Apologies for last week’s break-in transmission.
This week, we return with the story of a true creative. Over the last couple of years, Logor has become a good friend. His depth of knowledge of the creative industry makes him a colorful raconteur. I remember meeting him for the first time at an exhibition of his work and developing an appreciation for the skill with which he has documented the Lagos of our age while getting a taste of the Mercedes Benz showroom treatment that he refers to over the course of our conversation. Logor was one of the people I sought out for this feature because I felt it was important to capture the trajectory of the creative class, the sensitive process of commodifying one’s art, and the soft skills that come with that. It’s a very long conversation but I think it contains some valuable keys to success.
Did you always think you would get to where you are?
It depends on what you mean by where I am.
So you’re this respected artist. One of the best of your generation.
Did I think so? Yes. Was I sure? Was there doubt? Yes. There’s always been a silent conviction that I can make it work. That’s part of how I’m wired. I don’t psyche myself with pessimism at all, no matter the situation. Do I think where I am is undeserving? No! Do I want more? For sure.
When did you make your first million?
That would be technically 2016. That’s exactly a year and four months after I went pro.
How did you do it? What was the process?
Funny enough, the payment came almost a year after the job. You know my project, Monochrome Lagos- a major Art Consultant was consulting for Alara at the time and she was seeking advice from some random young people. My friend told her to look me up. So this day, I’m covering an exhibition at Radisson and my friend comes up to me like “The woman I was telling you about is here” and introduced me to her. She was like “Yo! What is it that you do? I’ve heard a lot about your work. What are you doing here?” So I told her that this was one of my side gigs- covering events but my primary focus was Monochrome Lagos. She sold me on the space- it being designed by David Adjaye and all that but I wasn’t really washed.
Why? Had you been burnt?
I had just left my surest career path in Real Estate so I was basically bottom level. I had left the desk, the car, the house so I was back to squatting with friends. I was shooting 24/7 so it’s either I was doing the black and white thing or I was covering events- and I wasn’t covering events like weddings. I was covering strictly art-based events cos it was a way to understudy the game. I was not burnt per se but I was not sure of the scale of what she was describing because I was new at it. Even if the names sounded important, I was still a bit cynical.
I sent her a folder of my images and she ended up creating a very interesting collage of my work. It was one of the first artworks you saw at Nok by Alara. We did that collab and she funded the creation of the work. Normally, artists are supposed to fund themselves but I told her “This thing is running over N400k and I barely have that type of overhead” but she really believed in the work and wanted it to go up so we made it happen. The initial conversation was that the work would be placed there from a sale standpoint so that if people see it, they can then request to purchase via a secondary sale. It wasn’t supposed to be sold to Alara.
What is a secondary sale?
A secondary sale is you see the piece, I can’t sell you the one on that wall. I’ll sell you another one through Alara so they’ll earn a commission off it as you’re selling on the back of their credibility which is in turn giving you allure. A lot of that did not happen though because people were not going to Nok thinking of buying art. They probably just thought it was the decor. That was a win eventually as it put me on the radar of Reni Folawiyo. A couple of years later, she wanted to change the decor in the space and she asked me if I had new work. Now, anytime she wants to replace my work, she asks me for new work. So I asked her “what’s going to happen to the existing piece?” She replied asking me what had been agreed with the consultant who was no longer in the picture. So I reached out to her and she said “You could sell it outrightly to her” and offered to propose that. She sent me an estimate but I didn’t have the confidence to back the figure. It was a valid estimate but at this point, the impostor syndrome and self-doubt started to kick in. There was also a fear that this was influenced by the commission she was going to earn so I reappraised the figure based on my own maths: Career, Edition, the type of work on the wall, the size of work on the wall. This was the first time I stopped and did the math because this was not just 1 work. It was 45 pieces. My math was a bit shy of N1.5m.
So you could have gotten more money?
By a mile but that was not what it was about. The respect of being given first right of refusal was what I needed at the time in terms of building credibility. So giving credence back to the question of if I thought I’d be here, for me it was not about money. It was about a sense of establishing a sense of authority within our small art space. Mrs. Folawiyo agreed to pay and I moved on from the conversation. One random day, I’m with my babe and the alert comes in. It was the biggest sum I’d ever gotten at the time.
In this story, something that strikes me is that it took about a year for the money to come through. How did you survive in that period? How did you manage it in a way that did not affect the relationship?
