Born in Lagos in 1962 and practicing since 1980, Nwachukwu Ike’s art encompasses drawing, painting and mixed media. While studying Literature in English at the University of Ife, he ventured into the visual arts. He would later graduate from Ife and then, University of Lagos Faculty of Law, to practice as a human rights lawyer for 3 years before moving to the United States which is where he now lives and works.
In this conversation, Nwachukwu Ike tells of his process and rendition as an abstract figurative painter.
What is your process as an artist
My typical process involves pondering on my choice of materials – substrate, pigments or other media. As my subject matter usually revolves around masks/faces/expressions, and as I draw mostly spontaneously and instinctively, I do not focus on figuring out what my subject(s) should look like. Regarding substrates, my choices would encompass archival paper, acid-free canvas, board or wood panels. Regarding pigments, my usual options are high end oils or acrylics. As I incorporate drawing and painting, I throw acrylic markers into the mix as well.
In your works which of these features prominently – people, place or notion?
In my works you will find a plenitude of abstracted or stylised human faces and forms. You may call them people but I have sometimes described them as as “manimals”, i.e. a cross between man and animals. These entities and faces enable me to explore a wide range of human emotions- solitude, companionship, sadness, joy, indifference etc.
Places do not find a substantial representation in my works, the reason being that my art is highly introverted and distilled within a tight internal space not tempered with flora. Within this close-knit space I express the things I behold.
As to notions, I explore the notion of black identity by using the integrity of African masks to examine the distilled collective of African memory, from the mundane to the lofty. I advocate the beauty of the African experience as a totality which carries with it the pain and anguish of history as well as the hope and the beauty of the future.
How much does tradition influence your work?
I have admired a great many Nigerian artist before me. Bruce Onabrakpeya stands out in this pantheon of legends. But there has been no conscious or deliberate effort on my part to imbibe any style or approach associated with any art tradition. I believe my artistic practice has evolved its own reflexive ways of nourishing itself with artistic streams from the past. These artistic streams are not only Nigerian in locale; they are quintessentially African. Traces of aboriginal memories have been attributed to my works.’
Despite being known as an abstract artist, are you able to explore themes in your work? Are the themes of your work largely driven by your experiences? If so, how so? Otherwise, how do you arrive at your themes?
My understanding of the word “experiences” includes that which one has lived through as well as that which one has learned from what others have lived through. And in this age of the information superhighway, we have a more broadened scope of experiences.
The themes of my work come from various sources: direct and indirect experience. Contemplative studies in literature and life, including biographies also provide a treasure trove.
Suffice it to say, my creative process devises its own means of tapping into my reservoir of distilled experiences, personal and otherwise.
- Is there a signature you are known for in rendering your works?
What stand out in my works are the eyes I put in the faces of my subjects. These are bold, distinctive eyes that infuse my subjects with unquestionable spiritual energy. You may also note the full, stylised noses that project the strength and nobility of the African or Black personage.
Another signature associated with my works are split images. I see the human personality not in a unitary simplistic sense but in a more complex dynamic sense, hence my use of split or underlying images to capture this dynamic.
- Your work consistently shows affinity for African masks and multiple images overlapping. Why African masks?
My works show consistent affinity to abstracted human faces which historically have evolved from my interest in African masks. Part of my interest as an artist is to explore as diverse a range of human expressions as possible with a view to rendering as diverse a range of human emotions as I possibly can. This is the focus of my abstract figurative works.
Other subjects I explore in my non- figurative works include forms and patterns in African art. Lately I have been incorporating these into my figurative works.
- What should we look out for about your work in the near future?
In the next year or so, I hope to see my art evolve further, especially in terms of exploring new materials and forms of expression. The dynamics of evolution fascinate me. And in my art, I see a nexus between the familiar and the strange. Within this time frame I would hope that my works would be increasingly familiar to the art- collecting community in Nigeria.
Ike has had 1 solo and four group exhibitions in California, along with participating in numerous art fairs in the US, including the Beverly Hills Art Show, the Pan African Film and Arts Festival, Los Angeles, California, and the Malibu Art Fair in Malibu, California. His works can be found in many private collections in Nigeria, Europe and the United States.
Explore his works here.