Michael Igwe: As Sparks Fly Upward: Los Angeles

Rele Gallery Los Angeles is pleased to present As the Sparks Fly Upward a solo exhibition featuring the works of Lagos-based contemporary artist Michael Igwe. This is Igwe’s debut exhibition in the Los Angeles space and will be on view from September 17th, 2022 through October 18th, 2022. 

In As the Sparks Fly Upward, Igwe uses paint as a medium to invite his audience to find solace in this often unrelenting world – particularly in Nigeria’s unremitting and stifling socio-political climate. His paintings reflect on life’s commonalities and complexities. He describes his featured works as a manifestation of “permanence and striving;” striving to make the best with the cards one is dealt amidst the permanence of life’s oscillation between challenge and upliftment.


Process is essential to Igwe’s practice. He has learned to engage in conversations with his medium, allowing the paint to simultaneously extract from him and absorb him. As a result, he channels powerfully, evocative and intuitively emotive paintings that are emblematic of his surrender to the process. As the Sparks Fly Upward speaks to distilled memories and collective existentialism. In this body of work, Igwe compresses moments and experiences into the paintings, pulling from personal experiences as well as his practice of observing people. 

This series is a continuation of previous works, showcasing obscure silhouetted figures primarily rendered in hues of dark browns, yellow ochres and merlot reds – a choice initially driven by necessity and accessibility rather than aesthetic. He methodically mixes colors to achieve rich and distinctive shades. His presented works showcase even darker color schemes with the addition of abstract paintings. These abstract works function as extensions to his figurative works, providing nuance to the transmission of his lived experiences while inviting viewers to do the same.


As the Sparks Fly Upward also draws from Igwe’s experience during the two-week-long End Sars protest that took place in Nigeria in October of 2020, which ended in several fatalities due to the Nigerian army opening fire on peaceful protestors. For Igwe, the experience ignited questions around passing responsibility, uncertainty and personal achievement. One specific question: “do you ever think there will be a time when people in Nigeria can actualize their dreams and live to their full potential?” is foundational to the conceptualization of his paintings. For Igwe, this question is ultimately unanswerable and has been a topic of discussion for decades. Nevertheless, As the Sparks Fly Upward is an aspirational statement encouraging a deliberate fight against life’s constants, which have no remedy, and a reflection on what is important. He hopes these works will allow people to find common ground through the diversity of the human experience. Igwe’s Los Angeles debut follows his most recent exhibition at The Armory Show in New York.