In 1995, Gani Odutokun lost his life in a car accident on his way back to Zaria from Lagos where he had attended a workshop. He was a lecturer in the Fine Arts department of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria at the time. But he was more than just a lecturer, he was also the inspiration and the soul of the group of artists that worked and taught with him, and the students who learnt from this group.
Odutokun was born in Ghana in 1946 where he lived until he was 19. He moved back to Nigeria, joined the Fine Arts department of The Ahmadu Bello University and eventually became a lecturer in the department in 1976. He painted the Zaria landscape, he painted his abstract pieces, he painted his kings and queens; and underpinning this output was a constant questioning about life and art.
He appreciated contradictions. A key idea in his art was his belief that life was a constant merger of happenstance and design. To achieve this tension in his art he discarded the easel. He preferred to liquidise his paint and set it free on the canvas. It would create its own pattern and find its own direction. He would then add his touches. He was acutely aware of injustice in the wider society. His ‘king and queen’ series explored the insanity of Nigerian leadership at the time and the delusion of the rulers surrounded by their courtiers.
His life like his art was a mix of accident and design. The event of his passing was sudden and unexpected — an accident of life. Yet his design on that accident, his deep influence on Nigerian art, endures.