Roland Lawar

Blue Loop

 Africa’s traditions are various and particula¹
Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907, 
Museum of Modern ArtNew York City), a painting of women composed of jagged shapes, flattened figures, and forms borrowed from African masks²

Many of us think of abstract art as European, usually associated with Picasso and Braque. However it is well known and now generally accepted that the process of abstraction and stylisation were developed and used by ancient peoples to express ideas about the world of the seen and the unseen. Among Africans especially, abstraction was used to draw, paint and sculpt images of the human form, animals and plant life. They did not represent objects exactly as they saw them but more stylised and conceptual. Africa being such a diverse continent, abstraction and stylization abounds. There is a multiplicity of wood carvings from the various regions of Black Africa, geometric patterns used in the north, rock paintings in the south and art objects made of brass and gold using the lost-wax process in the west.

There are few Black artists of African or Caribbean descent producing abstract art. Sculptors are rare but a Black sculptor is even rarer and one who creates abstract sculpture is rarer still. Given the history of abstract art we should not be surprised that Black artists like Roland Lawar should choose to reconnect with the principles used by their ancestors to express their art. Artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin among others, became aware of, and were inspired by African art at the beginning of the 20thcentury³. African art presented powerful and sophisticated new forms. It illustrated that art was not only based on sight but also on the imagination, the mystical, emotions and the religious. The study of and response to African Art, by European artists at the beginning of the twentieth century facilitated an explosion of interest in abstraction that was unseen in Western Art4. It is often speculatedwhether modern art would have existed without Europe’s encounter with Black African art.

So, what makes Roland’s art an epitome of contemporary abstract art? This answer is rooted in his early beginnings. Roland told me in our conversation that growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, his parents allowed him the freedom to explore the city. He spent a lot of time on his own, using his imagination to create art from his surroundings. He remembers sitting for hours, looking at cracks in walls and tracing them with his eyes to create drawings of faces. He developed an interest in the work of craftsmen such as tailors, goldsmiths, carvers, blacksmiths and carpenters as he hung around their workshops. As a young boy, another strong source for his creative thinking around abstraction was his fascination with the wood shavings produced from the carpenter’s workshops; it was about the shapes, never knowing what would be formed. The craftsmen often sent him on errands and he remembers driving himself in an imaginary car as he swiftly carried out these errands. All through his formative school days, Roland won prizes for his creative efforts.

Man Seated in Contemplation

It was in the UK that Roland saw the possibility of developing further what came naturally to him. He followed his desire to create with his hands by attending evening classes at the London College of Printing and St Martin’s School of Art and Design. He later attended Morley College where he studied welding under the tutelage of Derrick Haworth, a former assistant of Sir Anthony Caro. As Roland puts it “studying under Derrick is when I became aware that there are no limits to the creative process involving abstractive art.” Roland travelled to America where he lived and worked for a few years.

Roland’s sculpture, ‘The Blue Loop’, made from scrapped tubes welded together, was first conceived in 2003 in Houston Texas. The original image was of a seated man in contemplation and was painted red. It was first exhibited in the Community Art Collective Gallery in Houston.

When Roland returned to the UK in 2004 the piece metamorphosed into the ‘Man with Arms Folded’, and was repainted silver and red. In 2006, the same piece was reinvented as a table top piece. In 2008, the sculpture underwent another transformation into an upright piece, to become the ‘Blue Loop’.

Man with Folded Arms 2004

Roland says “I want the piece to be installed as it is now, to co-exist with nature. That is where it belongs back in tune with nature”. Roland went on to say, ”My hands are my tools, sculpture embodies the roundness of all creativity, that’s the way I see sculpture and I love to be able to see things beyond the flat surface. If I look at that picture, it’s the perspective that I would be looking at as far as the infinity goes in the picture, so that is me going beyond the picture and that is why sculpture is so important to me”.

Roland’s works are in public spaces in the US and the UK and his smaller works are in private collections. He gains most pleasure from creating large public works that people can relate to. Roland sees himself as a community person, he takes his work into schools and when he is working he keeps his studio door open. His studio has a large sculpture outside and Roland is proud that it is used as a landmark by people in the community.

The materials Roland uses to make his pieces are from found objects. He says, “Anything I pick up is going to start to live. Before it was considered useless, I’ve turned life into it by picking it up. Nothing is ever dead. I’m not equating myself to God, but we all come from a creative endeavour. If I’m able to create, I’m living through the power of God and nothing would be dead”.

Roland believes that everyone is creative, but artists continue to make works even though they are not making any money. He considers himself lucky because of the support of his wife. A true artist, he believes continues to work, whether they make money or not. He recognises the need to have money to produce art but, “if you don’t have the money it doesn’t stop you from necessarily being creative”.

Like so many artists before him, Roland faces the lack of awareness of art from the general public. This lack of appreciation of art, he finds to be very British and not particularly Black or White.

‘The Blue Loop’, on loan from Roland, sits in my back garden, I don’t think it will be a landmark but I think it will be a focal point for social gatherings and around which ‘the community’ will meet to exchange ideas, debate and learn about the purpose of art in our lives. You can visit Roland’s website on

 Art in the lives of Black people is a lifetime’s work of Fowokan which I am sure will be a regular subject for discussion around ‘The Blue Loop’.

 [1]Kwame Anthony Appiah (1995) ‘Why Africa? Why Art?’ in Phillips, T. (ed.)

Africa: The Art of A Continent. Royal Academy of Arts 4 October 1995 -21 January 1996.

2MSN Encarta 7/12/08

3 Henry Louis Gates Jr. (1995) ‘Europe African Art and the Uncanny’ in Phillips, T. (ed.)

Africa: The Art of A Continent. Royal Academy of Arts 4 October 1995 -21 January 1996

4 Sanna Jawara, ‘Focus on African Art’, Daily Observer, Gambia, 19th September 2008

5 Henry Louis Gates Jr. (ibid)