theGrio’s 100: Toyin Odutola, creating groundbreaking images with a ballpoint pen

Who is Toyin Odutola?

Toyin Odutola is a fine artist who is capturing widespread attention through her mesmerizing portraits rendered in the humble media of paper and ball point pen. Named to Forbes30 Under 30 list in the category of Art & Style as one to watch in 2012, Odutola has seen her pieces grace the covers of art world magazines — and even boasts fabulous friends such as Beyoncé’s sister Solange Knowles.

Why is she on theGrio’s 100?

How did she meet Ms. Knowles? By selling out a show of her unique pieces that depict the complexity of black heritage and identity through figures whose skin seem to pulse on the page with personality, energy and history. Solange just had to have one, and commissioned a piece of her own, so compelling is Odutola’s work.

The Nigerian-born artist, who was raised in Alabama, has a powerful message that she expresses in these pieces, through which she is becoming a force to be reckoned with. No small feat for a young woman who just graduated from the California College of the Arts in 2012.

“Where some may see flat, static narratives, I see a spectrum of tonal gradations and realities,” she said in an artist’s statement on her web site. “What I am creating is literally black portraiture with ballpoint pen ink. I’m looking for that in-between state in an individual where the overarching definition is lost. Skin as geography is the terrain I expand by emphasizing the specificity of blackness, where an individual’s subjectivity, various realities and experiences can be drawn onto the diverse topography of the epidermis. From there, the possibilities of portraying a fully-fledged person are endless.”

What’s next for Odutola?

Odutola will be featured in numerous exhibitions in 2014, including a solo show at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City — one of the hottest galleries in the business at this time. Now a resident of Brooklyn, we look forward to her continued reconfiguration of blackness in dynamic compositions that delight, excite and make viewers think.

Follow Toyin Odutola on Twitter @obia_thethird