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Sustainability is my art mantra – Omokanye

Tomiwa Omokanye is a Nigerian multi-dimensional artist who uses wine corks as his major medium to create sculpture relief paintings. His use of material primarily…

Tomiwa Omokanye is a Nigerian multi-dimensional artist who uses wine corks as his major medium to create sculpture relief paintings. His use of material primarily began in architecture and over the years has transcended into the multi purposing of ecological waste to art. In this interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, he shares his journey and passion as an artist.


How did you discover the unique medium of wine corks for your art, and what inspired you to start creating with them?

Moving to America recently, I found myself in my first apartment faced with this vast, empty wall. The idea of adorning it with a unique piece of art excited me, but the cost of traditional artwork was daunting. That’s when I stumbled upon a solution during a visit to the local wine shop.

As I perused the shelves, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of discarded wine corks. The realization hit me – why not turn these overlooked treasures into something beautiful for my space? Inspired by the desire to fill my apartment with a piece that was not only visually appealing but also held a personal touch, I embarked on the journey of creating art from wine corks. The decision to use wine shop corks, each with its own story and character, added a layer of authenticity to my work. This art form not only complements my living space but also aligns with my values of sustainability and resourcefulness in this new chapter of my life in America.

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Can you walk us through your creative process from collecting wine corks to the finished art piece?

My creative journey begins with the collection of wine corks from various wine shops across the country. Each cork carries its own history and is a testament to shared moments and celebrations. As an artist deeply invested in the human experience, I often engage with my collectors to hear their personal stories. These narratives become a wellspring of inspiration, influencing the themes and emotions I wish to convey in my art. It’s a collaborative process where their experiences merge with my vision. With these stories as my muse, I sketch out the art direction for the piece.

I focus on capturing the essence of the narratives shared with me, ensuring that the final composition resonates with both the individual collector and the broader audience. This phase is crucial in translating emotions into a visual language. The next step involves transferring the sketched concept onto a board. This serves as the canvas for my creation. I carefully consider the placement of each cork, thinking about texture, color, and the overall visual impact. It’s a meticulous process that requires attention to detail. Once the board is prepared, I embark on the installation phase. This is where the magic happens, as I weave together wine corks, occasionally incorporating other artifacts that enhance the narrative.

The arrangement is intentional, with each element contributing to the overall storytelling aspect of the piece. The final touches involve stepping back, assessing the composition as a whole, and making any necessary adjustments. This is a moment of reflection, ensuring that the finished art piece authentically captures the essence of the stories shared and my vision for the work.

In essence, my creative process is a harmonious blend of storytelling, collaboration with collectors, and a meticulous approach to transforming discarded wine corks into meaningful works of art that speak to both personal and shared experiences.

Wine cork sculptures by Tomiwa Omokanye


What challenges do you face working with wine corks as a medium, and how do you overcome them?

Inconsistency in size and shape: It’s like herding cats, but with corks. They come in all shapes and sizes, but I’m the sorting maestro. By carefully categorizing them based on dimensions, I turn the cork chaos into a well-choreographed dance on the board. Planning is key to keep the visual vibe on point.

Limited Color Palette: Brown, brown, and more brown! That’s the cork rainbow for you. But hey, I’m all about spicing things up. I experiment with patterns and orientations to bring out the best in each cork. And when the mood strikes, a painted or embellished cork is like a splash of confetti in the mix.

Texture and Fragility: Corks can be delicate creatures, but I’ve got tricks up my sleeve. Reinforcing their structure during installation is like giving them a superhero suit. Sturdy backing and strategic adhesive techniques ensure the art stays intact without losing that natural, organic vibe. Environmental Considerations: Sustainability is my art mantra. While cork crafting is a nod to eco-friendliness, responsible sourcing is the key. I’m all about making sure every cork in my art has a green story. It’s not just about creating; it’s about creating consciously.

So, there you have it—tackling the quirks and turning cork challenges into artistic victories.

