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A Story on the Artist

A story behind Ade Adesina's print The Questions and various others. Ade is our current Artist in Residence specialising in printmaking. 

Written by Gordon McKerrow

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I first came across Ade Adesina’s work after he was interviewed for the position as Artist of Residence at Highland Print Studio. As he was leaving, he handed me a catalogue of his work asking me to pass it onto our director, Alison. As I sensibly fulfilled my duty of passing it on, I scanned through the material myself, instantly entranced by the images I saw. Fortunately Alison must of felt something similar, and offered Ade the position a couple weeks later. Since working here, in between travelling back and forth to Aberdeen despite roaring winds and floods, Ade and I have discussed various things and I’ve often asked about his work. I felt it time to get some words down on paper to try and get to grips with this unique and talented young artist at the beginning of a very expressive career.
Contradiction, Etching, 105cm-75cm (Ade's personal favourite)
Ade arrived in Scotland in 2008 with a knowledge already gained in traditional carving using African culture as inspiration. The desire to build on this knowledge was developed during his undergraduate degree at Grays School of Art in Aberdeen where he began to conceptualise his work and take his skills learnt in carving to the method of printmaking. Ade has been making from a young age, describing himself as the ‘peculiar one’ in his friend group in Nigeria, more than often as his friends played football, he would be found scribbling on paper or carving things out of wood. He would do this almost mindlessly - a passionate zestfulness to purely make was within him, which could be a hint as to why his work gradually became more large scale in the future. During his first year at Grays he was drawn to printmaking, specifically Relief Printing using the process of Linocut and then Intaglio Etching. He has been using these processes ever since, and quite rightly so, as his work is truly mesmerising.
Disengage, Linocut, 76cm-56cm
Ade was always creative but very interestingly escaped becoming a politician or a man of finance. Studying for a year in Nigeria in all things money orientated and then in political science at Olabisi Onabanjo University, he became disillusioned with the idea of making it in a world of politics and finance. He decided life was too short to concern himself with the expectation of his peers and left for London at the tender age of 23, where he developed his artistic skills and then up to the North East of Scotland to Aberdeen, not looking back since. Perhaps his knowledge learnt in that time studying in Nigeria formed his politic stance and inspired the work he makes now. He told me if that is the case, it is an unconscious element to his work.
Another Gorilla In The Mist, Linocut, 94cm - 66cm
Although it is clear Ade has spent a lot of time in the city environment he enjoys solitary spaces, where his mind can roam free. This allows him to compare these spaces to the more busy environments he is familiar with such as Aberdeen, Glasgow, London or Florence. These city environments ruled by the human ape create symbols in Ade’s third eye combining urban space with the opposite - the remote space where wild animals rule and time is not confined. This creates a surreal landscape, or in Ade’s words, “a big world”, which paradoxically makes a strange sort of sense to the onlooker, inducing questions on religion, time, climate change, life, death, history and nature. His work seeks to pose the question, not to resolve an answer. Ade is a voyeur and is merely expressing how he sees the world. Taking reference from documentaries, photography, films and the internet he uses this information and imagery in the studio to develop ideas. More than often his prints will make a comparison between Scottish and African culture. This is a reference to the similarities he sees in industry between the two countries, particularly in oil and its effects on global warming. Ade rarely uses sketchbooks, having an extremely powerful imagination, the artist experiences a place he will remember which becomes a starting point for a large-scale print later down the line. He then may work on a print for up to five months, developing it as time goes on. The relief block will not be proofed once. To most printmakers this would seem outrageously risky when working in such a large scale, but Ade has gained enough skill to know when his cutting has achieved the correct tonal range. Once cutting is complete, he will finally ink the block and print, sometimes having to travel one hundred miles to Glasgow Print Studio or Dundee Contemporary Arts to use their facilities.
 
The Questions, Linocut, 180cm - 110cm
One of Ade’s more prolific works, The Questions, began from a trip to the Shetland Islands in 2013. Travelling there with his wife and daughter as companions, he left the industrious capital of Lerwick to explore the island finding the atmospheric volcanic rock formations of Eshaness. It was here that Ade experienced great discomfort confronting the cliff edge to peak over the monumental mass of empty space that plummets fifty feet to the North Atlantic. Howling winds, colliding waves and squawking puffins were the only sounds to mask his nervous murmurs on the day he arrived. His fear of heights lead him away from the cliff edge towards the Lighthouse which became the starting point for The Questions. When examining the print closely, which I ask you to do now, the lighthouse can be seen slightly right of centre next to the satellite dish. Ade was also amazed by the surrounding landscape of Eshaness covered in flat plains beyond the cliff’s edge which were scattered with boulders. These rocks were geographically placed here by extremely large waves - a truly mind boggling expression of nature at work, the perfect inspiration for him to start a new project.
The atmospheric rock formation of Eshaness, Shetland, where the idea for 'The Questions' began.
More explorations lead Ade to the oil terminal of Sullom Voe which he describes as a 'post apocalyptic version of planet Mars.' I would not disagree, travelling through the fields myself last summer in a quest to find Hell, oops, I mean Yell, I was startled by the screaming fire turrets stretching the horizon and what seemed to be miles and miles of empty industry space. Not a creature in site lay on the masses of brown grass that Ade stared at in disbelief. This memory stuck with him and was used effectively as inspiration for more artwork when he arrived back on the mainland.
The Process

The Questions was made through the printmaking process of Linocut, which comes under the category of Relief Printing, much like Woodcut or Wood Engraving. This means protruding surface areas of the block are inked and printed rather than the grooves, which is referred to as Intaglio, such as Etching or Polymer Photogravure. In Linocut, the relief block is linoleum and in Ade’s case, a very large block of linoleum is used. The size of The Questions was defined by an error of communication in which Ade was given the bed size of a press instead of the print size. He was making these enquiries as he wanted The Questions to be his biggest work to date which it still remains and so funnily enough, the work was based on the bed size of a press: a whopping 180cm by 110cm.
After purchasing the linoleum, Ade dyed it an orange/brown colour so he can see marks made clearly. As he scratches or carves into the surface any areas marked will be the colour of the linoleum beneath, a white/grey. The surface that is unmarked will be the colour of the orange dye. Ade worked on The Questions for seven months. This puts in perspective the intricate levels of detail that goes into one of his prints. Ade will use etching needles or ‘anything sharp’ to mark into the linoleum which is heated for ease of carving. As I said previously Ade will not proof the block once until he is sure the work is complete. The Questions was printed at Peacock’s in Aberdeen where the press had to be modified using plywood as the print was too large.
 
Ade with the linoleum before he has applied the orange dye
The relief block for The Questions. The orange dye can be seen and the white areas are the areas carved into by the artist. 
Ade is working on four new prints at the moment, one of which is entitled 'Wild Awake' and another, 'After the Light' which I was privileged to see the progress of yesterday. 'After the Light' will feature in an exhibition at Edinburgh's Library Gallery in March. Also coming up is an exhibition with Newave in Aberdeen in May, and Eaton College in London in November. 
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