Interview with Ayobola Kekere-Ekun for ‘Perspectives’ | Exhibition on view October 1 – October 22, 2022

Thinkspace is pleased to present Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, showing work from her “She and I” series in group exhibition “Perspectives.”

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun is a contemporary visual artist who attempts to unravel the connections between the self and identity and how they interface with individual and collective memory via her art. In creating the paintings that make up this body of work, she toys with the most wholesome of ideas/experiences: childhood. Seemingly random and benign scenes of existence are shadowed by objects that become breadcrumbs of the artist’s attempts to understand her own trauma and beyond.

Our interview with Ayobola Kekere-Ekun explores the malleability of memory, her creative process, and words of advice for fellow artists applying for grants.

Can you share a little about your background and how you first heard of Thinkspace? 

My name is Ayobola Kekere-Ekun. I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. I moved to Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2018 to study for my PhD. I’m a mixed-media artist, and I really enjoy working with paper and lines. I first came across Thinkspace on Instagram a couple of years ago. I remember thinking they ran a visually interesting program, and it could be pretty cool to work with them.

In your body of work “She and I,” you are exploring your own childhood memories or the awareness that there are memories you’re unable to reach/unlock. What are some truths about your childhood, or even what you know of yourself now, that ground you in that mining for information as you build your pieces? Will there be pieces from that series in this exhibition?

All the pieces in the show are from the She and I series. They’re actually a continuation of the first piece I created in the series, where I realized my memory of my mother and I swimming couldn’t possibly be real. I think for me this process of reclamation has been incredibly empowering. When I realized how big the chasm I was dealing with was, I’m not sure I even have the words to even describe how soul-crushing it was. Something had been taken from me, and there was no way I could ever truly get it back. There was a moment when I knew this was either going to kill me or be a catalyst to do something interesting. I chose to do something interesting.

What does your creative process look like? Can you walk us through a day in the studio?

My day usually starts with a cup of tea. I’ll wander around the garden a little bit and hang out with whichever neighbour’s cat is visiting that morning. I’m not sure if it’s the bird feeder I put out there, but they really seem to enjoy the space. After tea, I’ll run through my emails and general admin and figure out what needs to be prioritized in that regard. Only then do I get down to doing something creative. That varies a little from day to day. It could be working on existing paintings or planning new work.

Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?

I’m not sure I do, to be honest. I’m rather obsessed with my work, and It’s quite literally always on my mind in one form or another. I suppose the upside of working in such a time-consuming style is that I’ll never be able to keep up with ideas I’d like to explore. There’s always something I want to try, and that keeps me going.

What do you have playing in the background while you’re in the studio – music, movies/tv shows, podcasts? 

It’s either music or a TV show I’ve already seen, so I can watch it in my head as I listen to it.

Do you have any advice for other artists who are looking to leverage grants to help pursue their ambitions?

Learn to process rejections because there will be a lot of them. Don’t take them personally; there are a lot of variables that go into those types of selections. Apply to everything you might be even remotely qualified for, and don’t be afraid to reapply. Creating a solid application is a skill, and like all skills, it requires practice.

“Perspective” is a group exhibition along with three other talented artists. Could you share with us an element of your fellow exhibitors’ work that inspires, challenges, or intrigues you?

I have a lot of admiration for the other artists in the show, and it is such an honour to be sharing space with them. I have to admit I have a particular soft spot for Chigozie Obi. I’ve had the pleasure of watching her work grow over the past few years, and the sensitivity she handles her figures with is something I’ve always found beautiful.

You’ve shared in interviews that you are an avid reader of what you like to call “bubble gum,” just fun reads – nothing too taxing. Can you share with us what some of your favourite tropes are? 

I really enjoy reading romance novels. I find the guarantee of a happily ever after very comforting. I am a sucker for historical romance in particular, and depending on my mood, I tend to lean towards tropes around rejection and miscommunication, betrayal, enemies to lovers, plain janes, wallflowers, heiresses, and jaded, morally ambiguous characters.

If you could have any skill downloaded into your brain, what would it be and why?

This might sound very mundane, but I’d learn how to swim and drive. I think I’ve put them off so long they’ve become these insurmountable hurdles in my head.

If you could have a dinner party with 5 people, dead or alive, who would they be? What would be on the menu? And what is your icebreaker question?

This is a tough one. I’d invite Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Gustav Klimt, Artemisia Gentileschi, and my grandmothers. We’d have a hot pot.