Are there specific types or brands of wine corks that you prefer to use in your art, and how does the environmental aspect of repurposing wine corks align with your artistic vision and values?

At the core of my artistic vision is a deep commitment to sustainability. Repurposing wine corks isn’t just about creating art; it’s a conscious effort to contribute to waste reduction by breathing new life into materials that would otherwise be discarded. This commitment aligns seamlessly with my belief in responsible and eco-friendly artistic practices.

Choosing wine corks as my medium isn’t just resourceful; it’s a deliberate choice to minimize environmental impact. Rather than relying on traditional art supplies with potentially higher ecological footprints, I find creativity in transforming an everyday item into something aesthetically compelling. It’s not just about making art; it’s about making art responsibly.

The beauty of using corks goes beyond aesthetics. They are a natural and renewable resource, harvested from cork oak trees without harming them. This connection to nature is woven into my artistic process, serving as a constant reminder of the importance of preserving and appreciating the natural world.

But it’s not just confined to my studio. Collaborating with wine shops, wineries, and enthusiasts to source corks creates a sense of community engagement. It forms connections with like-minded individuals who share a common appreciation for sustainability and environmental consciousness.

And the impact of the art goes beyond the canvas. As these pieces find homes in various collections, they become lasting reminders of the importance of environmental stewardship. The longevity of the art contributes to an ongoing conversation about the value of repurposing materials within the broader context of sustainability.

Do you collaborate with wineries or wine enthusiasts to source your materials, and if so, how does that partnership enhance your work?

Collaborating with wineries and wine enthusiasts is like having a palette of stories and variety for my art. Wineries, they’re a treasure trove of different corks—varieties, vintages—the whole artistic spectrum. It’s like a creative playground with unique imprints, logos, and colors that add a spark to my compositions.

And the enthusiasts? They bring in personal tales, like those corks from special moments—they’re not just visuals, they’re narratives woven into my art.

But it’s not just about materials; it’s about creating a community vibe. Collaborating with these wine aficionados adds this nice communal groove to my work. Now, here’s the interesting part – education and awareness. Discussing repurposing materials and sustainability with winery folks – it’s about spreading the word on the creative possibilities with wine corks.

And every now and then, wineries go the extra mile with commissioned pieces. It’s a win-win. They get a piece of art that reflects their identity, and I get to showcase my work in a space that aligns with the materials I use. And exposure? It’s like having a party for my art in a winery. Showcasing in their spaces or events is like having my own art show with a built-in audience that appreciates the mix of art and wine culture.

Let’s not forget the cultural infusion. Different wineries bring their own styles, stories, traditions. It’s like adding layers to my art narrative, making each piece a rich tapestry of influences.

In the end, it’s not just about creating art; it’s a collaborative celebration. We’re blending art, culture, and shared experiences, and it’s turning into quite the creative journey.

Are there specific themes or messages you aim to convey through your cork art, or do you let the materials guide your creative expression?

First up, sustainability is a biggie. I’m all about repurposing wine corks to shout out the importance of mindful consumption. It’s not just about making something pretty; it’s a visual nod to being environmentally responsible. Who knew art could carry such a powerful message, right?

Then there’s storytelling—a theme that runs deep. Every cork has a tale, whether it’s from a winery, a celebration, or a collector with a story to share. I want to highlight how personal narratives can weave together into this beautiful tapestry through the arrangement of these individual elements.

Now, let’s talk about my roots. My art often takes a dive into my African heritage. Wine corks become a canvas for cultural narratives, symbols, and traditions. It’s my way of celebrating diversity and inviting others to dive into the rich tapestry of cultural heritage.

Collaboration is a recurring star in my artistic show. Working with wineries, wine enthusiasts, and local communities is more than a theme – it’s a philosophy. I want folks to see that art isn’t a solo gig; it’s a shared experience. The involvement of others adds this beautiful layer to the creative process, connecting us through a shared love for art and culture.

