Studio Tablinum: Osita Nwankwo is an important London artist who, whit his African and Caribbean origins, created spectacular pictures not only for the subjects and colours but most of all for the way in which he paints his canvases.
He is not only a great artist but also “a child with brown skin in a mostly white city” and so, could -a person like him- not create particular and originals paintings?
Let’s discover him throught that interview!
“I would like to know something about your life: your origins are African but now you live in London, that’s right? Why?”
“I was born in Liverpool and grew up in Liverpool and Yorkshire. My father was a Nigerian Igbo doctor who came to England from Russia where he studied during the Nigerian Civil War. The Biafra war was still running during the time of my birth and the Igbo’s suffered terribly. My mother was from Guyana in South America. My parents always planned to relocate the family to Nigeria but it never happened and subsequently I grew up English.
As my parents were professionals we were very middle class; which was unusual for a black child in Liverpool at the time. I was sent to a private school started in 1620 as the only black child to have entered the school for my education. I left Liverpool at 19 to study in London.
As a poet I have travelled around North and South England and Wales. I have lived in Bristol and Bath and Manchester and Carlisle on the Scots boarder. I have visited art galleries throughout England and Europe. I would say I am a child of the moon landing, a new universal citizen: as much European as African or Caribbean.”
“What do you think about Africa now that you live in London? Do you miss your homeland?”
“Life in London has brought me into the company of many hundreds of people from all over Britain, Europe and the World. I have visited Nigeria twice and America twice to see my mother’s family. In fact my father lived in Nigeria since I was eleven. I have lived in different communities in English cities and London including Indian, Hasidic Jewish English and now very multicultural including lots of Europeans. I don’t miss anywhere, but I am more inclined to travel to France than Nigeria.”
“How and when do you discover the passion for paint?”
“I remember painting at primary school with blocks of watercolour. And also painting my toy soldiers with enamel paints. There were always crayons, felt tips, and watercolours, and pencils to hand when I was a child. My mother was very much into craft and making things rather than art. I have travelled so much on a low budget and experienced so many things I hunger to express myself. For years I did this through poetry but eventually the sensuality of colour and light and the body compelled me to paint.”
“I have seen in your website that you write poems and make photos, between these different ways of expressing your inwardness; what do you prefer?”
“Poetry was my first art. I suppose I drew pictures as a baby, but I was first conscious of creating art when I wrote a poem at seven. I suppose my inner voices have always compelled me to write poetry. But I have always loved colour, texture and material; especially in my clothes and in nature. Just being a child with brown skin in a mostly white city makes one very aware visually.”
“I would like to know something about your paintings; by which artists have you been more impressed? ( If you get inspiration by someone else!)”
“So many artists have impressed upon my art. Originally when I was a child there were prints by Rembrandt and Van Gogh in our house. And African masks and sculpture by the Igbo.
I love the renaissance in Italy- Roman, Florentine and Venetian art. I have always loved ancient Egyptian art and Roman mosaics. Dutch masters of light and moody Spanish art.
I also have a love of French eighteenth and nineteenth century painters- the Barbizon school, the Impressionists and Post Impressionist and German Expressionism such as Nolde.
I respect all the modern art movements of the twentieth century and feel liberated as a contemporary 21st century painter to paint how and what I want as naively or colorfully or as plainly as I feel.”
“Seeing your paintings I note that your manner of paint changes and creates something like three different periods, Why?”
“I initially started to draw in November 2003 after having written visual poems on typewriters; electric and manual for over ten years. I progressed through various techniques of painting very rapidly and tried to paint as much as I could. I try to create in a varied way and have used different materials and surfaces. And on a large, and small scale. Now I am working on canvas and on paper. I think both these mediums very important to what I want to do with paint. I also work on boards I find in the street from old furniture in oil paint.”
“Is there something of Africa in your paintings? ( in colours, lines, shades)”
“It wouldn’t be fair to say something of Africa alone. There is something of Liverpool and the North of England in my work. There is also something of London in my painting and my poetry. There is a lot of magic in art and that is universal. I can’t say which elements of my art are taken from where, but certainly I have been influenced and even bombarded by many stimulus. I have the heart of an Englishman and the soul of an African.”
“What are your favorite subjects to paint?”
“I take my subjects from my imagination; drawing on my experiences. I have been moved by people I have known especially women to paint certain things; but also neighbours and the movies and television and music. And also nature and my main subject now I suppose the light. But unlike Gerhard Richter who said his art was not about painting but the image. My art is not about the image but painting.”
“And now the last question: what are you painting now?”
“I am painting figuratively, painting naively on paper in oil paint and pastel. And also portraits in oil paint and pastel on canvas. Sometimes I use pavement chalk and turn them into a paint. My main theme at the moment is sensuality. The body in all its dimensions. I am trying to use softer colours, pinks and greys, and juxtapose earth and primary and secondary colours. And balance the light.”
I would like to remember you -dear Readers- that he will expose his canvases in Villa Carlotta, near the lake of Como, at the end of July. It will be a great exposition and a good occasion to know this great artist.
Thank you Osita.
Osita Nwankwo was born in Liverpool, England. An artist and poet, Osita studied MA in creative writing at Bath, Spa University in 1996, specialising in Poetry and started actively painting in 2004. In 2011, Osita completed his MA Fine Art at City and Guilds of London Art School, with commendation, becoming the winner of The Harriett Anstruther Prize for best work of art for his MA Graduation show. Osita’s paintings are a figuration of colour and texture, abstracted like his poems – depicting the streets, urban settings, nature and human interaction in relation to the art and poetry that creates a living space within society as he knows it in England. By extension Osita’s painting represents a narrative of his own sense of well being, identity and longing, in the context of society and the individual. Osita’s works in their composition reflect elements of Chance and Reflection. This is the same chance that takes place in musical composition; and the same reflection that takes place in literary composition. This is painting as poetry; each a separate and unique piece. “My paintings tend to be figurative and are captured in much the same way that a photograph captures and frames a collection of objects and light: the difference being the power to abstract these images and change colours and intensity within this light”. Osita is influenced by London as a city, where he has been residing since 1988, and the works of Shakespeare, and artist such as Cy Twombly-the myth of the modern, Gerhard Richter, Frank Auerbach, Lucian Freud, Euan Uglow and Julian Schnabel
Spot Light- Arc Gallery London
Artist Resident 2012-2014
Mostra Collettiva “Alhambra” Roma, Domus Talenti, Febbraio 2014
End of Winter Nudes and Landscapes,
Bernie Grant Arts Centre February 2014
The Framers Gallery, London, September 2013
Exhibition of new paintings 2012 Livingstone Studio in Hampstead MA Fine Art Show 2011
– MA creative writing MA Fine Art Painting Commendation
– Harriet Anstruther Award for Artistic Excellence
– Fellow of the Royal Society of encouragement for the Arts, Commerce and Manufacture.