Opening Reception of Early October Exhibitions ‘Perspectives,’ ‘Moku,’ ‘Matter of Survival,’ and ‘The Show Must Go On’ on view October 1 – October 22, 2022

Thank you to those who joined us for the opening reception of “Perspectives,” featuring new work from Zeinab Diomande, Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, Chigozie Obi, and Bianca Walker. Along with Yumi Yamazaki’s “Moku” showing in Gallery II, Kristy Moreno’s “Matter of Survival” in Gallery III, and Mr. B Baby’s “The Show Must Go On” in Gallery IV.

A night complete with a piñata and Chuco, the brainchild of Mr. B Baby, to celebrate the artist’s birthday!

Continue reading Opening Reception of Early October Exhibitions ‘Perspectives,’ ‘Moku,’ ‘Matter of Survival,’ and ‘The Show Must Go On’ on view October 1 – October 22, 2022

Interview with Michelle Ruby (aka Mr. B Baby) for ‘The Show Must Go On’ | Exhibition on view October 1 – October 22, 2022

Thinkspace is pleased to present Michelle Ruby (aka Mr. B Baby) showing new works in her exhibition “The Show Much Go On.”

Michelle Ruby, aka Mr. B Baby, uses elements of her heritage as an inspiration for her striking and lively artwork. By combining vibrant colors with traditional imagery, Michelle is able to uplift her audience and intrigue her viewers. The artist aims to bring happiness and joy to her collectors and community, while also having stronger messages intertwined, all of which are open to the viewer’s interpretation.

Our interview with Michelle Ruby (aka Mr. B Baby) dives into her ambition, dreams of an amusement park, and wise words for pushing through self-doubt.

Can you share a little about your background and how you first heard of Thinkspace? 

I’m a muralist, and artist, originally from Chula Vista, CA. I was fortunate to grow up in a border town where there was rich culture around me. Tijuana was not a far drive, and so I spent a lot of my youth there, where I was inspired by the artisans and craftsman hustling their work on the streets. 

I was drawn to the bright, vivid colors, which have become a huge part of the artwork I’m creating today. 

The artwork I create has a whimsical twist to folk art and children’s books while combining cultural elements. 

I’ve always wanted to create work everyone can relate to and see themselves in. The work I create has been largely inspired by my daughter and creating positive work for the youth that touches on mental health and other taboo issues. 

When I first moved to LA about 7 years ago, I began my art journey and have been fortunate to have still be able to be riding that wave. I discovered Thinkspace early on, as they always showcased artists that were inspiring, so it was a huge honor to be asked to do this show with them. 

What does a day in the studio look like for you? How do you structure your days? 

I wish I could say I had more structure, but I really just try to create every day; some days work better for me than others, but the one constant is that I will create something every day. From murals to mock-ups for those murals, to canvas work, toy design, or even experimenting with other mediums. I’ve always found my peace of through creating. 

Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?  

One thing that’s really helped me create concepts and stay focused is running. I typically start my mornings with a run, which is where I run through most of my ideas in my head. It’s my quiet time to think where there’s no pressure of actually creating,  just thoughts and figuring out how to transform those thoughts into tangible creations. 

You’re highly motivated and determined to follow through on your ideas, leaving nothing on the table. Have you always been this focused? And what is your relationship with burnout? 

It feels like in this life, I’ve lived many lives. 

I was definitely not always like this; I struggled a lot in my youth with crippling depression and anxiety, which led me into a path of addiction but luckily, I’ve learned how to deal with it, and part of what helps me is my artwork. So it’s such a blessing to be able to do this for a living and have others enjoy that vulnerability. It has really been such a great shift in my mentality and my belief that just like the artwork I’m creating, I also have the power to dictate the type of life I live. There’s a lot of responsibility but freedom that comes from that. 

Burnout is something I have recently started to experience but stepping away for a day and coming back usually does the trick. I end up missing creating when I step away for too long, but it’s necessary because that helps me create; when I’m super anxious to do so. Honestly, I prefer to stay busy and feel like I have a purpose than sitting around any day. 

You’re mother and sister are two of your greatest inspiration. Can you share some of the words of wisdom they have departed on you?  

My mother grew up in Puerto Rico. She came from a humble beginning and raised my sister and me. I watched her struggle every day but also watched her persevere. There was no obstacle too big for her. She inspired me to be independent and really instilled the belief in me that anything was possible with hard work and dedication. She created a great life for my sister and me. 