And here’s a thought-provoker: I want viewers to look at my art and reflect on their own consumption habits. Wine corks, tied to the world of wine, become this visual metaphor for our choices as consumers. It’s a nudge to reimagine our relationship with everyday objects, to think a bit deeper about the things we bring into our lives.

Last but not least, let’s talk innovation. I’m all about showcasing artistic expression in unexpected ways. Choosing wine corks as a medium? It’s a conversation starter. It challenges the norms, shakes things up a bit, and invites folks to appreciate the beauty that can emerge from unconventional sources. It’s like saying, “Hey, art can be anything you want it to be.”

So, there you have it – the themes and messages that dance through my cork art, giving each piece its own unique rhythm and meaning.

How do you ensure the longevity and durability of your cork art pieces, considering the nature of the materials?

Oh, let me give you the lowdown on how I make sure these cork art pieces not only look good but stick around for the long haul. It’s like a behind-the-scenes dance of details.

First things first, high-quality corks are the stars of the show. I’m all about the natural cork material—way more durable than the synthetic stuff. I’ve got to ensure these corks are in top-notch condition, free from any battle scars or damage. Quality is key for the longevity of the artwork.

Now, let’s talk about sorting and cleaning. It’s not just a quick once-over; it’s a meticulous process. Before these corks become art, I’m getting rid of any leftover wine, adhesive, or foreign materials. Clean corks aren’t just about looking good; they make sure the adhesive sticks properly during installation.

And speaking of adhesive, the choice is critical. I’m all in for high-quality, archival adhesives made for art and conservation. These babies give a strong bond without messing with the natural vibe of the corks.

Backing material is the unsung hero. I often go for sturdy stuff like plywood to provide that structural support. It’s the foundation for the arrangement of corks, ensuring the whole artwork stands tall and proud.

Taking a step back, I consider where these pieces are going to live. The display environment matters. Sunlight, humidity, temperature – these factors can throw a curveball. Picking the right spot minimises the risk of the piece losing its luster over time.

Now, let’s talk about moving these babies around. For the larger installations, there’s a whole set of guidelines for transportation and handling. Clear instructions make sure these pieces arrive in tip-top shape and get treated with the love they deserve during installation.

So, you see, it’s a whole symphony of considerations. Balancing the creative expression with practical measures is the name of the game. The goal? To create cork art that not only grabs your attention but stands strong through the test of time. It’s like crafting a masterpiece that’s built to last.

Have you experimented with combining wine corks with other materials in your art, and if so, what was the result?

Yes, I have actually experimented with various other materials like paint, epoxy, musical instruments if you can believe it, mirrors etc. I have crazy ideas about my art sometimes and every time it surprises me what I come up with.

Do you have a favorite piece of cork art that you’ve created, and what makes it special to you?

All my works are special to me, I have one I can’t let go of, I want to keep it for myself and I have a sentimental attachment to it.

How do you engage with your audience and what kind of reactions or feedback have you received from people who view your cork art?

Absolutely, engaging with my audience is a vital part of what I do as an artist. It’s like having an ongoing conversation that adds depth to the stories behind each cork creation. When people check out my cork art, their reactions and feedback are incredibly diverse and inspiring, showcasing the different ways folks connect with this unique medium.

I’m all about bringing my art to a global stage, and online platforms are my go-to for that. I love sharing images, giving behind-the-scenes glimpses, and weaving narratives that let people virtually explore the world of cork art. The cool part is, the digital space opens up a whole spectrum of perspectives and interpretations. People chime in with their thoughts, sharing personal stories tied to the cultural elements or environmental themes in the cork art.

Talking with collectors is a special part of this journey. It’s like peeling back the layers of a story. Collectors often spill the beans on the stories behind the corks they contributed. It’s fascinating how they express the resonance they feel with the cultural and environmental vibes in the art. And you know what’s heartening? Collector feedback is like a living testament to the emotional impact of the art. I hear stories about how a piece of cork art finds its own place in someone’s personal space, becoming a central point of conversation. It adds a beautiful layer to the ongoing narrative of each piece.