In The Studio With Yinka Ilori

Recently named one of London’s most influential people by the Evening Standard, artist Yinka Ilori is known for his eye-popping, bold and playful designs grounded in both personal narrative and heritage.

The North London–raised visionary studied furniture and product design at London Metropolitan University and has since transformed discarded and secondhand chairs into work inspired by the Nigerian parables told to him as a child.

Ilori tells A/D/O what captivates him about the hidden emotional histories of chairs — taking us through both his studio and artistic process in tandem. “We kind of take chairs for granted. When you sit on the train or in a café — [...] these chairs have different emotions and feelings —and we don’t know what this chair has soaked in.”

Ilori’s breakthrough 2015 exhibition, “If Chairs Could Talk,” perfectly encapsulates his trademark aesthetic: Five chairs, elaborately decorated with mixed textiles and colors, represent the stories of five friends Ilori grew up with on a council estate, where the effects of institutionalized racism were widely felt.

Ilori often starts his projects using free association, linking themes with the colors and visual moods a subject may invoke. As such, most chair designs tend to be one-offs, with the artist’s materials of choice ranging from Dutch wax prints and Nigerian fabrics to Swiss voile lace.

This past year, however, has seen Ilori shift design trajectories. A LIFEWTR bottle redesign for Freize 2018 and an Adidas commission for a World Cup–themed bench made of recycled plastic are just some of his latest collaborations. Ilori has also recently won two distinguished competitions in the city to begin work next year: a bid to overhaul the gloomy Thessaly Road underpass in South London to be called “Happy Street;” and the second iteration of the Dulwich Pavilion, a temporary visitor center outside the Dulwich Picture Gallery, for which Ilori has proposed a Lagos market–style geometric structure called “Color Palace.”

Film and Images by Frederick & Edward Paginton

Text by Meredith Lawder