No. Again, the practicing career I had found myself had a lot of space for experiments. So I was not necessarily tied to only a studio creation as a photographer. So while I was waiting for the money to drop, I was doing a host of other things. I just mentally blocked it. I was in steady conversation with the consultant and there was always the ray of light of new gigs to keep me distracted.
To what you’re asking, yes there’s something about Lagos where if you’re not careful or know how to wait, you’ll strain the relationship. From my corporate experience, I could count on a number of times when we had been sure a deal was going to go through and things would fall through so I just stayed patient.
What would you say are the secrets of your success?
Success as for where I am right now has been a lot of not stopping. I don’t necessarily take a day off. There are no days off. As you saw when I parked my car, my camera was right next to my seat which means anytime I’m driving and I see something, I stop to shoot.
The core deliverable that I bring to the world is my art so as long as I do not stop creating I constantly have something fresh that can give me either a place to participate or revenue so naturally I don’t stop or catch my breath and I haven’t since I started.
There’s also a lot of cross-culture collabs. Not even necessarily collabs, but like I’m not doing one thing. I work about 4-5 jobs in Lagos, as you know and they’re all tied around creative solutions. I work on film sets as a project manager on some of the biggest music videos in the country. I help international publications find access to neighborhoods that they want to tell stories in. All of which is possible because I was shooting street photographs. From the photography job to the creative director job to market research and consumer insights, all of that keeps me on my toes and they’re all hugely exciting which gives me the opportunity to know Lagos in ways most people would never because they don’t have the time or might be too exhausted to attempt. I guess if you know a city like that on that level, opportunities would come to you.
How much of it is the opportunity coming to you or you chasing the opportunity?
I went pro in October 2014 so I would say between October 2014 and early 2018, I was going at everything. Things just started coming to me from mid-2018. So I paid my dues and now I’m consolidating. Things I was good at, I have become very good at and created an underlying structure for. Because of the structure, people are referring me.
One of the things I find very interesting about you is that you’re an artist who has a business mind. Talk to me about the process of commercializing your art.
I studied the game. I did not just wake up and say “I take good photographs. Come and buy my photographs”. The first thing I did was ask: is there even a place to sell this work? Who are the people buying the work? What’s the general ecosystem of that space like? I understudied what Lagos had as a form of the art world. I studied what the temperament of the space is so I would not be disappointed or underestimate myself.
The second thing I did was to make the people that matter respect me. It wasn’t a case of sitting in the corner like this people would acknowledge me. A lot of people who sell or have sold for me got a lot of cold emails. I was never shy about selling as an artist soon as I understood who was buying or who was selling. If you showed up at my exhibition, I would talk to you like you were about to pay for the work. So telling you the backend story of why I created the work so you could find the value. That was very important to me. As someone who listens to a lot of hip hop, I’d say you have to be the tooter of your own horn. You can’t do it from a place of insecurity and insecurity only comes if you don’t think you have a good product. So what I did first was pay my dues, know what I was creating and why it was better than everybody’s shit then aggressively sell it without fear. At that point, people who were buying were a bit embarrassed ‘cos I’d corner them at my exhibitions and court them in a way that they would never have expected. They can tell that “this person is selling”. It’s different to what they expect from the typical laidback artist. At the early stage, I did not get good feedback ‘cos some of them felt it was a bit too aggressive or I was taking the job out of their hands as a gallery. But I knew for sure where I was operating. Again, I said understand the market. Nigeria is a place that naturally respects hustle. What that hustle looks like is a sure sense of confidence and knowing your shit. Soon as I had that going for me and I know you have the funds and the appetite for that type of work, why should I hold back? I was in people’s faces. I was sending emails. I was showing up to exhibitions. If you met me in a random social situation, 10 minutes later I was selling my work to you. That was my natural disposition. I was fortunate enough to find people who didn’t find it offensive. For them, it was refreshing because these people were spending a lot of money on art and didn’t feel like they were getting a sense of respect from the artist.
So the artists were just looking at them as customers?
Yes! You have to understand that this is a place with tight income. We’re not a super-rich city so if someone creates room for appreciating a certain aesthetic and they put it in their home, they want to know they got value. And anytime they look at a piece, they want to understand the value they got. It could come in the form of personal respect they were accorded through the gallery or insights they were allowed by the artist. If you notice, sometimes collectors invite artists for lunch and dinner- that’s them making extra effort to yank out value from you. I took it upon myself to give that Mercedes Benz salesman effort there and then. Sometimes, if I have your email address I make the effort of sending you a written note of conversation style background of what you’re getting. That way, I’m proving to you that I’m not wasting your own time and I’m not wasting my own time.
