Westerville News & Public Opinion

Uptown coffee shop hosts artist's exhibit

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This painting by Nigerian-born artist Said Oladejo-Lawal is one of the works on display at Java Central in Uptown Westerville.

Westerville's Java Central may function largely as a coffee shop, but within the walls of the State Street business, an emphasis on supporting the arts separates it from many of its competitors.

This month's featured artist in Java Central's 450-square-foot gallery is Nigerian-born Said Oladejo-Lawal, who produces his art just outside Westerville. Shop owner Ralph Denick called Oladejo-Lawal's work "spectacular."

Oladejo-Lawal works in multiple styles, but each has its own distinct feel. Some of his paintings are "impressionistic abstract landscapes," Denick said, depicting scenes ranging from Nigeria to Sharon Woods or Schrock Road. Others are abstracts with subtle imagery, such as two people kissing, that have to be looked at longer before the viewer notices the subjects.

There are also a series of paintings of a traditional African rider on a horse that remind Denick of the film Hidalgo, based on a similar tradition in Morocco.

"They're action scenes, but very large of Nigerian or Moroccan horsemen riding at you," Denick said. "That's the type that people have really gravitated toward, because they're really well-done, but a totally different style."

A consistent theme of all the paintings is Oladejo-Lawal's use of vibrant colors, whether in a landscape or an abstract.

The focus on developing young artists and musicians is a long tradition at Java Central, where Denick and his late wife, Jane, always tried to cultivate young talent.

"We're very dedicated to Westerville Uptown and the arts," he said. "We've always been really big in promoting people, especially locals."

Since Jane died in January, he has since put a greater emphasis on the art side of his business. Denick said he thinks of it as a tribute to her memory.

"I'm kind of picking up the slack and trying to continue her vision," he said. "She would be very very pleased with (Oladejo-Lawal)."

Jane Denick was a member of the Westerville Visitors & Convention Bureau, which created the Jane Denick Advancement of the Arts Award grant. Her husband is donating a sculpture to Uptown Westerville in her name that will be part of an upcoming public art sculpture tour.

Oladejo-Lawal's art will hang in Java Central, 20 S. State St., through late April. A free public reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. April 26, when Oladejo-Lawal will discuss his art and techniques. His work, which starts at $100, also will be for sale.