My sister and I are both entrepreneurs; we have done what we dreamed about doing since we were little girls. She was always a writer, and I was an artist- seems like a childhood fantasy, but somehow we both made it work, and I owe that to the lessons my mother taught us. 

Can you share where Chuco came from, and some of the other figures we see recur in your work? 

Chucho is a character my work is known for. 

He is a piñata. Piñatas originally were filled with seeds, held over the garden, and broken for the seeds to spread and grow. The idea that through brokenness comes growth was something I connected with and was a huge part of my story. He is my constant reminder that even when the world tries to break you down, growth comes from it. Some things don’t make sense right away, but looking back they all led me here. Even through your hardships, you can get through them and, in turn become stronger. 

I have created a range of characters. Maria, who’s inspired by the Maria rag dolls found in Mexico that represent us, my daughter and my inner child. 

Chaco, who’s an anxious horse, he’s anxious about everything, and I put him in fun situations where he conquers his anxiety. 

There’s more characters, and plan to continue developing more. The next step for me is a children’s book. 

What were a few of your favorite children’s books growing up? 

Monster mama and Miss spider stand out, but there were so so many great ones. I had many loves. I wish I could list (and remember) them all! 

It’s definitely what inspired my little brain to want to create. I even wrote my own as a child and like I mentioned is where I’m trying to take all of this. Essentially I want to create books, toys, and games for my Latino children. 

What’s been your most challenging mural? Can you share with us what the experience taught you? 

Every mural comes with its challenges. I think the worst ones were when I was starting out, getting paid absolutely nothing and having people who are extremely opinionated (and entitled) tell me how I should do it.  Actually had a family tell me how ugly it was the whole way through. Felt very unwelcomed, but that’s life. But in this industry, I have learned that EVERYONE will have an opinion, and at the end of the day, as long as you’re true to yourself and your goal, NONE of that matters. 

If you could have any skill or topic downloaded into your brain, what would you want to be able to do/ be an expert at?

Wow, this one’s tough because there’s so much I wanna do, but if I had to pick, I’d wanna have the skills of a builder, construction worker. 

I’d like to be self-sufficient in that sense where I can build myself a damn house if I wanted to. Plus, it would be really epic because I’d def build a Chucho-inspired house, then I’d go to the ultimate goal- which for me is to create a theme park. Just gotta get like 123 million dollars to start! 

Who would be on the guest list if you could throw a dinner party for five people, dead or alive? What would be on the menu? What would be the icebreaker question? 

Menu would 100% be lobster with homemade tortillas and beans. Thinking Puerto Nuevo style, I can eat that any day. I’m bougie with my food, what can I say. 

Since we are going in a fantasy world. I would have my younger-self present, just so I could tell her how things turned out okay for us. That’d be number one. Feel like I owe it to her. 

And as much as it would be epic to have legends from the past sitting next to me, I feel the power move would be to talk to people currently in the industry that can help elevate me. To be 100% honest, I don’t know who I’d invite. I’d have to do quite a bit of extensive research to find the top players. Haha, the people who may be able to help with my future theme park would be a good start….. 

With that being said though, there’s so many legends, so much wisdom, and so many footsteps I’ve followed to get to where I am, and I’m very thankful for it. 

So many people to thank for being able to be here today, and I’m truly grateful.

Interview with Yumi Yamazaki for ‘Moku’| Exhibition on view October 1 – October 22, 2022

Thinkspace is pleased to present Yumi Yamazaki showing new works in her exhibition “Moku.”

The title ‘ Moku’, like the work itself, has many layers to its meaning. Depending on the Japanese kanji, it can mean silence, to see, to cleanse, to rise, or even simple objects like trees and smoke. These definitions all apply to Yamazaki’s painting style which the artist describes as, “a deeply cleansing ritual that allows me to see and reveal my inner feelings.

Our interview with Yumi Yamazaki dives into her creative process, explores her emotional landscape, and shares the artists who inspire her.

Can you share a little about your background and how you first heard of Thinkspace? 