What experience(s) would you say have shaped your financial attitude?
The way I dropped when I left my 9-5, I did not see it coming. I left with a bit of confidence that the finances I had could weather some storms. First of all, I did not know how expensive life was because you are shielded by sitting in an office. If you have to drive to work every day and your biggest expense is your lunch and fuel and at most, you go out on Friday night with your guys and you’re splitting the bill for those bottles, you’re shielded from a lot of overheads which as a business owner you have to face up to. From having to pay your light bills or internet bills at short notice because you’ve been enjoying it at someone else’s expense or just covering rent. All of that at once wiped out the savings I thought I had. When I got back on my feet again, I was used to going broke so I was paranoid about never going back there.
I work 4-5 jobs. 2 out of those jobs I don’t touch the income that comes from them, no matter how broke I am. Pay cheques from my art go untouched too. I’ll rather fend off my fixer roles, my market research roles, project management roles than spend my art money. I’ll rather commit that lump sum into some serious asset. I don’t live above my means. If I’m making 100%, I live on 40%.
What is your basic business philosophy?
The only thing you can’t control is death so play the longest game possible. Don’t for anyone single reason stop building. Instead of trying to earn, I build. I drew a tree when I was 23 with a list of things I wanted to create by the time I’m 50 and they look like investments in specific industries and that has been my mindset. My business philosophy is to build first then earn later.
What was the most challenging period of your career?
October 2014. I just decided I wanted to quit my job. This was pure impulse. I was at the Shrine when I made that call. I was shooting Felabration and I was just sat there standing on a chair mind-blown by the crowd. I said to myself “All these people are here because this guy said yes to himself. Fuck this! I’m saying yes”.
At the time, I was living with my aunt cos my parents live in Ondo. The job I had was pretty good and it was this same aunt who got me the job ‘cos she had a personal relationship with my boss. Out of loyalty to my boss, she had no choice but to kick me out. I had thought worst-case scenario, I’ll be staying with my Aunty and have savings for the rainy day. I’ve never seen 1 million go out that fast. Fortunately, I was too knee-deep to stop.
Do you believe in retirement?
Yes. I always say I want to get rich and be eccentric in peace. Think Lenny Kravitz. It’s a different type of retirement for creatives ‘cos you can’t really close shop. I have a huge passion for cultural projects because they’ll be like retirement plans because they’ll be done with ease. But actual retirement from knocking on doors and aggressive selling I will back off after a while.
What would post-retirement life be like for you?
I’m very family oriented so I’m thinking about being there for my kids almost to the point of annoying them.
I’m from a riverine area of Ondo which has largely been affected by the Niger Delta and oil damage and this has influenced the career choices of the people there. If you’re educated enough, you’ll become a Politician or Teacher- very specific paths. Things like moving to a place like Lagos is hinged around a support system. I’ve always thought of a solution like building what I’ll call a safe house- a series of apartment complexes across the city that serves as a pipeline so that when they graduate from university they can settle in urbane places for a year or two and then proceed to set out on their own. The idea is to offer a launching pad because it’s something I wish I had.
Have you made any pension provision?
Not the typical way. I’m invested in mutual funds and property. I see some people speak against property but I’ll rather buy land somewhere in Ikorodu or Akure and know that it’s there.
Also, remember I’m creating art. The archive I’m building on Lagos which is going to be 10 years- I’m 6 and a half years in- by the time it’s done as a 10-year project, it will be a worthwhile body of work.
Do you believe in leaving everything to children?
Who else now? Children, where I’m from, is not tied to people you give birth to. It’s your community. Everything I do or I’m going to do is so they have someone they can point fingers to and be proud of. Someone they can emulate based on a different career path entirely. The last artists from where I’m from are Ben Tomoloju and Tola Wewe. Those were the people who gave me the confidence to try it. If not for them, my dad would probably have slapped me like “Ogbeni better figure out what you’re trying to do”.
Did you have any mentors?
Yeah! There are real mentors and imaginary mentors.
