Interview with Oscar Joyo for ‘HOME_BODY’

Thinkspace Projects is proud to present Oscar Joyo’s debut west coast solo show ‘HOME_BODY’.

Joyo is becoming well known for his expressive portraiture that features his unique combination of photo realism and tribal patterning rendered in bright neons, coated in layers of thick, clear resin. His process-driven practice fuses together traditional and digital mediums to explore imagery and themes connected to afrofuturism and afrosurrealism, all imbued with a spiritual psychedlia.

In anticipation of ‘HOME_BODY’, our interview with Oscar Joyo discusses how chromesthesia influences his artistic voice, NFTs, and his exploration of self-love.

For those not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you come to be introduced to Thinkspace?

I’m a Malawian born, Chicago based artist. I grew into my love for art through anime and video games that I was exposed to growing up in Malawi and South Africa. After I moved to Indiana and then Chicago for college, inspiration from all sorts of media felt like an endless well.

I’m currently exploring my African heritage and Blackness through art using patterned work that pays homage to my upbringing with vibrant and expressive portraiture. It started with digital painting but has since evolved into acrylic and resin mediums.

I’ve been a fan of Thinkspace since my time at the American Academy of Art, and seeing a lot of my favourite artists featured made me want to pursue being a part of the space myself. I was introduced formally after my first solo show, NYASA with Line Dot in 2020 and the rest was history. (My 19-year-old self has to be screaming with joy right now.)

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?

I’ve always felt like my work has been driven by various perspectives: as an immigrant, American, black man, African, futurist; however, with this body of work I want to access those channels of thought while prioritizing one major perspective- my own.  I’ve just begun to feel at home with myself and my body of work.

(If I want to successfully pay tribute to where I’m from, I need to appreciate who I am and where I’m going.)

Another inspiration came through with personal realizations, shortcomings, and the need to work through these issues through art. It may sound cheesy but it made me a stronger artist and knowing what I desire to do next.

I stuck with specific colours that dominate the body of work like green for (growth and creativity), yellow (to confront an insecurity), and pink (for myself- it’s my favourite colour!)

The titles of the pieces share a lot of what themes HOME_BODY explores.  Pieces like “RETREAT!” and “overgrown” delve into the pros and cons of being in your comfort zone.

What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? How did it help you grow as an artist?

I’d say the title piece would be my most challenging. I’m personally not too crazy about doing self-portraits, and since I have a very weird relationship with myself, it was hard to bring myself to do it. I had a different idea for the title piece, but after talking with my partner and friends, they opposed doing anything OTHER than a self-portrait to drive the theme home.

Doing that piece really got me to look at myself in the present time and notice what I need to do to take better care. I always try to look for the beauty of Blackness in my muses, but I should always remember to also look at myself.

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

It ebbs and flows but at the moment, I stretch a bit and make myself some tea since I know I will be painting for hours on end. I take a break halfway in for lunch or dinner and some recreational activity then back to it until the end of the day or night (mostly night.)

I structure my day mostly on what I should accomplish for the day, which is just getting to the studio and working on something.

How has having chromesthesia influenced your approach to your work? Have you ever created playlists around bodies of work?

Chromesthesia or sound to colour synesthesia helps me create a song that can only be painted. I’ve always liked the old adage that music paints pictures so I thought why not do it in reverse. The colours from the tones and keys of instruments to the patterns that are manifested through different time signatures or even percussive movements are things I zero in on when painting.

I actively make playlists and especially for my bodies of work!  I think of each of them as a “sonic diary” that helps shape my pieces to their final form.  I started doing it last year for my first show, and when I saw Bisa and Johnny Butler curate a playlist for Bisa’s exhibit at the Art Institute, it made me really think about what I want to invoke or say with the songs I chose.

Having a soundtrack to my work has become an important part of my process.

Listen to Oscar Joyo’s playlist for HOME_BODY on Spotify

Who are some of your creative influences?

I’ve always been drawn to artists like Keith Haring, Kehinde Wiley, and Akira Toriyama but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been exposed to James Jean, Bisa Butler, Kara Walker, Nyame Brown and David Choe. I’m forever inspired by my fellow Chicago artists and the scene that nurtured me into the artist I am today. (I would need a google doc to name them all.)

I also take huge inspiration from musicians as well since they know how to paint a vibe or mood like Kanye West, Childish Gambino, JPEGMAFIA, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Three Trapped Tigers, keiyaA, Injury Reserve, Ibibio Sound Machine and Janet Jackson. (Need a google doc for all the musicians I’m inspired by as well.)

In an interview with Create Magazine, you expressed in college you were into doing “glitch art,” with an openness to art within digital mediums, have you been following the NFT space? What are your thoughts about its place in the art world moving forward, and have you created NFTs (or planning to)?

(Laughs) I knew this was coming and I’ve been keeping a close eye on the world of NFTs and crypto art as well as the debate from both pro and anti NFTs. It made the most sense and it’s inevitable that the art world’s next step was to create a network through the block chain.

When I did glitch art back in college, I wanted to bridge the gap between digital and traditional so I’m glad that there’s at least some fusing the traditional art world with the blockchain. There’s of course many ways to do so without going down the NFT route too.

My favourite thing coming from that is seeing mostly traditional artists incorporating digital elements into their work.  Digital artist Matteo Santoro is collaborating with (mainly known) traditional artists Miles Johnston and Soey Milk. I love seeing that sense of boundary-pushing.

I’m not sure on making NFTs at the moment but maybe down the line once things are a bit more secure.

What is your most favourite and least favourite part of the creative process?

My most AND least favourite part is definitely the conceptual aspect of creating because you’re finding ways to make the idea a tangible piece of work.  I love the challenge, but that same challenge can be overwhelming.  I always like conjuring up different variants of the same idea because there can definitely be more than one way to the pieces. It does become a headache because you end up being paralyzed by not living up to that idea or you have too many to choose from.

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?

To be honest, I’d like to be an expert at time management.  It’s been a long time since I’ve prioritized things like my mental health, relationships, special interests.  I want to able to balance my work life and personal life in a healthy and efficient way.

If you could throw a dinner party for five people dead or alive, who would be on the guest list? What would be on the menu? What would be the ice breaker question?

Wow, that’s a tough question but at the moment, it would be:

Keith Haring

Kerry James Marshall

Octavia Butler

Flying Lotus/Thundercat (they will always be a 2 for 1 to me.)

Araki Hirohiko

I’ve always had a love for how my culture mixes different kinds of food, so it’ll definitely be a mixture of Malawian and Mediterranean. Foods like samosa, mandizi, beef or veggie stew, shawarma, hummus, etc.

As far as ice breakers, I’ve always liked asking people about the weather since it’s simple enough for people to rant or rave about.

 Although, I’ve wanted to ask what other form of creating would you want to pursue if you could?

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