All that has happened in the past 20 months so it's been something off a whirlwind.
Now, I'm in the middle of a residency in LA where I have a studio for a month and I'm creating a series of works. It's interesting because the palette is really controlled but I'm sharing the development on Instagram and engaging my followers that are interested in my work.’’
As an artist, we wanted to know whether Irvin felt he had to be bound to a certain form of expression or whether he was open to exploring his full range as a creative. ‘’As an artist, I'm always evolving, I'm always willing to take inspiration from everywhere. I work in video, performance photography where I take pictures of moments and display them which is somewhat different to classic photography. I also work in printmaking and sculpture as well as installations and sound.’’
Irvin is certainly an artist that refuses to be boxed in. Hungry to explore the full extent of his artistic abilities, Irvin takes advantage of every medium and avenue at his disposal. It’s this hunger, this drive, that Nkechi Cryan admits first drew her towards the enigmatic artist. His insatiable need to create is what intrigued her and in a world that can often be fickle, consistency is like gold dust.
Irvin’s Lagos exhibition was the fruits of his labour. Called, ‘The Nenaissance’, the show was created in response to Africa’s growing cultural capital in a global context.
The exhibition blurb reads:
The Nenaissance draws influence from the redefined state of contemporary popular culture, which now includes influence from Africa more than ever. During the past 12 months Pascal has focused his investigations around the transformative collaborations between West Africa and its diaspora within the Western world. A new type of language and conversation is developing across art forms encompassing music, architecture, cinema, fashion, visual art and sport. The exhibition explored these concepts and their context.
Talking about how he came up with the name, Irvin explains, ‘’The Nenaissance’ is just a name I came up with in response to the current situation in the art world. It's interesting to see a new sort of the language that's being made more visible to the wider audience. It doesn't have any specific meaning but it’s something we can develop a conversation around in the future, it's open.’’
Delving deeper, Irvin talks about the elements of his pieces. From strong uses of the colour black to pieces cut out from shopping bags from luxury British retailer, Selfridges, Irvin explains that they all come together to spark a myriad of conversations.’’My work has layers to it. On one level, it's about creating a marriage between fashion and art and also talking about my own personal history and memories of my Mum and her friends who would enjoy going out sometimes to buy things from Selfridges and it was a nice event for them. It became a part of their culture. In another sense, the bags represent recycling and the idea of mass consumerism.’’
Talking about consumerism, we wonder if there’s an element of politics to Irvin’s work, whether his pieces function to challenge certain aspects in our society but answering in what we have come to know as Irvin’s affable manner, he admits, ‘’I just want to be a free artist. I just draw from things in my head and I need to find a way to represent them through painting, sculpture or whatever medium I choose.’’
Irvin’s time in Lagos is short and sweet. He tells us he’s planning to return to his residency in LA on Sunday but if anything is evident, it’s that a seed has been planted and roots are forming. This exhibition, the debut his work on African soil, is the genesis. From here on out, the possibilities are endless. With the help of Nkechi and the Niki Cryan art consultancy, Irvin Pascal’s name is already being carved out as one of the leaders of new school African art and we can proudly say that Lagos was one of the first to experience the inception of the Nenaissance.
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