INTERVIEW WITH KIP OMOLADE
Kip Omolade began his career as a street artist, soon his technique changed and evolved, enriched by different languages and means of expression, which made him the artist he is today.
In his portraits the techniques and sources of inspiration are many and reveal the will of the Harlem artist to express the human experience to the viewer through the masks that make up his works.
All images © courtesy of Kip Omolade
How did your artistic career start? What prompted you to express yourself through your portraits?
I started as a graffiti artist, but I began my formal artistic career interning at Marvel
Comics and attending The School of Visual Arts. I never felt that I belonged to any
particular discipline, but I was picking up various skills along the way. I didn’t know it at
the time, but portraiture was a way of combining all of my skills and interests. In a single
portrait, I could convey sci-fi metallic characters using traditional oil painting and a
graffiti color sensibility.
In your initial works the masks were inserted into a portrait individually but subsequently began to interact. What pushed you towards this evolution?
I began to use more than one portrait to convey how humans actually interact. In most
portraits, the subject is in solitude perhaps only interacting with the viewer. I love
exploring singular subjects, but I thought using additional characters made the work more
dynamic and realistic. I also started to explore triptych design and the use of three
characters was perfect.
Your works seem to involve several elements. You have stated that you draw a strong inspiration from the masks of the African tradition and in particular from the Nigerian Ife cultures that mix real traits with spiritual ideal; but the influence of street art is also strong. How is this reflected in your works?
The use of bright saturated colors is directly linked to my days as a graffiti writer in the
80’s. To achieve the vibrant look of spray paint in my portraits, I use 3-5 layers of oil
paint. I also use intricate lines and shapes in the reflections on the faces that are similar to
“wildstyle” graffiti lettering.
What do you want your works to communicate to your viewer?
I want my works to show the human experience. I want to show love, grace and dignity. I
want my paintings to convey the past, present and future. I want the viewer to
figuratively see themselves in my work.
If you had to imagine the perfect place to exhibit your works how it would be?What music would immerse the visitor in the right scenario?
I would love to show at the Brooklyn Museum. I lived in the neighborhood since I was a
child. I even lived down the block from the Museum when I became an adult. I would
exhibit my largest canvases which are 13-15 feet long in the entrance and exhibit
different projects in galleries throughout the museum. I think young people of African
descent in the surrounding neighborhood would be inspired if one of their own was able
to show there.
My dad is a jazz musician, so his version of Bolero would immerse the visitors upon
entering. His version has the rhythm and intensity of Ravel but with jazz improvisation.
In your site there is a section dedicated to the creative process; can you explain how it unfolds and in particular how to start the realization of a work?
I’m usually inspired by a woman’s face. Her expression and features dictate the feeling of
the sculpture. Most of my models are women that I know and love. Once a model is
chosen, a mold is made of the model’s face. From the mold, a plaster sculpture is
produced. I sculpt the plaster sculpture to prepare it for another mold. A resin cast is
made and painted with chrome paint. I mount the chrome “mask” against a panel and
photograph it indoors or outdoors. I use the resulting photographs as references for the
painting. The painting can take as long five months depending on the scale and details.
Since I work so long on the sculpture and painting, it’s important that I have an emotional
connection to the person. When you’re sculpting a person’s eyes, nose and mouth you
seem to gain an in depth understanding of their character.
The idea of the mirror is a fundamental concept of your works, can you talk about this aspect?
I’ve been attracted to reflective surfaces since I was a child. When I was still a little boy,
I would hold and examine knives, amazed at all the reflections. My father allowed my
curiosity because he knew I wouldn’t hurt myself. Later I would have that same awe in
seeing comic book characters like the Silver Surfer who had metallic skin. The movie
Terminator 2 was also a major influence. I thought it would be interesting if I could
reproduce the “liquid metal” effect in a painting. Through a lot of trial and error, I
developed a way to paint chrome while maintaining a strong sense of humanity.
Your choice of color is very interesting what moves it? Is it an element suggested from time to time by the subject or something that is independent of it?
The reasons for my choice of color varies. Sometimes it depends on the feeling I get from
the sculpture. A melancholic expression may inspire a blue color range. I may use warm
colors to suggest happiness. Other times I may get inspiration from a child’s toy or a
flower. A combination of purple and red on a cereal box may inspire a painting. I just try
to stay alert to inspiration.
What are your next projects?
I’m working on a series called Luxury Graffiti in which I paint my sculptures against
graffiti backgrounds. I’m also working a series of women in latex body suits. It’s a
departure from portraiture but there’s still use of reflective surfaces.