“Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.”
I was born in the mid 1980s in Hillingdon, West London, to a half Irish, half Nigerian father and English mother. Like most kids growing up my dad was my biggest hero. As an art director at a successful advertising agency, I would watch him working and then scribble away furiously with my crayons in imitation. Over time I moved onto more advanced mediums such as colouring pens and pencils – I’d spend all day creating my own versions of the popular cartoon characters at the time, especially Raphael, the maverick member of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When not drawing I loved to charge around with my toy sword in hand, although these days it’s more likely to be a paintbrush!
These early artistic experiences provided my first steps towards mastery and as early as I can remember I was drawn to stories with adventure and powerful heroes – looking back it’s no surprise that I wanted to watch the original Star Wars Trilogy every week. The key themes still resonate with me to this day. My artistic ability was passed down to me from my father and I have been embracing and at times struggling with the ways of the creative force ever since.
One day in the late 80’s I saw Moonwalker and I had another hero to look up to – The King of Pop. I would sit spellbound watching MJ videos and playing his songs on repeat, he was magic. His performances and in particular his dancing blew my small mind and still does to this day. As my family love to remind me, at parties when his songs came on I’d get up and do my best MJ moves on the dance floor. However it wasn’t long until the dancing stopped and my happy family life was disrupted.
I was only five years old when my parents got divorced. I began to retreat into my imagination even more as a form of escape and as a way to deal with being separated from my dad. As a single parent with three boys to provide for my mum struggled with not having much money, however she always made sure we had everything we needed. Under my leadership, me and my brothers would combine our pocket money to buy the latest computer games and we’d spend days on end battling it out on Goldeneye and Mario Kart. Our ultra competitiveness spurred me on and even though I wasn’t interested in being academic, like my brothers, I knew there were other disciplines I could master.
In my teenage years I didn’t enjoy the rigid structure of school – I just loved art. It was the one thing that I knew I excelled at and I took every opportunity to show off my skills and winning several competitions along the way further fueled my belief and artistic obsession. At sixteen I started to take my art more seriously under the mentorship of my school art teacher, Mr. Graham and my Dad, who I would see at weekends. I enjoyed learning about art history and experimenting with acrylic and oils, with the main focus on figurative work and colourful pop art paintings. I began to develop my own style as I used paints more frequently, progressively building on my natural talent in preparation for the next stage of my art education. In March of my final year at school I was accepted to study the fine art foundation course at Central Saint Martins and I couldn’t wait to to get started.
The first few months at CSM were extremely exciting as we explored even more mediums before we began to specialise – naturally in the end I chose to focus on painting. It was 2003, The Young British Artists were going strong and street art had not yet gone mainstream. Figurative work was deemed even less fashionable than usual and to my frustration our tutors were favouring more conceptual work and as a result I didn’t find the guidance I needed to reach the next stage in my development. I became disillusioned quite quickly and got drawn into the student party lifestyle and lost focus. At the end of my year at CSM, unsure of my direction, I decided to pack my bags and go away for a long summer to ‘re-evaluate my options’.
Upon my return and having lost my creative spark, I entered the rat race and got a job in sales to earn myself some money. Regrettably I didn’t pick up a paintbrush for almost ten years… Looking back this deviation away from my passion was because I just wanted to fit in for once and be ‘normal’, I needed time to get some new experiences outside of art, I wanted to live a little, travel and learn about business. I also wasn’t completely sold on the idea yet of earning a living as an artist, they never taught us about the business side of art at college. During this period I enjoyed working in sales and closing deals but in time I could sense that something was missing. I would find myself at work thinking about the future and though I was earning good money I felt like I was heading in the wrong direction, my creative energy was reigniting.
My brother Luke had also gone on to study at CSM, specialising in Knitwear. He graduated top of his class winning numerous awards and after his masters he started working with some big clients, notably Lady Gaga (excuse the name-dropping!) – this really started to inspire me. Around the same time, my best friend had joined a band, and I learned they were looking for artwork for their album cover. I was intrigued and when it turned out they wanted a portrait of the group I put myself forward and got the job as I had wanted to start painting again. It was the perfect opportunity to get the ball rolling – I was out of practice but I didn’t let that stop me! As soon as I put my brush back on the canvas again I was reconnected with my creativity and whilst painting my mind began to dream of one day becoming a great artist.
I loved the feeling of being back in the flow and doing what I enjoyed most. I wasn’t cut out to work 9-5 for someone else forever, I knew making it as a fine artist wasn’t going to be easy, it was a risk but I didn’t care – as Han Solo says ‘’Never tell me the odds!’’ – it was too hard to resist. I had finally realised I needed to pursue my dreams and ambitions 100%. I had saved up enough money in my current job as a recruitment consultant to live on for at least twelve months and decided I’d rather be a starving artist than a rich recruiter! I had my Jerry Maguire moment in the office, and quit my job. It was time for my own adventure, a new path with no map. I was ready to follow my creative instincts once again and continue the journey that I began as a child.