By Jill Brooke
It’s not a surprise that artist Láolú Senbanjo feels connected to the Lotus flower.
The Nigerian-born artist, whose fans include Beyonce Knowles, Taraji P. Henson, Serena Williams, Lupita Nyongo, Alicia Keys and her husband Swizz Beats, connects to the spirituality of the ancient flower that symbolizes enlightenment, self-regeneration and rebirth
“Lotus flowers go from the murkiest of conditions to blooming,” he explains. “It is analogous to my life because I went through a lot of hardships and then ended up blossoming. This is why I like the lotus flower because it thrives in any environment. Its roots can be embedded in mud and its leaves end up blooming untarnished.”
That resilience and life energy is a feeling that permeates and pulsates in his work – whether drawing body art on Serena Williams, designing sneakers or his larger-scale paintings.
As we know, there are thousands of artists expressing life’s narratives all around the world but few resonate and have the success of Láolú. His work has also been featured in the Brooklyn Museum and the Whitney Museum. That is an accomplishment that is equivalent to getting more than a Grammy and an Emmy combined.
What is his secret?
He says that he connects with his subject’s “ori sha (soul) and uses the negative space of the subject as the “paint.”
Painting white symbols onto the skin has spiritual and ritualistic significance in Yorúbá culture, expressing stories about deities, cosmology and personal destiny.
Láolú created the Sacred Art of the Orí. He paints the white onto the black skin bringing the melanin out as “the paint” using negative spacing.
The result is an external reflection of the subject’s inner essence.
This yin-yang combustive style seems to be working. Not only does he sell art but over his career, he has also had brand collaborations with Kenneth Cole, Nike, Equinox Fitness, Starbucks, Belvedere, Bvlgari, TED, Apple, Facebook, and more.
He started his professional life as a lawyer. (Memo to producers at “The Good Fight.” Hire him as a cameo). After three years, his art drew him to another chapter.
Perhaps that is why he labels himself so multi-dimensionally as a “Brooklyn based performance and visual artist, singer, songwriter, musician, human rights lawyer, and activist.”
Not surprisingly, he says “Keith Haring” is one of his favorite artists. Like Haring, Laolu’s work elevates line drawing to a higher art form.
Although the Lotus flower triggers deep connections, he also is attracted to the Hibiscus flower, which symbolizes passionate relationships.
“With the Ditmas Park piece, I focused on the Hibiscus flower because it reminded me of home, Nigeria,” he explains. “You can find similar flowers in parks in Abuja, the capital city, where I spent some of my childhood.”
Living in New York during Covid-19, where so many cultures collide and connect, we wondered if he felt that this will be a fertile time for artists.
“No, even though I understand that some may think it’s a time for artists to bunker down and create, it could also be traumatizing for some,” he says. “I am of the opinion that we will find some of the greatest work post-Covid 19 as opposed to during the pandemic because artists will have more time to process what just happened.”
In the interim, Láolú, like others, will find calm and perspective with flowers. And since the Lotus flower can’t be gathered, his gifts besides his art will be a bouquet of tulips.
After all, “Tulips,” he says, “are generally associated with perfect love.”
Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD.