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"Don't Get Square Eyes"

acrylic on MDF and timber; UV print on mirror in handmade frame | Installation: 2.4 x 0.8m (left wall), 3.0 x 3.6m (right wall) | 2024

As shown at the Royal College of Art MA Painting Postgraduate Exhibition, June 2024

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"Don't Get Square Eyes" is a story told through a multi-part painting. In it, my painted nephew has begun to break away from the wall in order to get closer to the TV. It holds layers of my memories, references a time gone by, and holds space for both drama and calmness, without surpressing either, as the home does. The paintings meet the exhibition space and creep away from its polished, subdued atmosphere reach into a place more realistic, more human.

The Story

When I was younger, people used to say that if you sat too close to the TV, you'd get square eyes. I never knew what this meant, but from the way they said it I knew I didn't want to get square eyes, so it scared me enough to move back. But I'd forget and watch TV up-close again, then get warned again about getting square eyes. Again and again. There were times I was so close I could see the RGB lines on the screen, which at occasionally looked like little vertical rainbows.

I hadn't thought about this for a long time, but it eventually came back to me when I was looking at a photo of my nephew wrapped in his teddy bear, watching TV. He too would get up close, and I'd tell him to move back as well. Again and again. I took the photo of my nephew years ago and had wanted to paint it several times, but couldn't think of anything interesting to do with it - until my own memories started coming back to me. I regularly re-visit my archives to find images to paint, and it's a relief when an image on standby can finally be re-presented in a fitting way through the right idea.

The Textures

The sculptural feel of the portrait establishes a greater sense of permanence in the moment, where my early experiences coalesce with my nephew's and together travel into the present, where they then stay. Teddy bears, however, barely age, so I felt it needed to be painted as though new, adorning the sculptural painting in its softness, making the cold stone texture it references feel more cozy in the present. It's a cold world, after all. As an adult I know that now.

The Shapes

As I was chewing on the idea in my mind, adding more to it, removing from it, testing it, and visualising it, the other shapes began to appear and I saw the works occupying two planes that met at a right angle. This could either be horizontally, with the TV on one wall and the portrait on a perpendicular wall, or vertically, with the TV on one wall and the work on the floor. I spent over a year working on this, and originally attempted a vertical orientation, then adapted it to test it in the horizontal. In the first instance, the TV was square so that all of the works fitted in a vertical strip, and in this instance I widened the TV to a 49" flat screen, to create a horizontal strip of paintings.

I knew this work would consist of a TV and a portrait, but I needed connecting elements to reference a living room and bring this environment into the present as well. These elements would either be minimal or plain, supporting acts for the main characters in the works. My ideas shifted from TV stands to mini family portraits to curtains, to plants, painted on rectangular slabs.


I imagined that the hard edges of the rectangles would meet the oval too harshly, so I created an oval connector to house the oval and suggest the distance he wanted to be at, which he was separated from. The gap between them holds a yearning to reconnect.

The TV-Mirror ( "HDMI2024" )
After having decided I'd have a wider TV, I wasn't interested in painting a portrait in it, or a still from a cartoon - nothing technical. It didn't feel right leaving it plain either. I needed a TV and without ideas I was worried. So I prayed for an idea, and after a few hours the thought of using a mirror appeared in my mind. The thought was not my own, and I cannot take credit for it. My life can be summarised by the sentence: "She tried, she struggled on her own, she asked El Shaddai for help, and she did something good". If I deserved the credit, I would take it.
After chewing on the mirror idea, I remembered the RGB lines, and now had an idea I was excited about. The mirror is important because it activates the environment in which the painting dwells. The image formed on the TV-mirror is informed by the surroundings, creating a motion-picture outside of the digital realm. On this subject as well, it brings the digital into analogue territory, giving us all a break from the screen.
The Plants ("Finger Palm Tree" and "Survivor")

I have a parent who really likes artificial plants. More than real plants, because they require no upkeep, don't come with insects in their pots, and don't attract them either. One of the plants painted was inspired by the evergreen artificial one that observed our lives for decades in the sitting room, and the other was of my personal one, gifted to me because I liked real plants.

I discovered in research that the artificial palm tree I grew up with resembled the West African Piassava Palm, and had all this time been a symbol of my parent's uprooting from Nigeria to the UK. And in being evergreen, was an unchanging reminder of their origin, which allowed their new home to feel more like the old one. And in knowing that, I realised that just as the conditions of the UK climate wouldn't have allowed the West African Piassava Palm tree to survive, the same goes for the Nigerian cultural practices my parents brought with them, which could only have survived with conscious efforts to preserve them.

The second plant painting was of the the Philodendron Scandens gifted to me, also known as the Sweetheart Plant.

Both acrylic paintings of the plants stand with enough depth to make them alive and present, but with a sculptural flatness that makes them feel as unchanging as an artificial plant. They were painted playfully, drawing the plants with the paint tube itself, because it allowed me to express a side of myself that the oval portrait didn't capture. With all of my curiosities and interests, it's seldom the case that a single painting will fully speak for me, so my intention was for "Don't Get Square Eyes" to be a holistic representation of all that I currently care about in my practice: softness, technical skill, minimalism, play, materiality, memory, woodwork, installation, sculpture, the psychology of space, and human interactions.

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