French-Beninese artist Gregory Olympio uses his abstract painting style to explore the ways in which life can be boundless, more of a feeling than something you can hold. Born in Lomé, Togo, and currently residing in Besançon, France, the artist is rooted across geographies and interconnected cultures.
His experiences across Benin, Togo, and France sparked his interest in how identity and personhood can shift based on one’s location. Olympio has explained, “I was from several cultures, I was neither-nor. It was also to be andand.” Whether choosing to focus on a portrait or landscape, on an intimate or a large scale, everything in Olympio’s painting is rendered without a clear outline; shapes bleed into one another, creating a nebulous, brightly-coloured world. Olympio’s style is both representational and expressionistic – often evoking emotion rather than telling a clear story.
Of his portraits, he has said, “I memorise a detail, a girl in striped pants, a photo on the internet, an attitude, and I reproduce these in bottomless portraits.” The triptych Futurs Dinners (2018), for example, depicts a powerful scene where social media influencers, masked heroes and heroines, and ordinary people of different backgrounds share dinner at a round table. Each of the characters is rendered faceless, with only small details like a phone or a balaclava to distinguish them from their counterparts. Similar to the hand-painted barbershop and hairdresser signs typically found in Togo, Benin, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast, the subjects are painted in a flat perspective in colours that are simultaneously fleshy and otherworldly.
My raw material is first and foremost the colours.
Similarly, his landscape painting series Oxygen (2018) illustrates an outrageously coloured, post-apocalyptic world that seems simultaneously familiar and unrecognisable. For Olympio, it all starts with the colours: “My raw material is first and foremost the colours.” Working almost exclusively with acrylic on paper, his landscapes are characterised by large patches of colour, anchored by a horizon line that serves to define the foreground and background, allowing the viewer to piece together a narrative. They are neon-coloured terrains without buildings or human shapes, populated with organic forms that resemble natural elements like plants and seashells. Here again, Olympio depicts more of a feeling than an exact location itself.
Olympio’s intuitive style of painting speaks to his ambiguous relationship with issues of identity in contemporary cultures. In giving nothing a fixed form, he highlights just how amorphous all aspects of life are on both a universal and a personal level.
An article by Rachell Marie Morillo
Featured image : Gregory Olympio, “Paysages, Respiration 2”, 2019. Acrylic on Paper, 84 x 70 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Septieme Gallery.
This article was written for The Art Momentum | Cape Town Art Fair Artpaper 2020.
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