“In the broad valley, far below him, in the first sunlight of early morning, he saw a town. Only it was not a town. Towns did not look like that. He had to suspend the possible for a while longer, to seek no questions or explanations, only to look.”
The above was Ayn Rand’s description of Howard Roark’s Monadnock Valley development in The Fountainhead. Rand is revered — and reviled — as a philosopher and novelist, but to me she was also an artist. She defined art as a recreation of reality according to an artist’s values, and in her work, she recreated an inspirational world of heroes, light, and flourishing.
That is why The Atlas Society chose art as an arena for intellectual and spiritual engagement with Ayn Rand’s ideas. The 25-year-old philosophical organization capped 2016 with winners of first annual Atlas Art Contest. Over 400 entries were narrowed down to 21 artists by a panel of four judges: Sabin Howard, sculptor; Judd Weiss, photographer; Agnieszka Pilat, painter: and myself. The public was then invited to vote, further spreading the engagement with the outstanding work of our finalists.
The winners were, from first to third place, Abiodun Olaku, Eric Armusik, and Danielle Dalechek. Given Ayn Rand’s aesthetics, it is rather fitting that Olaku won first prize with his clean style, perspective, and nuanced light.
Olaku is a Christian Nigerian, and he paints townscapes lit by twilight’s glow and dotted with the sparkle of electric lights and roasting fires — honoring both nature’s magnificence and humanity’s place in it. His winning work, Silhouettes of Labour, fit nicely the contest’s theme of entrepreneurial pursuits., fit nicely the contest’s theme of entrepreneurial pursuits.
Before the Atlas Art Contest Olaku was unfamiliar with Ayn Rand, but during the contest; the did some research on her and concluded: “I could sum up her thoughts as the recognition and glorification of human endeavor, enterprise, and due reward.”
Like most artists, financial obstacles are the biggest roadblock to painting full-time. Olaku feels that his drive to perfect his unique style, which consequently brought him collectors, and his belief in God helped him practically and emotionally.
“An obstacle I overcame was the challenge of earning my livelihood, solely, on the income generated from my art. Eventually, though, I mastered the art of staying steady and balanced on the raging and wildly-bucking bull of survival. I discovered early that my art was my bargaining power. So, I pursued a uniqueness of it.”
Like many Ayn Rand fans, Olaku balances his reason with spiritual beliefs: “The infinite grace of God had always been my Divine Intercessor at crucial junctures and critical times in my earthly sojourn. This emboldened me in no small measure career-wise, and also propelled me forward with renewed courage, instead of hesitation, apprehension or debilitating fear.”
Though Romanticism, notable for its dramatically driven themes of human character, is important in Rand’s thought, she has high regard for the importance of light in painting.
Indeed, it was for this reason she considered Johannes Vermeer “the greatest of all artists.” She wrote: “Vermeer devoted his paintings to a single theme: light itself.
The guiding principle of his compositions is: the contextual nature of our perception of light (and of color). The physical objects in a Vermeer canvas are chosen and placed in such a way that their combined interrelationships feature, lead to and make possible the painting’s brightest patches of light, sometimes blindingly bright, in a manner which no one has been able to render before or since.”
This description works equally well for Olaku. Each patch of light is slightly different in tone and hue, creating a hierarchy of lights. Vision scientists Jan Koenderink and Andrea Van Doorn told me one night in a Scottish pub in Glasgow that the eye constantly compares and contrasts tones, bouncing from spot to spot. If tones and hues are identical then the eye becomes bored. Conversely, if there are subtle differences then the eye feels energized.
Olaku’s sensitivity to light manifests in how deeply his landscapes recede — not only are the lights themselves different, they are placed in depth. Though light is the outstanding feature in Olaku’s paintings, he is also a master of perspective and the reflective nature of water.
What Ayn Rand says about Vermeer is very much how I feel about Olaku: “What his style projects is a concretized image of an immense, nonvisual abstraction: the psycho-epistemology of a rational mind. It projects clarity, discipline, confidence, purpose, power — a universe open to man.”
Originally published with The Atlas Society.
You can follow Abiodun Olaku on Facebook, he welcomes queries about his art.
For over four decades Michael Newberry has been pioneering figurative art with his unpredictable brand of beauty. www.michaelnewberry.com
“24/7, Lagos”, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches, 2016
“Silhouettes of Labour”, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches