Whilst over in New York recently, we couldn’t stay away from the bustling art scene that has been dominating the city and its streets for decades. With that said, we recently linked up with Harlem born, NY based artist Kip Omolade. Beginning his career on the streets as a graffiti artist whilst interning at Marvel Comics and The Center for African Art, Kip’s work has been shown across the globe. Having studied at The Art Students League of New York, Kip’s work has flowed effortlessly from Good Morning America to Juxtapoz, Nike and even the Versace Mansion.
Take a closer look at his work below from when we caught up with the artist himself.
Footpatrol: Hi Kip, hope you’re well, firstly thank you for taking the time to let us come by the studio and see the work up close, we really appreciate it. Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and the work you produce?
Kip Omolade: It’s a pleasure being featured in Footpatrol. I appreciate what you are doing. Your program combines two of my loves: art and sneakers, so this is awesome.
I am a product of New York City. I was born in Harlem and lived in the Bronx, the Lower East Side and midtown Manhattan before spending most of my life in Brooklyn. I attended City-As-School high school which was the same school Basquiat attended. I also attended the School of Visual Arts, the Cooper Union Saturday program, The Children’s Art Carnival in Harlem, and The Art Students League of New York. When I started oil painting from life, I lived down the block from the Brooklyn Museum where I would visit often to study African and European art.
My work is a product of those experiences. The use of chrome is connected to my internship at Marvel Comics where I was influenced by shiny, metallic characters like the Silver Surfer. The bright saturated colors are influenced by my graffiti writer days. The sculpture and oil painting techniques are from my training at SVA and The League.
FP: One thing that specifically captivates me is the image within the faces, is there a reasoning behind each mirrored reflection?
KO: Usually, the image within the face is determined by my curiosity and self-challenges. “What would this chrome face look like in the snow?” “Could I paint images of Times Square in the face?” Sometimes a model’s face will dictate which direction I’ll go. Some sculptures look better enclosed in a space while others look better with the outside environment being reflected in the face. Other times, the choice is more conceptual, like when I did several paintings with graffiti backgrounds. With the Luxury Graffiti project, I wanted to establish my graffiti roots in an organic way. I also saw some of my favorite artists like Takashi Murakami and Jenny Saville use graffiti with their work and thought why not? I was actually a part of the movement that they were referencing.
FP: I’m curious why just the face? And why expressionless?
KO: The face is universal across time, place, and culture. It’s what we are all attracted to. We look for faces in everything, even the surfaces of the moon or Mars. We are wired to recognize faces as a way of survival and communal living. The faces were a way to unify people- to show our similarities despite racial differences. I wanted to disrupt racial constructs and show humanity. As a result, make-up artists from Russia, Japan, and India, etc. have used their own faces and cosmetics to reproduce my paintings. They see themselves in the work.
I don’t see the faces as being “expressionless”, but I think I know what you mean. I prefer a neutral expression because it’s more iconic and timeless. Ancient Ife sculptures, the famous headpiece of King Tut and The Mona Lisa have subtle expressions. Another reason for the look is that I want my use of color and lighting to elicit an emotional response from the viewer rather than from an overly dramatic expression. However, some of my portraits do overtly show emotions. The Kittys seem happy, the Karyns have a sense of melancholy and there are some others that even have wide smiles.
FP: Why do you choose to continue to paint your work? Do you consider diving into a virtually creative side of it? Or like to keep it as raw as possible?
KO: I love to paint! I love the challenge of mixing, blending, and applying oil paint to canvas. It’s deeply satisfying to create an image using real life tactual tools. I appreciate digital work, but brushes, paint and canvas are centuries old technology that allow me to still make discoveries. Ironically when I first started the Diovadiova Chrome project I was attempting to use traditional materials to make images that looked like digital avatars. There is also an amazing satisfaction knowing I hand painted something that looks three dimensional physically and conceptually to the viewer. In person the work has a level of depth, color and texture that conveys a sense of transcendence.
FP: Can you elaborate on the process, from casting to photography to the final painting?
KO: The process is about different uses of time. The casting is the most interactive part- collaborating with the model while my assistant and I work quickly. This is a time when I don’t know what someone’s face will look like when the cast is finished. Once I have the cast everything slows down. I sculpt the eyes and prepare the sculpture for chroming. The photography stage speeds up again as I take hundreds of images of the sculpture. This is the most experimental part. I’ll try as many approaches as possible. Everything slows down again as I ponder which image to paint. Lastly the painting process is the slowest part as I apply layers and layers of paint to achieve details and form.
FP: Are there any subjects you would love to cast specifically?
KO: I would love to cast LL Cool Jay, Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, and other Hip Hop icons. We should have our own Mount Rushmore. As Hip Hop celebrates its 50th anniversary, we need works of art that reflect our rich history. My way of giving flowers would be to create large-scale paintings of our icons.
FP: Does your day to day mood influence your artworks? Perhaps in the colours or graphics? How much of YOU is also In the works of art?
KO: My day-to-day mood is pretty much the same. What influences the work are questions. It’s about: “Why do this piece?” or “How could I represent this idea?” My love for beauty, my calmness and my spirituality manage to seep into my work. Somehow the paintings seem to show my personality. My actual image is in the reflections of many of the works. When I do this it’s like an elaborate selfie.
FP: You’ve amassed an extremely healthy client portfolio from the likes of Nike, Sony and RedBull to name a few. Who is at the top of the collaborative wish list currently?
KO: I would love to partner with Nike or Adidas to make a chrome sneaker like the Dada Supreme CDubbz. I think my use of chrome and color would be super impactful. My work could also easily translate to fashion. From streetwear companies like Supreme or high fashion houses like Louis Vuitton I think there’s an organic place for my work.
FP: Finally, we would like to open up the floor for you to praise or even set on blaze anything you believe can help the current arts industry.
KO: We are in the best time for artistic expression. Never, in history, have artists had access to as much information about creating work. In the past you would have to travel and work as an apprentice or go to college to gain skills that you can currently learn online. We can share our work worldwide with the press of a button. We can learn about art movements around the world in real time. Of course, this doesn’t replace the real-life experiences that I had. And of course, this means that it’s even harder to stay focused on one’s own path, but now artists can draw from so many different sources to make educated choices about what to do.