When did you start drawing? Were you naturally attracted to this medium, or is this a more recent concern and engagement?
I started drawing as a child, copying images from magazines and comic books; then moved on to still lives at high school, and eventually studying the human figure in detail from direct observation, at the University of Ife in Nigeria, where drawing was taught as a separate discipline. I have always been drawn to drawing - the immediacy of approach, drawing materials being readily available for use with little or no preparation. Something else I love about drawing is that it requires application of varying degrees of pressure from the hand to achieve a range of light and dark tones, similar to the way a string payer would apply varying arm weights and speeds on the bow to create musical expression.
What do you make of the traditional idea of 'mastery', which despite a lot of innovation, continues to have an ongoing association with drawing.
For me ‘mastery’ is a matter of control: eye-hand-mind control, in such a way that one can use the medium to express a creative intention as precisely as possible. This mastery might mean finding novel ways of using/ manipulating the medium in non-traditional ways to express a personal vi- sion/idea, thus broadening the visual vocabulary of drawing, so to speak.
What is a good drawing? What is a bad drawing?
A good drawing makes one feel ‘something’. It has its own power. It takes one to places in one’s being that are full of energy. A bad drawing just sits there, does nothing, “not even makes eye contact”.
How important is a notion of 'process' in your drawing practice?
Process is so important. Each artist has to find the process that helps his/ her idea to be realized tangibly, and expressed in the most satisfying way. A way of capturing the truth of an aesthetic moment/sensation/concept.
The main theme of our project is 'OnBigDrawings'. What do you make of big drawings / or small drawings, and why does it matter?
The bigger a drawing is, the more its affective presence becomes palpable, and the wider visual as well as traversable space it commands—viewers step into the drawing’s space when they move close to it. Smaller drawings are more intimate because one has to move close to them to appreciate all the details. However, monumentality has nothing to do with the size of the drawing per se, but with the proportional relationship of parts of the drawing. So both big and small drawings can feel monumental.
What kind of relationship do you want your work to have with its audience?
I have a phenomenological approach to art appreciation. I believe that artworks are products of the human psyche and as such each person’s subjective experience affects his/her interaction with the work.
Therefore I would not like to prescribe the way people relate with my work. My intentions for making each work serve mainly towards getting the work created. After that people relate with it on their own terms, bringing their own experiences to bear in that process.
What do you make of small, intimate drawings, sketchbook pages, beer mat sketches, and scribbles. Are these sheets more 'personal' or can they be art?
They can all be art.
The current student generation is hugely influenced by graffiti and Manga culture, as well as a desire to represent things in more classical ways. How do you relate to this trend?
Each generation has a sense of what they consider a significant image, sometimes based on what the prevalent visual culture is, or as a reaction against the dominant culture. Though both reasons are valid, I tend to lean towards the later, as it is more likely to support an original and unique artis- tic vision/voice.
How would you define the fundamental differences between painting and drawing? (A quote: 'A drawing is a painting made with less paint', ... Henry Matisse).
In the broadest, simplest (perhaps simplistic!) sense, a painting is the application of paint to a surface with a tool, whilst a drawing is the dragging of a drawing medium (eg. charcoal, pastel, oil bar, graphite stick etc.) by hand (without the use of a tool like a brush) across a surface to make a mark (or series of marks obviously).
However, the words - drawing and painting, both implying a continuum, are impossible to define (i.e. confine within fixed boundaries). Perhaps it is a bit easier to define what a painting is, drawings are more ubiquitous! Perhaps it is the intension of the artist that can determine whether he/she makes a painting or a drawing. My drawings are often made with pastel and graphite on paper (more recently, mounted on canvas), sometimes with pastel and yarn on paper. They look like paintings with broad areas of colored shapes etc. Perhaps they can be called “painted drawings”.
In 2010/2011 MOMA in New York staged its biggest drawing exhibition of the 20th century, and it was called 'On Line'. Do you think drawing is necessarily just about ‘lines'?
Yes and No. A blue square shape can be made by drawing several blue lines very close together, with a colored crayon. However, a good number of Richard Serra’s drawings are made by pouring molten oil bars onto hand made paper - not drawing a single line.
Asian drawings are known to celebrate a notion of 'emptiness'. Do you seek 'emptiness' in your work?
Yes, but my pursuit of emptiness is in the sense of emptying-out. It shares the same conceptual space with minimalism, but is slightly different. It leaves a feeling of a pregnant or ‘full’ emptiness. My work is about the dualism of the tangible and intangible, objective and subjective, body and mind, the self in portraits. I create spaces that contain the intangible not as emptiness, but containing the unseeable essence of self.
Traditional drawing is a more intimate and 'personal' artform, yet a lot of contemporary art practice seeks a more social and participatory dimension. How is this reflected in your projects and drawings?
My diptych series, the Outer and Inner Head series, has tangible colors in acrylic and yarn on the left panel, and a right panel showing the image on the left panel drawn in clean graphite lines only. The viewer is invited to gaze on painted image on the left for about 10 seconds and then transfer gaze to the center of the drawn panel on the right. The complementary colors would appear in the viewer’s mind’s eye, which are ‘projected’ onto the drawn panel. This visual interactive process essentially involves the neurology of the viewer in the painting process, because it is only after the complementary colors are experienced by the viewer that the work is complete and fully experienced. The drawing on the right panel functions both as a drawing and a field on which the viewer’s psychophysiological experience of seeing an after-image can be ‘projected’. This is another function/ role I have assigned to drawing.
Drawing is often treated as a very technical medium in art education (especially in US art schools). Do you think there could be other ways to teach drawing?
Drawing is usually taught in schools as an object-referenced process, with emphasis on accuracy of recording from observation, verisimilitude, etc, This process has its merits, but perhaps there should be an equal focus on the subjective, an expression of what is felt about/looking at objects, as a basis for making a creative response.
One question foremost on my mind, was: how do the artists respond to Covid-19 and the global crisis, and do you think the new situation has an impact on your creative practice, your exhibitions and projects, and the nature of work being affected by working from home for extended periods of time? Perhaps artists start making smaller scale, more intimate works, made from simpler and easily accessible materials ?
The Covid-19 pandemic has scampered things quite a bit! I was about to start an artist residency at a university in California in March 2020, which could have included a large scale wall drawing. It is now postponed due to the pandemic. There is a shifting opening date for an exhibition I have just curated for the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild here in New York. A local metal fabricator has not been able to make a sculpture piece from the maquette I gave them. The list goes on... I have been working just mainly in my studio.
Perhaps more significantly, in reaction to the doom and gloom brought on by the global health crisis, I find myself exploring visual excitement in colors, and happier subject matter, particularly in my paintings, as a way of engaging with more uplifting thoughts. I started exploring the theme of - Happy Dance, to connect with happier times and as forward looking to the time when the pandemic will be over.
Also, the new globally prevalent mask-wearing culture, a preventive mea- sure against Covid-19, made me start investigating mask-wearing in traditional cultures in Nigeria where I grew up. I had done some work in the past inspired by the Egungun Masquerade. My new series - Masked Heads explores the idea of masking, facial coverings, how facial expressions could be used to mask one’s true feelings, and whether the face itself could mask
one’s true identity. I am fascinated by the way mask wearing at once conceals and reveals - whilst covering up the facial identity of the wearers, reveals something of the subconscious in their presence.