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Tour Artist Kehinde Wiley’s quiet creative haven in Lagos

Photo: Kehinde Wiley with Rocco, a Rottweiler, in front of his residence in Lagos’s Victoria Island neighborhood. Multihyphenate artist Billy Omabegho worked with Wiley on renovating the house.

By Lola Ogunnaike | Photography by Yagazie Emezi | Styled by Claud Nwachukwu

‘It is a temple to solitude, a space to create much more experimental work,” the portraitist says of the home he decorated with the help of fellow artists’

KEHINDE Wiley’s presidential portrait of Barack Obama enshrined him in the annals of history, and since its 2018 unveiling, his groundbreaking career has soared to stratospheric heights. Renowned for his colossal paintings of everyday Black and brown people—scouted from across the diaspora and depicted regally in the vein of the Old Masters—the Nigerian American artist has been hailed as a genre-defining visionary, an iconoclastic showman, and one of the most influential portraitists of his generation. In the past year alone, he’s had shows at the Venice Biennale, Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the National Gallery in London, and Roberts Projects in Los Angeles. And still yet another will open at New York’s Sean Kelly Gallery this spring.

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A sitting area looks into the house’s interior courtyard. Senegalese designer Aissa

Dione helped with the interior furnishings. Her weaving workshop created the upholstery fabric. Hand-carved wood cocktail tables.

In rare moments of downtime, the peripatetic artist has historically retreated to Black Rock Senegal, the multi-studio artist residency he founded in Dakar four years ago. Cinematic in scale and named after the volcanic rocks that blanket the neighboring shoreline, the titanic compound overlooking the Atlantic Ocean features a trio of apartments and studios for artists, as well as a majestic private flat for Wiley himself and guest rooms for visiting creatives. His new home in Lagos, Nigeria, however, has become his current refuge of choice. “The Lagos space presented the opportunity to have a much more quiet, interior type of presence in West Africa. It is a temple to solitude, a space to create much more experimental work,” the artist explains, as he makes his way to a light-suffused studio tucked away on the top floor of his intimate, three-story sanctuary. “When I’m here, I paint whenever I feel like it. I paint in the middle of the night. I paint early mornings. I paint without the pressure of commercial obligation, without an endgame in mind. I get to play, feel vulnerable, and oftentimes have breakthroughs.”

Ensconced in a secluded cul-de-sac in Lagos’s tony Victoria Island enclave, the home was previously owned by a local industrialist for several decades. It underwent an extensive, yearlong renovation guided solely by Wiley and his instinctual response to the space as it evolved—architectural improvisation, if you will. “There was never a real plan,” Wiley reveals. Instead, he focused on “allowing the process to be the star of the show.”

He brought down walls, brought in sliding glass doors, kept the chashitsu-inspired flourishes (shoji-esque frosted windows, a lacquered cherrywood staircase), but traded the terra-cotta bricks that once dominated the outside grounds for verdant gardens teeming with local flora. A warren of tiny rooms morphed into a massive primary bed-and-bath suite that manages to be an ode to minimalism and an over-the-top indulgence. He chose black for the faceted exteriors because he enjoyed the juxtaposition of a brutalist façade and an inland Eden.

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A painting by Ludovic Nkoth hangs in the primary bedroom.

The focal point of the house, a lyrical, glass-enclosed interior garden and pond, was a huge draw for Wiley because hortus conclusus is one of a handful of recurring themes in his paintings. The avid angler also immediately seized the opportunity to introduce koi fish—another thematic favorite— into the mix. “They’re psychologically nourishing,” he states, later adding that, since childhood, “I’ve been deeply drawn to bodies of water, whether it be my mother waking me up to get me out of the bathtub for fear of me drowning or visiting municipal fishing zones in Los Angeles.”

Wiley worked closely with Senegalese textile and furniture designer Aissa Dione to outfit the interiors. Several of Dione’s artisan pieces can be found throughout the abode, from the low-slung sofas and cocktail tables to the woven quilts and pillows. More standouts, like the foyer’s Hamed Ouattara sideboard and beaded Yoruba armchairs, were procured at the luxury concept store Alára.

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Wiley in his top-floor painting studio.

Naturally, art figures prominently throughout. Modernist wood sculptures by late masters like Ben Osawe and Lamidi Olonade Fakeye mingle with pieces from Wiley’s friends, protégés, and fellow luminaries. A formidable bronze bust from the artist’s 2015 Brooklyn Museum retrospective towers over the dining area. A provocative Mickalene Thomas photograph beckons in the entryway, while a self-portrait by the Ghanaian phenom Amoako Boafo stares across the living room at a figurative work by the Nigerian rising star Collins Obijiaku. (A passionate champion of fellow artists, Wiley will soon open a second Black Rock outpost, in the southern Nigerian port city of Calabar).

Born and raised in South Central LA, Wiley first visited the continent more than two decades ago on a quest to find his father, a Nigerian professor who returned to the country before Wiley was born. After father and son reconciled, Wiley fell in love with West Africa and soon made up his mind to return as often as he could. All these years later, he remains endlessly inspired by the frenetic energy of Lagos, a bustling metropolis that’s recently found itself at the center of global culture.

“Lagos carries a twin spirit,” Wiley, himself a twin, asserts. “It wants to be a modern, well-organized economic hub, but it also wants to be a place in which every single person goes their own way. There’s this organized chaos that is defined by group structures, but also a uniquely Nigerian sense of making your own path, charting your own territory, a kind of pluck that’s resilient and festive, mournful and sorrowful, beholden to the past, but radically present, which charges your batteries. It makes you feel excited to get up and be alive.

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Tour Artist Kehinde Wiley’s quiet creative haven in Lagos 8
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Tour Artist Kehinde Wiley’s quiet creative haven in Lagos 9
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Photography by Yagazie Emezi | Styled by Claud Nwachukwu

This tour of Kehinde Wiley’s Lagos, Nigeria, home appears in AD’s Star Power issue.

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