Artists need to spend more time studying than drawing to impress people – Popoola | Dailytrust

Artists need to spend more time studying than drawing to impress people – Popoola

Michael O. Popoola
Michael O. Popoola

Michael O. Popoola is a self-taught artist with a masters degree in Electrical Electronics Engineering from Cyprus International University.  He said artists need to study more of history than drawing something finer than their last works. Popoola, who also sculpts, believes artists can change the narrative if they are willing to study like lawyers and doctors do, instead of just drawing to impress the rich in the society.  Excerpt

At what point did you discover that it was art for you?

I have always loved to draw since I was a little child. I used to copy anything that looked like a sketch to me, Mickey Mouse and Fido-Dido especially. We had a family that rented an apartment in my father’s house back then. They inspired me because they all like to draw. One of them, Michael, though we loved to call him Bro Miko was the best among them. He was amazed at how I could accurately copy his drawings so he encouraged me. I can never forget him. He helped me to discover my artistic gifts.

How did you handle the initial criticism from your parents, family?

It wasn’t that I had a serious criticism. They just didn’t see anything tangible in the fact that I love to draw, so they never paid attention to that aspect of me. My dad at the time said the drawing was just a thing that revealed the way I think. I love science as much as I love art. I usually play around with electronics around the house, I could repair radio and television sets. They thought becoming an engineer would be a promising future than wasting all the biros in the house drawing. I have always loved to draw with ink but no one bought tools and materials for me. They thought drawing was a distraction. I was an introvert as a child and this enhanced my creative abilities. To me, everything was a puzzle I had to solve. I never stopped making stuff with my hands. I created my own tools from spoons, old knives, nails, mat straws etc. for wood carving and paintings. It got me into trouble, but I wasn’t discouraged at all.

Why do you think some Nigerian parents initially discourage their children from pursuing a career in art?

It was some sort of ignorance they never knew they have. My father actually allowed me to evolve, because he said he saw too much potential in me and didn’t want to alter my growth. He was a profound genius; he home-schooled himself and became an international certified chartered accountant. Most parents were influenced by the system the government made superior in their childhood, so things like music and art were not regarded as prestigious as becoming a doctor or an engineer. It was clearly fear of the unknown and a level of ignorance that inborn abilities are nothing promising as western education.

Imagine, my father was very good with prose writing but thought he wouldn’t be able to take care of his family by becoming a writer. Six years before he died, he told me how encouraged he was that I love reading his books and I never allowed anything to stop me from pursuing my passion.

Popoola’s paintings


Do you think the earlier rejection affected your vision?

It definitely affected me a lot. I didn’t really have someone to properly guide me. My father did try his best to allow me to evolve when he realized my strong passion to develop my potential, but his plans for me got cut short due to old age, sickness and death. I wanted to be great and change the world. I wanted to invent new things. I had too many theories I couldn’t express. It was so disappointing majority of my siblings didn’t know what I went through psychologically. They did nothing to support my potential. I struggled with hidden depression and self-rejection too.

I thought I was a mistake. Thank God for the religious system that became a platform of self-expression and actualisation for me. I began to believe I am on a journey to fulfilling purpose and the magnitude of greatness determines how long, how rough and tough the journey would be. That fantasy had been in my hyperactive imagination since I was a little child, but the church system gave it a tangible meaning that cancelled out possibilities of insanity. People thought I talk to myself in my childhood, but within the church, it was believed God gave me mighty gifts and I have a calling I have to fulfil gloriously.

How have you evolved as a self-taught artist?

I cannot honestly give an accurate response to this question because 80 per cent of my evolvement was not exactly in my control. There are always coincidences that usually lead me to discover more about my potentials. I had done paintings that would have been impossible for me to do. I only know blue, yellow, red, white and black by name, but I can almost accurately tell you the composition of any colour even by proportion in my imagination. I have tried working on various mediums, but painting became my major when making money with art was the only means of survival.

Why do you enjoy painting?

I actually enjoy sculpting most, but people know me as a painter because that’s what I had to do to make money. Painting was easier for me. I make my paints myself and canvas too. During the course of my too much reading about many things, I discovered I could produce my own paints by knowing the chemical composition and making my own high-quality canvas out of thick fabrics. In fact, I taught some people these skills and it’s still paying off for them. Sculpting gives me fulfilment.

How have you been able to successfully merge cinematography, creative furniture business, sculpting, multimedia production, and painting?

The truth is I never tried to merge anything. Complication is my personal way of life. I am more comfortable doing more stuff than focusing on just one. I did try to do one when I was advised by a lot of people to focus on one. It led to depression. I only do just one thing, but people out of their own fear think I do too many things. I just like to create. A couple of times I would be painting a portrait, editing a video, fixing a piece of furniture as well as carving a prototype out of wood simultaneously as long as the painting is not urgent. I find joy in being able to tell myself I touched everything that day.

To survive as an artist in Nigeria is quite difficult, what do you think should be done to change the narrative?

I think the survival thing should be personal. People and education attach less significance to artists in Nigeria; little did they know that in history, the first set of scientists, inventors, philosophers, engineers, builders and architects were artists. Almost every creative person is looking for a miracle, luck, an admirer that would invest in their talents, whereas they could not see they are the miracles themselves. If artists themselves are willing to study like lawyers and doctors do, instead of just drawing to impress one random rich white man, the narrative will begin to change.

You studied Electrical Electronics Engineering, how has this made you better at what you do?

I love science as much as I love art. My childhood was so full of drawing and electronics. I thought drawing was just a thing I could not do without, not as a professional job. I wished my drawings could come to life. My knowledge of science made me very experimental with art and my love for drawing helped my understanding of the required detailed precision in engineering. My sensitivity to details is a result of my drawing skills. I would not have been anything without art and engineering. Whenever I have to help people solve technical problems, I would visualize them in three-dimensional sketches and navigate through them scientifically running possible scenarios of solutions in my imagination before coming up with a more suitable solution.

What should be done to groom young artists and ensure others in the industry shine?

Artists are naturally endowed with the mind to do the extraordinary not just learning a medium of expression in art and mastering it. Michael Angelo and Raphael Bernini built Basilica and St. Peters Square of the Vatican City. These guys were artists in their lifetime, painters and sculptors, but a Pope believed in their potentials and asked to make history. Every creative mind needs to study more history than drawing something finer than the other. You are meant to be sound, explore all the possibilities around your skills, and be very vast in your understanding of developments since primitive ages to all civilizations. Be very scientific in your learning, challenge yourself to do more and don’t limit yourself. We are all unique and we must self-actualise. We must learn from others for the purpose of self-actualisation, not to be like them. That’s how to shine. Shining is not money but personal discovery.

Tell us about your style?

My style is not definite. I experimented a lot, but I have heard people talk about my colour combination since my first-day painting. I let my brush strokes show my hyper-realistic portraiture are hand-painted and embed my reality within it. I let my abstract works flow like my poetry, you can almost read through the unwritten lines conveyed by pigments on canvas. I usually make it obvious how I break the rules intelligently in order for everyone to have a say in my progress. Every painting is unique in itself and an extension of another due to the fact that it was birthed from the belly of God’s grace.



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