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In Conversation with artist Kip Omolade

Words by Siobhan Ryan

 

 

 

Siobhan Ryan: I’ve read a lot into your background as an artist, and your time interning at Marvel, what kind of influence has this had on the work you create?

Kip Omaolade: One of the things that Marvel, well, one of the things I learned at Marvel was that I didn’t want to be a comic book artist. But, the aesthetics of different sci-fi characters directly relate to the way that I look at my own self portraits. A lot of the times at Marvel they have metallic looking characters, they have like a field of er, say like the silver surfer’s a character where his skin is made up of a metallic a kinda reflective surface. And what I’m painting now it’s directly related to that.

S: The process behind your paintings is quite a lengthy one, could you talk us through that process?

K: Usually when I have a model I cover the models face with,er, a mould its a liquid mould that solidifies into a rubber, and with that mould I create a plastic mould, I sculpt that plaster part, I sculpt the eyes…some people think that, er, I force people to keep their eyes open, it’s impossible haha. So I sculpt the eyes and refine parts of the face. And from that plaster sculpture I then make another sculpture out of plastic, and I paint that with a special chrome paint. Then I use that model as a starting point to paint from. It’s complicated but…

 

S: It seems so lengthy, but it’s so cool the way it therefore looks like a sculpture mounted on a painting when you see the photos of your work…

K: Yeah, one of the problems is that people do think I’m mounting a sculpture onto a wall.

S: You use light a lot in the work to mould the way the colour is painted in the portraits, could you talk me through the symbolism, and importance of light and colour in your pieces?

K: Erm really, I look at light but I look at colour a little bit more. When I was younger I was a graffiti artist in New York city, and one of the things in New York City at the time was that it was quite dark and grimy; there’d be these subway cars that would have beautiful artwork on them and they seemed to capture light in a way. So with the paintings I’m trying to get that sense of colour, and of course light is a part of colour so it just became quite an organic thing, this use of light…when I’m looking at sculptures I try to light them from above so it has this sort of cathedral effect.

 

 

S: Through the way you’re photographing these reflective objects you’re somewhat embedded in them as it’s your reflection in the photo, although this can be unavoidable is there a symbolism to it?

K:  Sure I mean in the beginning I tried to lock myself out, so in some pieces you only see sort of abstract colours. But as I sort of presented myself within the portraits I thought it was 1) interesting, and then started to think who is this guy? So I started to explore my own presence. So… What you see in those early portraits is a direct link to what I’m exploring now.

S: What drove you toward making self portraits?

K: Well I always thought there should be a balance, between images of women and images of men. I just thought it was organic that this should start with me as the artist. I think self portraits have been really important for any artist- take Picasso or Rembrandt, or even contemporary artists like Jeff Koons, or artists like Andy Warhol…and I just wanted to be a part of that conversation. I wanted to talk about myself as an image- like what does it mean for an African American male to be part of the pantheon of self portraits in art history?

S: I’d like to discuss this link you cite between your chrome sculptures and ancient West Africa?

K: So when I went to art school most representations of African Americans, or even the artwork from African Americans was always seen to be ‘primitive,’ or always had to relate to urrr say the Civil Rights Movement…which is you know very important. But when I saw the African sculptures from Ife, I just saw a direct link to the way I look at art- I like the realist approach but also I like the spiritual side of it. And I felt like that became part of my tradition, and well, I was part of that tradition… I just didn’t really realise it. It was a connection that I had that I didn’t even know existed until I saw those pieces.

S: What was your aim in utilising this West African tradition in your work?

K: One of my primary aims was just to link everyone, I want everyone to be able to see themselves in my portraits. The initial idea behind my art was to show that as…as a humanity there’s this universal conversation that we’re having when we see each others faces. And then of course to use these iconic almost God-like images to show that people of colour could have importance: we could be, well, we could connect to Egyptian art, or connect to  the sculptures of Easter Island. I just wanted to, I like that sense of scale. But also using African features as part of that conversation, it’s just a way of expanding that conversation, about what does it mean to be a human being today, or yesterday, or tomorrow?

S: On your website you discuss trying to paint your soul. I’d love to delve into this and discuss how you’ve gone about this mammoth task of painting your soul, but equally connecting humanity in your work?

K: Well, in some of my pieces I talk about the likeness, and trying to capture a likeness but as I’ve been painting the portraits, my self portraits, it has come to be, to me, a little more abstract. I mean I’ve been loosening up with colours, and looking more and more into the mood…Not specifically a place, or the time, like in the pieces where I’m in Times Square and you can see the reflection, or erm I’m In other locals and you can see the reflection. This was [the self portraits] have been more abstract to me somehow, since there’s less detail in terms of a reflection it just seemed more ghost- like in a lot of ways.

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