Sotheby's sits down with artist Aboudia to discuss his process, inspirations and upcoming projects.
I n the early months of 2011, when Côte d'Ivoire was in the grips of civil conflict following the country’s contested presidential election, most civilians in Abidjan steered clear of the city’s streets. But one young artist – Aboudia Abdoulaye Diarrassouba, known as Aboudia – made the streets of his hometown both his subject and studio.
Aboudia's resulting body of work – paintings that capture the ghostly faces of soldiers and mourners and caskets marked ‘enfants,’ all executed in the artist’s signature, frenetic style – earned him international acclaim. Ten years later, the artist is still driven to paint the people and landscapes of his home country. Ten examples from his latest body of work, completed just this year, come to auction in Contemporary Art Online | New York, open for bidding from 14–21 July. Prior to the sale, Sotheby’s sat down with Aboudia to learn more about his inspiration, process and approach to making extraordinary and deeply personal art.
Works by Aboudia in the Contemporary Art Online | New York Auction
Sotheby’s: What inspired you to create the group of paintings coming to auction at Sotheby’s?
Aboudia: My inspiration for these works is the same thing as what inspires me every day – children. My subject is children in the street – I am not talking about the children of the street; as it’s not the street that makes children [who they are] – children, for me, are the pillar of a country. Children for me are the nation; children for me are education, schooling. And when I one is young, if education and schooling fails, the whole country fails [in that respect]. So in these themes I work for the children by telling their parents to remove the children from the street, to put them in school, to put them in classrooms and in playgrounds, but not on the street because on the street there are a lot of not-so-nice things that could happen.
Sotheby’s: Where do you find inspiration for your work as an artist?
Aboudia: My inspiration comes from the streets and from the fact that children are writing their stories on the walls. People at one point called me a painter of war. But I am not a painter of war; I was just painting at a time when there was a war. Since my time at L’École des Beaux-Arts, I’ve focused my attention on children. Voilà – children of the street and graffiti. I see young girls who want to become doctors drawing girls in Red Cross uniforms driving ambulances; I see young boys who want to become drivers drawing cars. These children are my true inspiration.
Sotheby’s: Are there any artists, past or present, who inspire you?
Aboudia: There are people who say I work a little like Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was a great artist for whom I have great respect, and the comparison is an honor, but I’m doing something totally different. When I was working, there wasn’t even internet in my city. I had never heard of Basquiat. Yes, perhaps you can see some of the same ideologies and other eccentricities, but even twins don’t have the same fingerprints.
“My inspiration comes from the streets and from the fact that children are writing their stories on the walls.”
Sotheby’s: Can you tell me a little about your creative process? Do you do studies beforehand, and is there a specific idea you have in mind or something you look for when choosing colors?
Aboudia: My creative process has multiple sides to it. Color is like a character. You do not choose it; it appears. When I am in front of my canvas, whatever comes to me, I do. Though I sometimes make studies before working on a canvas, more often the ideas comes to me and I put them directly on the canvas. I am not a calculating person. What I learned at art school was the technique of emotions. I learned how to let my spirit, ideas and inspiration guide me.
Sotheby’s: You have a foundation for children in Abidjan which provides access to education, doctors, and the like. Could you talk a little about the work that you do at La Fondation Aboudia?
Aboudia: From the time that I was very young, I thought that when I grew up one day, if I had the means, that I would establish a foundation to help the children in my city. Today, that foundation is a reality. We help renovate schools, sponsor the construction of new schools, and provide food for nurseries and orphanages. We work to give children access to education, community, healthcare and food. To life.
“Color is like a character. You do not choose it; it appears.”
Sotheby’s: Are you working on any particularly exciting new projects?
Aboudia: At the moment, I’m working on a few projects – there is the series coming to auction at Sotheby’s, and of course, there is the foundation, which is an ongoing project. I’m always trying to work to have a bit of money so that I can give back. My motto is, “whenever you have, you give back.”
Sotheby’s: Any parting words?
Aboudia: The only important for me to get across is to say that today, art doesn’t have borders. Art should be a source of union and solidarity. I think that we should be trying to stop these binary distinctions being made between African and European art. Someone who doesn’t know me, when they look at these paintings, might think that perhaps they are by an Asian or American artist – there is no way to know. So, we must work to consider art as a single entity, and we can move forward by transforming the world with colors.
Ten paintings from Aboudia will highlight Sotheby's Contemporary Art Online | New York auction, taking place from 14 – 21 July.