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?

Opening Reception of Boris Anje, Oscar Joyo, Stephanie Buer, and Jimbo Lateef Exhibitions | November 13 – December 4 at Thinkspace Projects

Thank you to all those who joined us for the opening reception of Boris Anje’s ‘Black is the Color of Gold’, Oscar Joyo’s ‘HOME_BODY’, Stephanie Buer’s ‘Hiraeth’, and Jimbo Lateef’s ‘Shades of Feelings’ on view now through December 4th.

Continue reading Opening Reception of Boris Anje, Oscar Joyo, Stephanie Buer, and Jimbo Lateef Exhibitions | November 13 – December 4 at Thinkspace Projects

Photo Tour of Boris Anje, Oscar Joyo, Stephanie Buer, and Jimbo Lateef Exhibitions | November 13 – December 4 at Thinkspace Projects

Thinkspace presents a photo tour through Boris Anje’s ‘Black is the Color of Gold’, Oscar Joyo’s ‘HOME_BODY’, Stephanie Buer’s ‘Hiraeth’, and Jimbo Lateef’s ‘Shades of Feelings’ exhibitions now on view through December 4th.

Continue reading Photo Tour of Boris Anje, Oscar Joyo, Stephanie Buer, and Jimbo Lateef Exhibitions | November 13 – December 4 at Thinkspace Projects

Interview with Boris Anje for ‘Black Is the Color of Gold’ | Exhibition on view November 13 – December 4 at Thinkspace Projects

Thinkspace Projects presents Boris Anje’s (aka Anjel) latest body of work and U.S. solo debut, ‘Black is the Color of Gold.’ Featuring an entirely new collection of his vivid neo-pop portraits of contemporary African dandies, this exhibition is wildly engaging.

By placing his subjects against contrasting heavily logoed backgrounds, Anje reveals their sartorial elegance and pride, while drawing attention to the pervasive influence of consumer culture. His work toes the line between societal issues including race, identity, and consumerism. Paying special attention to depicting compelling portraiture from different generations, Anje’s work creates an unspoken dialogue between the subject and viewer.

In anticipation of ‘Black is the Color of Gold’ our interview with Boris Anje explores his creative process and talks about the artistic voices who helped inspire his own development.

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 was born in Bamenda, a city in the North West region of Cameroon. I started art at a very tender age, getting my first art classes from my cousin NJOMKE Samuel. After a professional master’s degree in drawing and painting in 2018, from the institute of fine arts in Foumban I decided to engage full-time in my artistic practice. I live and work in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon.

I got introduced to Thinkspace through the bias of social media, Instagram.

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

The inspiration behind this body of work exhales from my encounter with people. Discussions I had with fellow artists during studio visits, all centered around similar topics I’m working on now like, identity policies, race, the consumerist society and self-esteem.

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

The most challenging piece in this series was ‘Black is the Colour of Gold’, it was challenging because it appears to be the most finite representation of the different topics I have developed so far. It has helped me grow because I later realized how essential and subtle a creative process could be.

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

My everyday ritual is listening to good music, it feels good to paint and be accompanied with some lyrical sonic poetry. Music that feeds the soul like Jacob Banks, Marvin Gaye, John Legend…..and a prayer of belief.

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

It’s always a pleasure getting to see my creations. I start work at 9 am to close by 6 pm, all depending on the feeling and energy of the day. I get to structure this so because my workshop is at home and without discipline and consistency nothing big could be accomplished. It starts with a prayer of commitment accompanied with some sweet music, to nourish and feed my soul. Throughout the day is painting, and a break time by 1 pm.

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

My favorite moment in the creative process is the making of — that is the process that involves colour mixture, setting values, getting to enjoy the gaze and entering the soul of a subject you haven’t met before.

My least favorite part is the very beginning, the thinking process. Mind mapping always get me tired.

Who has been some of your creative influences? Artistic voices that inspired you to develop your style and technique?

Creatives like Kehinde Wiley, Kerry J Marshall, Tim Okamura, and Amy Sherald have been of great influence to my creative process. The artist statement they attach to their portraiture had me going. Dario Calmese, Wole Soyinka, Michael Feugain and many others are critical thinkers that help me

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?

Managing the human condition as a topic and singing as a skill.

What does the perfect day in the Douala look like? Where would we go and what would we eat?

Beautiful days in Douala are characterized by sunny and hot climate, a visit to the coastal seashores of Youpwe where you are served fresh fish, a plate of eru, or ndole and miyondor a lot of varieties to savour.

Do you have a piece of clothing that has acted like armor in your own life? An outfit that changes your stride?

I have this white shirt, whenever I have it on I feel like I can fly, with a pair of denim jeans it feels good to, casual and simple. Aside from this combination, there is nothing else.

