Portfolio by Ocom Adonias/Introduction by TWR
I Remember Feb. 13, 2023, watercolor, 40 x 30.5 cm

Ocom Adonias was born in Kampala in 1989. He’s been at work since 2012, just before he graduated from Makerere University’s Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts. He was first and foremost a watercolor painter, having majored in this technique, and he felt initially that watercolors would be his bread and butter. The challenge for him was that the artworks he made also had to be framed, to protect their value, yet he lacked the money to do so. He quickly realized that he had to adapt to his means, which meant, unfortunately, that watercolors would  not be his priority.  

Thus, involuntarily, Ocom began making the oil paintings that his peers will be familiar with: from  expressionist pieces to hyperrealist works on large canvases. Notably, in 2018 Afriart Gallery put up Ocom’s multi-media works in a solo show that highlighted his strengths: the fine draughtsmanship, the risk-taking with materials, the storytelling, and an uncanny ability to subvert received narratives. The success of the Who is Your Saint? show, in which he displayed a wash technique that recalled his watercolor skills, took him further away from a possible return to painting pure watercolors.  

But Ocom had an epiphany in early 2023. He revisited his old watercolors, pieces he had buried in a drawer, and was confronted with his tormented genius. Those artworks deserved a better fate, and could he now attempt to resurrect his skill as a watercolor painter? The answer was a resounding yes, even though he found it not so  easy to regain his rhythm. He’s now determined to make watercolors regularly, in addition to his ongoing work with oils. “When I was starting out, I fell in love with watercolor. Now I feel like I abandoned some part of me for the last ten years,” he told TWR. “Because I promised myself that I  am going to paint watercolors, I am going to paint watercolors. But then it wasn’t materializing. So it’s more to do with fulfilment now; there’s that yearning for being who you think you are. I feel that there’s something which describes me as an artist that I find in watercolor.” 

TWR is proud to publish Ocom’s old and new watercolors, all of them having never been exhibited before. Just how good is his work? Take, for instance, “I Remember Feb. 13,” a work of unbearable tension packed into the figure of a damsel who obviously is in some distress. In this painting there’s beauty, there’s passion, there’s tenderness, there’s raw emotion, there’s even instability – and all of these  expressions are emphasized rather than diminished by Ocom’s color scheme. The violet in the background, far from creating a menacing outer scene, in fact allows us a window into the woman’s inner turmoil. There aren’t many serious watercolor painters at work in Uganda today, and the simple truth is  that Ocom’s watercolors are Ocom’s watercolors.  

Ocom asserts that his entire body of work is all about “arguments,” the title he chose for this portfolio. Life for him is one big argument, in the sense of how it’s possible for an artist to be a clarifying force. In other words, as he said, one has got to “make a painting say something” beyond its aesthetic value. “Most times my paintings are arguments,” he told TWR. “I feel the power of an artist is also how to argue out points, but obviously in an artistic sense, about things that affect us as human beings, about our history,  about ideologies, about culture, all those things. And, for me, whenever I am making a painting, the first thing I always think about is, ‘What am I trying to say?’”  

Nudity, both literal and figurative, is a subject that allows this artist “to express power,” more so if and  when “we try to cover it.” Speaking thoughtfully of nudity, he went on, “Amid all these struggles, we have to liberate ourselves. The way we come is the way we go. We come to the world naked, and sometimes we go when we are clothed, but it’s useless to clothe a body that’s not breathing.” 

We invite you to appreciate the pieces in this portfolio for what they are worth, and it’s a lot. While they  aren’t representative of the full range of Ocom’s practice, these watercolors underscore not just his immense potential as an artist but also his honesty as a man. Ocom’s fame may not yet be equal to his talent, but his time will come. ▪