The British Nigerian artist, or rather self-proclaimed scam artist, Olaolu Slawn is hard to pin-down to just one practice. If anything, Slawn is the full package, with his other titles including: skater, designer, father, Mowalola model – of which his son is also accredited with – and now coffee shop owner. Quickly becoming one of the most prominent figures to come out of London’s current art scene, let’s take a look back at Slawn’s rise in the creative field.
Slawn’s formative work experience paved the way for his creative ventures to come, having worked at Wafflesncream, a Lagos-based first-of-its-kind skateshop. Soon enough, Wafflesncream caught the attention of skate brands like Supreme and Dime, and Slawn started helping on editorial shoots for London-based publications on top of running the shop which felt more like a non-stop function with friends than an actual 9-5 retail job.
Immersed in the skate world, it was time for Slawn to make his own mark on the subculture, alongside his friends Leo and Onyedi. Motherlan was founded by the 3 in 2018, specialising not only in skatewear but the Lagos skate scene and culture at large, releasing its first film titled “Edward” just a year later. It wasn’t long before Motherlan received international recognition, with its second film in 2020 being shot in collaboration with Converse, and the brand receiving the highest of co-signs in fashion and culture, that of Virgil Abloh’s.
By 2019, he moved to the UK to study graphic design at Middlesex University and just a year later, the artist picked up painting as a result of lockdown boredom. Fresh out of confinement, 2021 saw Slawn disrupt the art world with his exhibition held at the Truman Brewery, with his piss-taking art that fits in line with his troublemaking kid mentality.
Slawn’s graffiti, squiggly-style of paint on canvas were once free-for-all works the artist would give out to his friends and whoever would want one – or fight for one – but now find themselves selling for £30,000 at a Sotheby’s auction co-curated by Skepta. The power of self-image on Instagram is what Slawn credits this pipeline to.
Working on canvases, murals and just about anything Slawn can get his hands on, his playful street and pop art-style may seem like just that, a bit of fun, at first glance. This notion is reinforced by the artist himself who has often been quoted as questioning why others even follow or show any interest in his art as he is just messing about. Though up close, it’s clear that Slawn knows what he is doing, with his art diving into the themes of political challenges, racism, human psychology and other societal concepts.
Slawn’s success seems to only grow by the day, a fact the artist can barely come to terms with. Last October saw the artist hold his first solo exhibition titled “On A Darker Note” at the Efie Gallery, which also happened to be sold out, a rarity in any artist’s career. Then, there were the Brit Awards. Slawn was approached for the 2023 edition of the award show, tasked with designing the statuette as well as the overall set, making him the youngest and the first Nigerian-born artist to accomplish this feat.
At such a young age, Slawn has already accomplished what many artists work their whole life to accomplish. With his very own family-run coffee shop now open in East London named after his son Beau, Slawn is an unstoppable force that will continue to disrupt the streets of London by simply just doing him.
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