Artist interview: Uzo Njoku

Four You Gallery
August 11, 2021

Uzo Njoku at her NY’s Studio

FYG: What’s your background?
UN: I am Nigerian and I am now an American citizen. I moved to America when I was 7 years old with all my family members. So now we’re here right now and I am the only painter in my family, everyone else is more very STEM or business minded

FYG: What does art mean to you?
UN: Art is how someone expresses themselves. There are some people who are writers, who can write prose and just amazing things and get what they want to say across. I can’t write, so my way of getting my emotions and everything across is through painting. So, I think that art is just really how you express emotions, anything political – just any moment of thought.

FYG: Who are your biggest influences?
UN: So, I do have a few influences. I would say in terms of artistic style when I first started I heavily studied David Hockney. I really did like how over the years he did develop more as an artist and his style has changed which proves that it’s ok for your style to change, it’s ok to explore different things throughout your life.

In terms of just kind of like how she progressed as an artist I would say it would be Ndijeka Crosby. She came into undergrad as a med student, pre-med and I came into undergrad in Statistics and switched into Art like she did. When I was in undergrad, I would study her Resume/CV and just kind of see where I needed to go, what steps I needed to take, what fellowships etc. just any steps I would study. So, I would say those two people have had very key implementations in my artistic career.

FYG: How did you come to develop your own style
UN: When I first started painting, I would literally just do replicas of famous works trying to understand “am I getting the right colour, am I getting the right strokes” and things like that. I would say my style was I was still very interested in patterns but I wasn’t getting it right. It wasn’t as opaque as I wanted, there wasn’t too much of a contrast – and so I would study high Renaissance and it was very interesting because all the big paintings like Sleeping Venus, Leonardo – all these paintings, it was lighter flesh against darker backgrounds. So I said “what would happen if I put darker flesh against dark backgrounds?” That’s how I kind of started developing my artistic style and moving forward. I would say fashion plays a huge part. I love dressing some of my figures up in amazing clothes and right now I am also bringing clothing into life. So I would say fashion has definitely played a huge part in where I’m at right now and just trying to keep that harmony, trying to showcase and put women and black people into the forefront so when you look at them you say “wow that’s powerful”.

FYG: What does your work aim to say?
UN: I think my work aims to say “I’m proud, I’m strong”. It’s a very compelling piece. I like that when people see my work in person they just stop and they look. I want it to capture you, I want it to hold you – that is what I aim for my work to do.

FYG: How did you come up with the show’s title ““Alone, Together and Beyond”
UN: I came up with Alone together and beyond based off my first show in New York, which was at home at last. So, this is kind of like the next step, you know, we’re alone, we’re together. I was by myself, I’ve come together. You know I’m gathering views, gathering support and together we’re moving forward – and beyond. Who knows where or how far this goes. I find the sky’s not the limit, I feel like there’s no limit at all – we’re going beyond.

FYG: Can you tell a bit more the body of work presented in the exhibition?
UN: About the body of work I have, they’re all different styles, a lot of them have different styles. You see some with more detailed faces, you see some with very flat backgrounds, you see some with a very landscape sort of feel. At the end of the day it comes together, whether you know it or not, in terms of just the color placement and things like that, it comes together as a body of work. That’s what I’m trying to show – I don’t have to stick to just one style, I can do anything I want and still prove that it falls under one body of work and it is my work.

FYG: What are your forms of inspiration?
UN: Once I started making my own patterns, everything sort of became forms of inspiration. I used to be heavily on Pinterest, but even when you go outside and you see how rain is dropping on the sidewalk and different streaks like that, I take pictures, I have so many pictures of just random stuff together because it makes sense as color palettes – you see a random poster, I take a picture of that. You’ll see someone that got their nails done, I take a picture of that because I like how the nails came together and the color palette. Then I think “Ok, I want to see that on a painting” and things like that. So I would say I take everything as inspiration. It could be applied two different ways. If you see my phone, you wouldn’t necessarily understand what you’re looking at, but I understand what I’m looking at.

FYG: Professionally, what’s your goal?
UN: I think my goal – at first my goal was to be a contemporary African artist, and I think I’ve already achieved that. So my goal is just to keep creating, anything I see I like, I do it I execute you know, no one is going to stop me. I’m trying to prove that a painter doesn’t just have to be a painter. I can be in multimedia, I can be an amazing painter, I can be an amazing product designer, I can be an amazing home decor designer – it all comes together. So, I would say my professional goal is just to keep going, keep allowing growth to happen and so forth.

FYG: what is your own perspective in life?
UN: My perspective on life is you can’t just sit around wondering what if, you know, just do it. You’ll see somebody else that does an amazing idea and you’re thinking “ah, somebody already did it”. Well, do research, there’s always an improvement to be made. Improvements in an idea, improvements in yourself. So once you have that mindset, you just keep going forward and you can do anything.

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