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?

My wife, my mum, my kid brother, my best friend and my grandmother (Dead), we will have as dinner a hot pot of fufu and eru accompanied with freshly tapped palme wine.

‘Black is the Color of Gold’ will be on view from November 13, 2021 – December 4, 2021

Opening Reception with the Artist(s):
Saturday, November 13, 2021

Interview with Stephanie Buer for ‘Hiraeth’ | Exhibition on view November 13 – December 4 at Thinkspace Projects

Thinkspace is pleased to present Stephanie Buer’s ‘Hiraeth.’

Hiraeth is a Welsh word, meaning to miss/long for a place that you can never visit again. It perfectly captures the emotions felt by Buer for her beloved Packard Plant in Detroit, Michigan. Buer’s urban landscapes explore the many layers of history found in the marginal areas of cities. She is fascinated by how these places change as they succumb to the manipulation of vandals, artists and the resilience of nature ever slowly growing alongside.

In anticipation of ‘Hiraeth,’ our interview with Buer discusses the impact of the Packard Plant on shaping her artistic style, her MFA program and the type of teacher she would like to be, along with the power of women (especially when in avalanche territory).

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

The inspiration for this work came from a box of old photos I found while cleaning out my studio last summer. The photos were about twenty years old, taken during my first years of undergrad at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, and they were of the Packard Plant, all from my first visits to the factory. The inspiration is two parts, first a beautiful bunch of old faded analog photos, and second this beautiful, old automotive factory in Detroit that I fell in love with during my formative years as a young artist and which in turn became the inspiration for my early art-making. It is about exploring the themes of connection to and love of place and also this feeling of nostalgia. Remembering a place, a time and all the feelings and inspirations that came along with it, being young, moving away from home for the first time to Detroit, falling in love with the city, and finding my voice as an artist.

Do you recall the first time you visited the Packard Plant? Who were you with, what did you find, and what were the feelings/emotions it stirred in you?

I absolutely do!! It’s such a wonderful memory. Outside of school a friend and I used to spend a lot of time at the Heidelberg project, we loved exploring that spot and getting to know the artists who worked there. One day, one of the artists was planning to go gather materials for an installation piece he was planning and he was telling us about this old factory where the Salvation Army used to store donated goods and then at some point abandoned the operation. So, there was this rumored space in the basement of the Packard plant where there were supposed to be loads of old, donated goods and he wanted to go there to gather supplies. We joined him in the adventure and that was my first trip to the Packard Plant. We found out that there was indeed a giant room filled with abandoned, donated goods, I remember distinctly a small mountain of old pumps and we all climbed to the top, it was so surreal. There were giant boxes filled with belts, ice skates, winter boots, pants, etc. It was so weird.

We also wandered the whole factory which is about a mile and a half square, so it was enormous. It was so wild and I immediately fell in love and started going back to visit at every opportunity. When I moved to Detroit from my home, it was the first time I had ever lived in a city. I’m a rural gal, my childhood was spent almost entirely out of doors. The city was a bit of a culture shock and I was so homesick for quiet, rural spaces. The minute I entered that old building, it made me feel like I was home, it brought me back to those spaces that I missed. It was so quiet and peaceful, plants and trees were growing wild, I remember in the spring you could even hear the winter ice melting, dripping from the floors above. So much of it, oddly enough, reminded me of home. Those were the feelings and emotions that it first brought up in me.

When exploring buildings or finding source material, do you need to connect with a space or focus more on its visual textures/composition?

Both of those aspects are important in my practice. I absolutely need to connect with a space, to spend time with it, to walk and explore it. I think the second aspect, takes place more often in the studio, but I do spend time in real life exploring visual textures and compositions, especially in framing the photos that I take but then through those photos, in the studio is when those aspects become imperative.

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

Because I was trying to mimic the look and feel of old, analog photographs, I found the color palette to be new and challenging. The most pronounced difference was in the pieces Sunset and Sunset II, I loved the color palette so much, it was very nostalgic but very different than my usual colors which lean heavily into a blue/purplish range, these had so much green and yellow. I like how they came out though. I think that any chance you get to venture outside of your normal mode of working, helps you to grow as an artist, it adds a broader range of knowledge to your ever-growing toolbox of skill sets.

Can you share with us a piece of artwork or an artist who has had a significant impact on you?

The 20th-century American painter, Andrew Wyeth has definitely had a significant impact on my work. Especially his watercolor landscapes of winter scenes of the countryside in Pennsylvania where he lived. I am so madly in love with his monochromatic palette, his minimal compositions, and his dedication to representing the banal in such a classical and melancholic style. They’re just so beautiful.

