An interview with artist Tejumola Butler.
Discussing all things reductionism, we visit artist Tejumola Butler Adenuga in his minimalist East London flat. With aims of redefining what it means to be an artist, Tejumola applies his functional design philosophy to more than one creative area; from painting and sculpture to art direction and furniture design.
Though, not just an approach in art, but also a way of living, Tejumola’s love for convenience inspires his space, at home. An empty bedroom, a paired back living room, and pieces of art, is there a need for anything more?
Tell us a little about yourself and your artistic career journey (so far).
My name is Tejumola, I’m an artist and I specialise in furniture, painting and art direction. I was very lucky as I landed my first job as Tinie Tempha’s Art Director when I was still finishing university, meaning I was able to put my ideas into practice straight away.
It had always been my end goal to be an ‘artist’, but I have always wanted to focus on how to build things. I find understanding how materials work informs my work better. It's not only good to have an idea for a piece, but to also know how to effectively make that idea a reality. For example, before I went to university, I would attend a lot of group art shows and notice if a piece wasn’t hung properly or a canvas wasn't stretched very well. It’s the small things. Even down to using a different type of paper that would have a better effect, is an important consideration.
Still, the word artist has become very ingrained to becoming either a painter or a sculptor etc. Spanning work across different art forms isn't even ‘a thing’. But these binaries never used to be the case. If you go way back to Renaissance times and the greats, like Leonardo Da Vinci, who was a painter, scientist, engineer, it was typical to cross over creative realms. Part of my practice has always been about challenging the notion of what an artist is, and the box that artists are often confined to. In the future, I’d love to be called just an artist, and for it to make sense. But at the moment, I have to present myself with all of these different titles. ‘Artist’ should connote the internotion of being multidisciplinary. So yes, I am an artist.
From art director for Tinie Tempah, to commissioned artist for the likes of Adidas and New York Times, to furniture (and tattoo) designer, what has been your career highlight?
I don’t think it has happened yet. This is a question for when I am perhaps eighty, where I can look back and say ‘that was a great experience’. I need more time. That’s without saying, there have been quite a few nice things that have happened. Still, I am always thinking about the next. I won’t know what my career highlight is, until I look back. So, ask me again in about 50 years!
As a now multidisciplinary artist, could you give us an insight into your day-to-day?
I often wake up and decide there and then what I am going to do that day. I use my calendar to keep track of important dates and deadlines, but I prefer to go with the flow as I get a lot of last minute requests that fill up my free time.
If I am having an admin day, I spend time at my computer, here. If I’m making, I go to the studio. Many are surprised how much time an artist spends on correspondence. I’d even say only 10% of my time is making work and the rest is back and forth emails and logistics. I designed a table recently where making it ended up being the shortest and simplest part of the process. Getting the table to the studio, going to the clients house, choosing the right wood and getting the correct plaster, amongst sorting fees took the majority of the time.
How do you value sleep? (Perhaps in terms of creativity and productivity).
I should sleep more! Infact, on the contrary, I’d say I don’t sleep the way other people sleep. I am more active in the evenings, as there are less distractions and I can focus much more. No one is texting, no emails are coming through and there isn't sunshine outside. During the pandemic, I was so focused on my work, as I didn’t have to be anywhere. I liked that everything was digital. Can we go back to zoom parties?!
In my day-to-day, I am lucky enough to be able to take naps when I need to reset. For example, I might sleep between 5 and 8pm, then be up until 4am. To others, I might not sleep much. Yet, if you put together the hours of disjointed sleep I do get, I probably sleep enough.
How would you describe your artistic style, and how has this developed?
Super fancy photocopier. I use secondary materials and paint from photographs. The image of this person has already been pre-approved to exist. I recreate what I see in a different format. This takes away my gaze.
My work is very reduced, functional, time-consuming and intricate. This style has developed because of two reasons. One, because I am colourblind. Two, because I first began making art with paper and ink, and have just scaled it up since.
What are your design processes? How did you go about designing your Countervailing Dining Chair for example?
With both my furniture and paintings the structure is so exposed; if there is a line or dot out of place, you would spot it. I tend to map out where each dot or line of ink is going to go. But it’s like following city mapper, if you take a wrong turn, you have to come back and start again. This does mean the painting process takes a lot of concentration.
Since we’re all about Inspiring Spaces, could you tell us more about your Lamp Atelier and Cold Laundry Store projects?
The Lamp started as a commission. I took a block of styrofoam, carved a shape, made a cast out of it and added a socket. There was my lamp. Soho Home saw it and asked to do a collaboration, turning it into a full project called Lamp Atelier. During this, I was able to install an atelier I could make the lamps from. It was a white pristine space, with a workbench and a drying rack, that was it. I conflicted with Soho Home a little to begin with over wanting to keep it this reduced.
Cold Laundry Store was only the second time I had designed a space. They were ‘taking a risk’. I reduced everything as much as possible, to focus on the clothes.
It was great to transform a retail space back to what it was intended to be.
Deep dive in your space. How did you go about furnishing and choosing some of the key elements?
Most of the furniture I have made myself. To work, it has to fit into where I live, before I think about selling it. The bookcase was actually the first I built in this space. All of my books were in boxes and I couldn't find a bookcase that would showcase them best. So I thought, I’d just build one. I ordered the wood and built it within 2 hours. It works well for this room. Though now I have more furniture, I almost want to build it again. I’ve been getting into DJing, so perhaps I’ll recreate a longer version to put decks on top of.
I have noticed you have some iconic design pieces, do you have any go-to places to find home pieces?
There’s a great place called Lofty’s, which is where my sofa is from. They sell second-hand furniture from Made.com or Habitat showrooms. Why should I buy a brand new sofa when I could get one in just as good condition?
Or, if I could make it myself? Although, whilst I do take inspiration from pieces I see, to reproduce something that is mass made is not actually great value for money. It would cost me more to make than to just buy the piece to begin with! For the pieces I do make, the internet is the best marketplace for materials.
How about your bedroom, how do you like the space to feel?
If I could not have a wardrobe, I wouldn’t have one. I feel a bedroom should just be a bed. I like the space to feel super reduced. Though not totally blank. I like the large window for example. I see it as a type of artwork that frames the outside.
You mentioned somewhere that ‘minimalism has never been an aesthetic for you, rather a convenience’. Can you expand on this.
The convenience comes from the idea that minimalism is functional. A bedside table with a lot of ornaments would be more difficult to clean than not having one. Minimalism improves the ease of everyday life so I can focus on the things that matter.
Does this apply to your choice of bedding? We too, believe in simplicity.
I would usually choose white bedding. It’s easier to do the washing! Though, the sage green bedding from Beddable intrigued me. Choosing this colour was me trying to be a little experimental with a subtle tone. I want to move away from being too clinical and introduce some warmth.