I am a Japanese Artist in Entertainment, Art Director, and Fine Artist based in LA. I have been a creator since I was young, but I formally started pursuing art as a career at Otis College of Art and Design in LA. During my time there, I studied animation and digital art but fell in love with traditional art. My friends and I would often visit local galleries to see the works of our favorite artists, and that’s when I first visited Thinkspace Gallery. I remember seeing works from Amy Sol, Audrey Kawasaki, Stella Im Hultberg, Marco Mazzoni (just to name a few) and dreaming if my works would one day find their way onto the gallery walls. It’s such an incredible honor to find myself at that moment now. 

You’ve shared that your work is inspired by emotions that are difficult for you to express. Do you find that after you complete a body of work, you’re able to express those emotions in your life with more ease? 

I have never been very good at expressing my feelings in any form, so my works are like the remnants of my struggle to untangle my emotions. I think I feel the most relief when I first manage to sketch out an idea successfully. After that moment, I make every decision based on how I can better communicate that feeling. 

What does a day in the studio look like for you? How do you structure your days? 

I work full-time as an Art Director during the day, so I only get to work on my personal pieces at night or on the weekends. Even though the workload can sometimes become overwhelming, I have a lot of fun finding this balance between commercial and personal work. I like to think both aspects elevate the other and make my work stronger and more well-rounded.

Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow? 

I definitely have specific music that helps me get into a creative flow, but sometimes I struggle to find the perfect playlist or album that works. I also need something to sip on while I work, so I usually make myself a cup of tea or coffee. 

What is your most favorite and least favorite part of the creative process? Does your approach to your concept art differ from your fine artwork? 

My least favorite part of the creative process is prepping the surface I will be working on. I get impatient because I just want to start drawing or painting right away, especially when I have a fresh idea, but I know how important it is for me to create a proper surface to work on, so I stick it out. 

My favorite part of the process is the moment I’m able to capture an idea in a sketch. The first moment when I’m able to catch and draw an idea is so exhilarating that I can sometimes feel my heart racing! 

My technical approach to fine art and concept art are fairly similar. The only difference is the author of the idea and who the artwork is for. This creates a very different emotional connection to the work, but I find it fun to switch between the two mindsets of working solely for myself and working for a client. 

What is your favorite way to spend the day outside your studio? 

I love going to the beach on a sunny day, sitting in the sand, or just going out for good food and drinks with friends. I also love to travel and explore new places, see great art, and immerse myself in nature. 

Who are some of the artists and creators that have inspired you?

There are too many artists I look up to and am inspired by! 

I owe a lot to my teachers, who pushed and inspired me as a student. My amazing mentor and friend, Nathan Ota, introduced me to the gallery scene and encouraged me to do traditional art. Gary Geraths and Bill Eckert are two excellent teachers who taught me how to love art and live like an artist. 

If I had to choose, my favorite classical artists are Edgar Degas, Joaquin Sorolla, and Gustav Klimt. My favorite modern-day artists are Andrew Hem, Colleen Barry, Joao Ruas, and James Jean. 

It is always incredibly inspiring and humbling to see work from these artists in person. 

If you could have any skill or topic downloaded into your brain, what would you want to be able to do/ be an expert at? 

I would like to download some excellent cooking skills. It would be super nice to be able to cook delicious meals, and it would probably make me enjoy cooking more! 

Who would be on the guest list if you could throw a dinner party for five people, dead or alive? What would be on the menu? What would be the icebreaker question? 

Jiro Ono (for the sushi), Joe Hisaishi (for the music), Edgar Degas (for the art & conversation), and a Patissier from Japan (for the dessert), and my best friend (to enjoy it with!) 

The menu would be an omakase course from Jiro Ono and a dessert from the Patissier. 

The icebreaker question would probably be, 

“Out of all the work you have created so far, which is your favorite?”

Interview with Zeinab Diomande (aka Z The Rat) for ‘Perspectives’ | Exhibition on view October 1 – October 22, 2022

Thinkspace is pleased to present artist Zeinab Diomande (aka Z the Rat) showing new works in group exhibition “Perspectives.”

The artist explores the theme of mental health and her experience as a black woman. These themes mark out and feed her warm and colorful world. Adapting what already exists and reinventing it in a way that also shapes a new reality is the main focus of this expression.

Our interview with Zeinab Diomande reflects on the unease felt in calm spaces, dives into the exploration of mediums, and provides a few jazz recommendations.

You’ve shared that your paintings are a love letter to your child-self. What was your childhood like? Would you be comfortable sharing a core memory and the feeling it produced that inspires your work? 

