Lemi, also called the inventor of ‘Lagos Afro Pop Art’, was born in Lagos in 1955 and has always had a keen interest in art. He had no formal training, but his mother was artistic, as she used to weave and trace drawings, and his sister also used to draw, but never took it seriously.
Lemi says he used to paint Mickey and other cartoons when he was a kid and this shows in his style: a cross between illustration and cartoon, his album jackets displaying a diverse narrative pattern which actually tells the story about the social issues the lyrics of the songs approach. Lemi designed 26 album sleeves for Fela over 19 years. But how did he get to meet the king of Afrobeat?
In 1974, he became friends with Fela through an acquaintanceship with the journalist Babatunde Harrison, who has seen a drawing of Lemi’s in a bar they both used to go to. He asked Lemi to do a portrait of Fela and then gave it to him. The musician was impressed and tried to give Lemi money for it, but he refused it and instead got a pass for all of Fela’s shows.
This was the year of the naming of Kalakuta Republic, so Lemi started frequenting the place and assimilating the ideology, already having a Pan-Africanist mindframe: ‘I spent my life at the Shrine. I worked alone. I did my drawings there’, said Lemi. He was the YAP (Young African Pioneers) news editor, designing 2 cartoons a week (one colour, one black & white) depicting and criticizing what happened over the week, as the organization also used to make ‘subversive’ posters which were banned in 1977.
Once he got into the business, he became quite prolific and now his clientele includes artists from Ghana, Cameroun and beyond. People on rotation at his place include: Ras Kimono, Charlie Boy, Shina Peters, Sunny Ade, Alhaji Kollington, Evi Edna Ogosi, The Mandators , Majek Fashek, Alex O.
He is also into sculptures, public paintings, general graphic works, magazine paste-ups, corporate stationaries and other artistic endeavours.