Jay Z is the number 1 imaginary mentor. His portfolio illustrates what it means to be young, black, gifted and excellent at craft and building something with credibility- You’re not just using big words to describe what you’re going to do, you’re backing it up with proof and portfolio is proving it and you’re rising in a world that naturally has created a glass ceiling for black people. For me, I’m literally going through that motion from third world Africa. Whether it sounds defeatist or not, I’m coming from Nigeria and trying to become one of the most influential artists in the world, you think that would just fall on my laps? Seeing folks like him that did it and not on destructive paths like the Basquiats. Every spiritual philosophy we adopt in the world literally has it written in their creed that “Ask and it shall be given unto you” and “If you want it, put it out in the universe” and Hip Hop crystallized it. I like it ‘cos it keeps me on my toes and doesn’t restrict me to Nigerian aspiration only.
Real mentors- I often avoid calling their names. I didn’t seek them out. They were people who watched from the sidelines and offered to guide. Reni Folawiyo’s not only someone who has bought my work over the years, she’s sponsored me for courses or emailed so, so, so person who’s a legend in the world of the arts and that person becomes a friend and they feed growth.
There’s this other person who works in Tech that has been a major financier. When I say major financier, you’ll think he’s buying artwork. As you know, I do some VR work- I did some VR films for Google last year. To go from doing an Art Residency in VR to creating VR films for Google looks like a very aspirational work but the truth is somebody paid for the courses between the residency in Cape Town to the Google work that I never announced to the world. I was taking a lot of online courses, I was doing courses to the tune of $3,000 to $5,000 without one signature on a piece of paper. Just based off belief like I’m seeing what this guy is doing and I want to support it.
These are people who are very quiet and I assume they do that intentionally so I don’t like saying their names. You also don’t want to put them on a pedestal of someone that can help everybody.
In the game, I admire Steve Babaeko. I’m a huge fan of what he has built not only because I watched from far but I was once his wife’s photography assistant. Remember I told you I drew a tree? To see a chain of his operations and how they’ve come into the marketplace is mind-blowing. One of the caps I wear is Consumer and Market Research. When you see ambassadors for Pernod Ricard and all these huge campaigns, I have been crucial in the groundwork that led to that. However, Steve Babaeko’s company handles some of the PR so in most of the strategy sessions I sit in there with him. Let me tell you a small story. When I was working as Yetunde Babaeko’s assistant, there was one particular event we did at Terra Kulture – it was for X3M Music. We were responsible for photography. My boss did not know I was living in Agbara. She gave me the job because she thought I was living in Yaba. The income was lean. There were three of us and I was the bottom feeder. As she gave me salary, it was basically out. On this day, I saw that anytime Steve is about to get into his car every living being around there gets something. He probably does not know this but this day, I was standing there while he was about to get into the car. We were the photographers from his wife’s studio so he identified me and gave me N7,000. That money was the exact chunk of money I had seen four days before. Four days before, I had been strolling from Ikeja to Surulere. I can’t say what my salary was then but if I paid tithe it would not have been more than that N7,000. He did not know that all that time I was aware of his empire and I was admiring that. So when I was standing there I was lost in the thought of “This guy just did a gig for X3M Music while coming from his day job at X3M Media”. So when he gestured to me, it felt like an acknowledgment. Then years later, we’re sitting in a strategy session and our voices overlapped and we started gisting direct. This day I remember us discussing Nigeria and someone was talking about wanting to japa. Steve was like “Brother, free this gist. You know wetin some of us don go through”. Somehow, he sunk his journey into a 25-minute conversation. He broke it down to show us that there were no hoops and was like “We’re earning 4 billion after tax. Do you think I’d get that anywhere in the world?” When he touched on that, nothing affirmed the journey more for me. Five years earlier, I was collecting handouts from him and now I was sitting in meetings with him as a contemporary. In that same moment, he’s telling me what the next journey will be which is also affirming my next journey.
Do you indulge yourself? How?
I am bohemian at heart so my indulgences are more experiential. So the wildest indulgence I did was buying a car a week to COVID because Uber wouldn’t work. I could afford to do it earlier but I go out and I get drunk. I’ve had nasty accidents in the past so as long as Uber can get me to my junction, I can stagger home. When it dawned on me that I needed to shoot ‘cos I had 4 agencies waiting on me for pictures, I just went and bought the car.
The other indulgences are buying my parents expensive gifts or buying myself a nice pair of shoes which I then proceed to wreck.
Your most prudent investment?
My first camera and car.
Who are five people you’ll love to see answer these questions?
Emmanuel Oyeleke can offer credible insight. Steve Babaeko. A senior artist like Victor Ehikhamenor.