The Nigerian-born artist’s densely layered scenes of domestic life are surprisingly intimate for such large works. By Marion Coutts
The Los Angeles-based artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby – her first name is pronounced “nnn-jee-deh-car” – is having her first European show at the Victoria Miro Gallery in London. Born in 1983, she moved to America from Nigeria at 16. Her work is figurative and richly patterned, combining collage, drawing, painting and printmaking. Home, family and the artefacts and trappings of diaspora are recurring motifs. What doesn’t come across in reproduction is the scale. These are big works, measuring three or four metres across. A recent Whitney Museum commission was a billboard viewed from the High Line in New York. Yet for such large pieces they are extremely intimate. Her settings are domestic and her sitters come from a tight circle: Akunyili Crosby herself, her American husband, her family and friends.
Another surprise is that she works on paper: big, thick, deckle-edged sheets of it, hung up in the gallery with bulldog clips. The surfaces of her pictures are built from layers of acrylic paint, charcoal and coloured pencil in vintage, jewel-like colours: mahogany and maroon, peach and lime, ice-blue and old rose.
The patterns she creates open up many readings. Dresses, wallpaper, furnishings and fabrics are rendered with attentive detail. She also uses transfers: a technique in which ink is applied to the paper from photographs using solvents. She weaves images from her Nigerian childhood – family photos, pictures of pop stars, generals, politicians, failed coups and adverts – into the surface in ways that overlap and merge with the figures and their surroundings. Like scenes from a private scrapbook these can only be read close-up.