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Experimentation is an essential part of creativity – Kelechi

Kelechi Orode Chukwueke is a multi-disciplinary artist with skills in painting, drawing, sculpting, woodwork and metalwork. In this interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, Kelechi…

Kelechi Orode Chukwueke is a multi-disciplinary artist with skills in painting, drawing, sculpting, woodwork and metalwork. In this interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, Kelechi shares her experiences, inspirations and aspirations as a multi-talented artist.

What initially sparked your interest in visual arts, and how did you begin your journey as an artist?

I have always been drawn to visual arts. From a young age, I was interested in drawing and leaving my mark. Like most young children, I made a lot of drawings, and did a lot of coloring, and had a natural artistic talent. My dad is an architect, and often made sketches of design ideas at home. I believe this was my first real exposure to art and design. My parents really pushed me to develop my skills. I remember my mum and I had a meeting with my high school principal to discuss how my curriculum could be geared towards me taking more art classes because of my interests. This was such a blessing, and definitely put me on the right track for my future.

Can you describe your artistic style and the themes or subjects that inspire your work across various mediums?

My artistic style is contemporary with elements of impressionism. I draw inspiration for my art from my surroundings, experiences, and everyday human interactions and try to create my own sort universe with my art. I have a fascination with the relatability of the intimate moments that connect us – across different cultures, backgrounds, age, gender etc. There are situations we face in our lives that can feel isolating, and at times overwhelming. Through my paintings, I am able to portray how universal these moments truly are, and how interconnected our lives can be. My hope is that people are able to see themselves in my work and draw strength from it. I also draw inspiration from my design background. This helps a lot with composition and the structuring of my pieces in order to convey stories and meaning. It also helps me to create a good flow, sense of balance and movement in my art.

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How do you approach the creative process differently when working with drawing vs sculpting?

Regardless of the medium, I always start with sketches and gathering references. I find that it is important for me to identify visual references, or even narrative references, before executing a project. This helps me to refine my ideas to a certain point and resolve any identifiable issues. Even if I deviate from my initial idea, it gives me a sense of direction. The major difference between my 2D work and 3D work is that with 3D projects, I try to resolve as many details as possible by sketching before commencing on execution. Otherwise, my process is pretty much the same, hours and days or creating, following by breaks and times for reflection, then back to creating.

What materials do you find most captivating to work with, and how do you choose which medium to use for a particular project?

I currently work a lot with acrylic paint, oil pastels and charcoal. But I find that I am quite captivated with mixed media art, and would love to explore that more. I want to be able to play with different materials and textures within my pieces to create a unique feel. Certain projects call for a mix of materials, and I find that experimentation has been very useful to me when it comes to choosing mediums. If I get to a certain point with a piece, and get the sense that the desired impact has not been achieved, I try to switch up the colors, textures or materials used until I get my desired look and feel.

Can you share a memorable experience or project that challenged you as an artist and pushed the boundaries of your skills?

In the process of creating for my first ever artistic collection and solo exhibition, titled Dear Dandelion, I ran into some challenges with a new medium and technique. I planned to create an immersive experience including paintings, furniture, set design, etc. Though I was able to execute on majority of my plans, I found it challenging bringing the full vision to life. I took on textile/pattern design for the furniture on display, and this process was quite difficult with the resources available to me. Post conceptualizing, the fabric dying process was physically intense, and a lot more tedious than I expected. It took weeks of research and development, and several attempts to actually get the local dyes to take to the fabric. Each stamping session took approximately 6 to 7 hours of hands on work, and the dye kept washing out. It was demoralizing at times, but I was able to draw on my experience working with acrylic paint to get to a good solution. This is something I would love to keep learning, as I enjoyed the process of making a pattern, and the finished product was quite beautiful.

How do you balance experimentation and innovation with staying true to your artistic vision?

I find experimentation to be an essential part of creativity. From 2017 to 2020, I did a lot of experimentation with style and trying to find my unique voice using digital illustration as my medium. Now that I have gained some more experiences and honed in on my visual language, my experimentation tends to be more focused on technique and less on style. This has helped me to keep growing while maintaining my artistic vision.

Do you have any specific rituals or routines that you follow to get into a creative mindset before starting a new piece?

