Nigerian painter Okoye Chukwuemeka John presented a new body of work that probes into moments of peace, fatigue, joy, overwhelm, perseverance, sadness, and love. These are experiences common to all of humanity. The artist presents twelve figurative paintings where his ability to turn human emotions into striking portraits was on view to his growing audience of fans and collectors.
The opening reception was filled with clamor as viewers of Okoye’s work were astonished by his high-level painterly abilities. His use of the brush, palette knife, and multiple layers of oil paint to capture the essence of his muses is an ode to Okoye’s commitment to strive for brilliance in his artistic prowess.
Since Okoye’s successful debut group exhibition in the fall of 2022 at Mitochondria Gallery, his classical realism portraits enamored art lovers, collectors, and critics from Africa to Asia, Europe, and North America. He has also caught the eye of frontier figurative painters such as Kehinde Wiley and Oluwole Omofemi. The draw of Okoye’s paintings gave rise to his participation at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund benefit in New York, in fall of 2022, which featured renowned artists such as Sam Gilliam, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Sarah Slappey, Derrick Adams, Kehinde Wiley, Amoako Boafo, and Jeff Koons.
Okoye was interviewed to learn more about his artistic practice, inspirations, and his debut solo exhibition at Mitochondria Gallery in Houston, Texas.
Can you introduce yourself to those who don’t know you?
Okoye Chukwuemeka John: I am from Igboukwu, Anambara state, located in the southeastern region of Nigeria. I was born on the 13th of January, 1997. My secondary school education was at Uwani boys secondary school Enugu, which is also in Southeastern Nigeria. I have a B.A. in fine art from the University of Uyo, Nigeria. I also studied under the realist master painter Dennis Ani and Ani Izuchukwu Valentine. I would say I have been a full-time artist for 3 years now.
How did you develop your style of art?
Okoye Chukwuemeka John: There were many things has contributed to the development of my style of art, but basically, I would say reading art articles and journals. Studying the works of classical artists like Rembrandt, Adolphe Bouguereau, and impressionist masters like John Singer Sargent, Ander Zorn, and Richard Allen Schmidt. I would also say having conversations with artists and collectors.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist?
Okoye Chukwuemeka John: I realized I wanted to be an artist when I was in primary 3, because that was when I realized that people connected to my emotions and understood how I felt through my drawings.
What inspired this body of work for “Such is Life”?
Okoye Chukwuemeka John: The body of works for “Such Is Life” is inspired by life challenges that swirl in the face of people daily and how we must always learn to accept what life throws at us. It is in accepting, that we can find those placid moments that brings emotional and mental healing. I want people to understand that life is not complete without the ups and downs, so it’s ok to go through trials and experience happy moments as they are all part of the journey to healing in life.
There are two pieces titled Asylum I and Asylum II, tell us about the inspiration behind these two pieces?
Okoye Chukwuemeka John: Asylum 1 and 2 is inspired by the story of all those that could not find their way home because of prosecution, fear, war, or slavery and found solace in a foreign land. I want people to know that there’s no need to be ashamed of scars, because it simply means you were once strong. We should not let how we feel make us forget what we deserve and we should always give ourselves a reason to move on rather than a reason to drown in sorrow, and that it is okay not to feel okay.
What is next for you?
Okoye Chukwuemeka John: What’s next for me is to conceptualize dipper and create works that can solve societal problems and to use art to spread love to as many as possible.