The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday April 2nd

Unseen Artist, Unmistakable Art

Recognizing Tola Oguntoyinbo's artwork is like knowing lyrics to a song you can't actually remember hearing before.

From a Franklin Street bar to a Carrboro car wash, finding his colorful paintings in the community is easy. But his works aren't often connected, and he often goes unnoticed.

One just needs to look no further than the walls of the Blue Marlin Pub, Smoothieville, Carolina Car Wash, Jersey Mike's or the Pit to realize that one man is behind them all.

"Painting is a lot like eating to me - it's the same principle," said Oguntoyinbo, a 26-year-old UNC graduate. "I have to do it."

His artwork combines simplicity and sophistication. He uses vivid primary colors and bold images in some paintings, then only pastels in others. Occasional combinations of texture, with a mixture of abstract and surrealist elements, create various visual experiences.

Many of Oguntoyinbo's paintings have a similar theme, using palm trees and natural settings as a background for their intricate symbolism.

"I think it's colorful and thoughtful and definitely unique," he said. "It has the ability to appeal to a wide range of people."

The audience also doubles as inspiration. "I take my influences from a lot of different places, especially people," he said. "Those who are persistent and persevere, have a goal and are not willing to quit, mean a great deal to me."

Oguntoyinbo began painting 12 years ago and hasn't lost his passion since.

His parents are from Nigeria, but he grew up in Beaufort, S.C. After attending boarding school in Massachusetts, he came to UNC and graduated in 1996.

Four years later, Oguntoyinbo is leaving a mark on UNC's campus -most recently with his mural in the Pit.

The mural combines many aspects of Oguntoyinbo's style - descending rivers, islands, trees and a door in the middle that sparks introspection in determining its meaning.

"I wanted the piece to be colorful and easy to look at on first glance. The door lets you ask yourself, `exactly where are you?'" Oguntoyinbo said. "It's from a surrealist viewpoint and all things in it make sense and tie together, but everything is not always pleasant."

A friend on the summer Carolina Union Activities Board gave him the chance to liven up the Pit.

"I know a lot of great people in the community who have helped me get exposure," he said. "They've really been supportive and helped me get some great opportunities to display my work."

Recently, Oguntoyinbo's work has been featured in Pepper's Pizza, Crook's Corner and the Union Art Gallery.

Local businesses are pleased with having Oguntoyinbo's art on their walls.

"He did a great job," said Bruce Tucker, manager of Carolina Car Wash. "Kids really love it. Parents are always coming in because their kids said the outside looked cool and they wanted to go in.

"He's real particular about his finished product, and it always comes out great."

To date, Oguntoyinbo has completed about 400 paintings, selling them for anywhere from $100 to $3,000.

"It takes me anywhere from a day to a year to finish a painting," he said, "I've got paintings in all different ranges of completion."

Smoothieville owner Jim Milliken said Oguntoyinbo's work is a big topic of discussion. "People really think it's interesting. They talk about it all the time," he said. "It's obvious to everyone that he's really talented."

Outside of painting, Oguntoyinbo works as a Web designer for Academic Technology & Networks and is in the process of applying for admission to the Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Although painting full-time is appealing to him, Oguntoyinbo insists he won't be making the transition any time soon.

"I don't know what I'd like to do in the future," he said. "I know way too many struggling artists who paint full-time right now. We'll just have to wait and see."

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