My childhood was semi-regular. I feel like I was a child who was way too aware of what was going on around her. I had a critical approach to life and was very aware that it wasn’t perfect. Life at home taught me that. Despite this, I feel like I still got to be a child in a lot of ways beyond being physically one. A core memory would be playing dress up by myself in my room that I shared with my siblings. The idea of escaping and creating little universes for myself has always been on brand for me. 

I could reinvent my reality by dressing up, making up stories, and be wherever I wanted. This is one of my favorite parts of my childhood having that endless imagination. 

In the last show you had with us, you were exploring the idea of peace within chaos. Do you find yourself unsettled in non-chaotic spaces?

This is probably one of the deepest questions I have ever been asked; I do find myself unsettled in non-chaotic spaces. For instance, I had a conversation a while back about not wanting to move to the countryside. It’s peaceful and quiet, and I grew up in a big city with a lot of noises. I always think about the way I grew up; it’s always been noisy and loud. Moving into my first apartment was pretty hard since there was peace and this can be a hard feeling to navigate when you aren’t used to it. It’s easier to keep the pattern of the things you are used to going than adapting to something completely new. I’m getting better at navigating non-chaotic spaces but still somewhat feel unsettled. 

What drew you to using multiple mediums within your work; acrylics, color pencils, oil pastels, etc? Did you have a period where you tried to stick to one medium? 

I’ve always thought about the complexity of my pieces being tied to my use of multiple mediums. I see endless possibilities in using multiple mediums as well as modes of explorations, different textures having different feelings attached to them. I did try to stick to one medium (oil pastel) at one point, but I quickly realized that it made more sense for me and my practice to keep the idea of exploration going by including a variety of mediums in my work. I like to see my work as a continuing process, so using a wide range of mediums is what makes more sense to me. 

“Perspective” is a group exhibition along with three other talented artists. Could you share an element of your fellow exhibitors’ work that inspires, challenges, or intrigues you? 

I wanna start with Chigozie’s work. I am beyond fascinated by the way she uses oil to create all these beautiful textures. It is something to strive for. Ayobola’s use of mixed media is out of this world. It has a unique interplay between figure and texture that I really admire. Bianca’s use of colors and ink is fascinating and complex! 

Do you have a habit or routine that helps you balance your artistic process, student life, and general hustle? 

Music is something that gets me into the zone that I want to be in. I have a very clear system when it comes to the things I listen to; I generally have three songs that I always come back to when I’m starting a work. these songs are ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ by the Velvet Underground, ‘Ba da da’ by Gray, and ‘sirladymakemfall’ by liv.e. It’s interesting how these songs always come back for every single piece I’ve ever made. they help me stay focused and help me when I’m blocked or at a certain stage in the painting.

Who are a few of your favorite Jazz musicians? Do you have a song recommendation we must listen to? 

John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dahlak Band and Hailu Mergia, Mulatu Atzaske. ‘Anchin Kfu Ayinkash’ by Dahlak band and ‘Hailu Mergia’ and ‘Salt Peanuts’ by Dizzy and Charlie are some favorites of mine.

You’ve been navigating your last year of college in 2022. Have you had your thesis exhibition yet? How was finishing this chapter (or process of finishing)? 

I have not finished yet! I am in the process of brainstorming for my exhibition. it is definitely hard to navigate being both a full-time artist and a full-time student, so balancing the two responsibilities is something that I have to do.

Could you give us three facts or anecdotes about your home country/home city that you wish more people knew about? 

  1. the food!! I would recommend trying as soon as you get there is attieke and alloco which are basically mashed cassava and sweet plantain. they are generally accompanied by fish or chicken.
  2. going to the beach is something I really enjoy about my home. the water is clearer than anywhere I’ve ever seen; it’s incredible to see.
  3. visiting other cities besides Abidjan is very interesting. I’ve been to a place called man (pronounced like maw kind of or much), which is a place with mountains and waterfalls. it is insanely beautiful and is one of the only cool places that I’ve been to in côte d’ivoire. 

If you could have any skill downloaded into your brain, what would it be and why? 

Music skills would be fun to just immediately have. I love music but don’t know much about playing it.

If you could have a dinner party with 5 people, dead or alive, who would they be? What would be on the menu? And what is your icebreaker question?

Basquiat for sure. John Coltrane. my friend Kwamé, Kurt Cobain, and my grandpa. My icebreaker question is “how did we all get here?”