My current routine really involves getting my space set up! I do most of my creative work in my bedroom, and once I start, with painting for instance, I completely lose track of time. So, I try to set up all my materials and resources within reach, cover/protect my floors and surrounding furniture, then I get myself something to drink, whether water or tea, and some snacks. To top it all off, I either have a favorite television series, music, or a podcast playing in the background. This creates a comfortable zone for my mind to work. The time goes by very quickly, so I just try to make sure everything I need is within reach for the next few hours.

How has your experience in different artistic disciplines influenced and informed your overall approach to visual arts?

I believe my experience and interest in different artistic disciplines has allowed me to see art in everything. Art is holistic and all-encompassing to me. I do not see any harsh lines between the disciplines and as such, I am able to draw knowledge and inspiration from different areas. My interests have also allowed me to work in different ways and develop a variety of skills. I find that this has allowed me to be more open to new ideas and experience when collaborating with other artists as well.

Can you discuss the significance of craftsmanship and technique in your work?

I received my Bachelor of Science in Interior Design in 2016. This course was extremely technical and taught me the importance of good craftsmanship and detailing. I carry this eye into my artistic practice. Regardless of what I am working on, I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to execute on craft to the best of my ability. However I have visualized something in my head, I try to match it as closely as possible. This has meant that I sometimes spend more time than necessary on making sure my lines are clean and straight, or that any texture present in a piece is intentional and not just an accident. At times this is not the best. So, I have been working towards giving myself more grace, and being freer with my creativity. I still try to maintain my craftsmanship to a certain standard, but I put less pressure on myself to make every single detail perfect. I find that this has allowed my art to evolve in some aspects, and I look forward to more growth in these areas, and in surprising myself more.

What role does storytelling or narrative play in your art, and how do you communicate these narratives through your visual creations?

Storytelling plays a huge role in my art, though it has not always. In recent years, I found that narrative focus has allowed me to give my art meaning, emotion, and a unique personality. I am able to infuse humour and playfulness into my pieces by using “easter eggs” or hidden gems, easily identifiable object or products, and so on. This helps me build a scene. And it also makes my work engaging for viewers. People often discuss theories of what they think is happening in a piece and how it may relate to the next piece. I have found this to be quite a beautiful experience, because not only have I created something they feel a connection to, the viewers also create their own stories and concepts, and start discussions with others about hidden meanings, life experiences and more.

How do you navigate the balance between tradition and experimentation within your artistic practice?

I am very interested in Art History, as such, I often try to pull inspiration from artists who have come before me. It is said that there is nothing new under the sun, and truly I have found that many of our experiences and stories as humans are universal across time periods and geographic regions. Studying how other artists have approached a topic can be very informative when in the development stages of any project. And experimenting with different materials and ideas allows me to put a fresh perspective and reach new audiences with the stories I am telling through my art. I think tradition and experimentation go hand-in-hand this way.

Can you share insights into your creative process when working on commissioned projects versus personal explorations?

When working on personal projects, I am creating something that I find interesting that others would hopefully connect to in some way. I get to tell a story from a perspective of my choice. When working on commissioned projects, my client’s perspective and interests take priority. This is more of a collaboration. My goal is to interpret my client’s vision in my own way, without losing the integrity of their initial idea/desired outcome. For this reason, the conceptualization stage is very important. I would always have extensive conversations with my client, sharing images and sketches for reference, making sure I can bring to life what they have envisioned in their mind. During these conversations, we may discuss themes, story, colour, mediums, etc. Once we reach a consensus, I proceed to execute as normal. The main distinction is really helping them clarify their vision and coming to an agreement on what the finished product should look and feel like.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists who are interested in exploring multiple mediums and disciplines within visual arts?

I would advise aspiring artists, like myself, to start with a good foundation on the elements of art, “what goes into any piece of art?” Learning about colour theory, composition, and more can be very valuable to all mediums of art. I would also encourage them to experiment freely, to try out new materials, and techniques as often as possible and to not fear failure in the process. There is always something one can learn and take into other areas of their practice by doing so. One more piece of advice I would share is to seek inspiration everywhere. The world is buzzing with life, so it is important to really take in your surroundings and absorb as much information as possible.

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations or goals for your artistic career, and how do you envision evolving as an artist in the future?

One of my goals as an artist is to be able to teach on a large scale. As much as I look forward to learning through exploration, and growing in different areas of my practice, I also take a lot of joy in being able to share what I have learned with others. I see myself developing my art into products such as furniture, and adding to the Nigerian Art & Design landscape. I hope to be able to export my Proudly Nigerian creation to the rest of the world and inspire other artists to leave their mark on our shared history as well.


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