You love to backpack and go mountaineering when not in the studio. Can you share with us your pack must-haves and one of your favorite trails you’ve hiked or places you’ve climbed?

I do love backpacking and mountaineering! What a fun but challenging question! Let’s see, my backpacking pack is entirely different than my mountaineering pack. When I’m mountaineering my pack is so full of essential gear for whatever climb I’m doing, whether it’s alpine ice, alpine rock or glacier travel, that and I have to go as light as possible so I can be quick, so I love to splurge on pack weight when I’m not mountaineering. I love to bring fun food items when I’m just backpacking, like a fancy mountain charcuterie, some wine or fresh veggies, something surprisingly luxurious for a remote mountain camp. It’s always such a joy to share with your friends and such a treat for yourself too. Food tastes like a million times better in the mountains after a long day of hiking.

I have way too many favorite places to pick just one!! If I’m just rock climbing, it would have to be Smith Rock State Park in Oregon, it’s like a home away from home for me, filled with a lifetime of happy memories. For alpine climbing and hiking, definitely Northwestern Washington, The North Cascades National Park, The Enchantments, The Monte Cristo Range there are so many amazing places to hike, camp, backpack and alpine climb in Washington State. To narrow it down though if folks are looking to visit, I recommend a hike to Lake Anne on Mount Shuksan, its beyond stunning. I’ve climbed that mountain so many times and it never ever gets old. Very close by too, is a hike to the base of Mount Baker starting at the Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead, it takes you, in very short order, right to the terminus of the Colmen Demming Glacier and I think getting up close and personal with an alpine glacier is something everyone should do in their lifetime if they are able. They are sadly, melting so fast and are one of the most beautiful and life-changing things I have ever experienced. You can even camp up high, next to the glacier, and fall asleep on the mountain, listening to the glacier move and calf. Really words cannot express how amazing it is, and its actually very accessible.

Do you have any rituals for tapping into a creative flow?

Since so much of my work is inspired by place, I find going for walks or bike rides to be great for getting inspired. Wandering around, mind empty, just taking it all in, looking for interesting moments, textures, and scenes, this really gets me excited to make new work.

We’re very excited for you and your pursuit of an MFA; we imagine that studying on top of your studio work is a lot to juggle. What are some of your strategies for balancing both responsibilities?

It is a lot to juggle for sure but I think working full time as an artist really prepares you for heavy workloads like this. I do have a few strategies; the most important I think is to stay incredibly organized and on top of things. That sounds so lame but for me, it really helps. I make so many lists and have multiple calendars with deadlines and goals, going at once. The unhealthier strategy is that I just work too much, a 12-14 hour day is not out of the ordinary, which is not cool I know, but I think there are busy seasons and slow seasons in life and I’m just in a busy one. In order to balance that though, I think it’s important to take long breaks and schedule one in advance so you can look forward to it. Right now, I’m working towards a break at Christmas time which will be amazing! The other is to carve out time every day for something you enjoy that helps you care for yourself. For me it’s time on my bike during my commute, going bouldering at the gym, doing yoga, or making good healthy food for myself. Whatever makes you feel grounded, and cared for, do something every day to keep yourself healthy and happy.

The MFA will help you be able to have the opportunity to teach. What are some of the characteristics or techniques you’d like to adopt from the teachers who have helped guide you? What are some things that you’d want to do differently than some of the teachers you had?

I was actually awarded a graduate teaching fellowship this year which is pretty cool, they give two students out of every cohort the opportunity to teach a class during their time as a graduate student, so I’ll get to try out some of these techniques sooner than later. Next semester here at Emily Carr, I will be teaching an introduction to drawing course! I’m so incredibly nervous but also excited. In my experience, I have noticed that teachers have this habit of projecting their own art careers, their biases, and ideas of what the art world is onto their students. I’ve had both really amazing teachers who didn’t do this and really awful learning experiences where teachers did project and it’s stifling. I’ve had teachers who believed in what I was doing and supported me, gave me space to be myself which was a game changer, and, on the flip side, teachers who thought that what I was doing had no place in the “art world” that it was too boring, too safe, too commercial, too childlike, too anything, you name it, I’ve heard it. I would love to be the type of teacher who could be more inclusive in showing that there is a place for all types of artmaking, that “making it” in the art world can look like many, many different things.

Most of my teaching experience up until now has been in the mountains, which is a heavily male-dominated space. I’ve really enjoyed watching other women teach, and lead in the mountains. They have a way of creating such a supportive, inclusive environment, one where you feel safe in expressing your feelings, whether it’s a hesitation or an excitement over something you’ve accomplished. These expressions are often stifled in male-dominated climbing spaces, but climbing in all-women spaces is like a festival of feelings and encouragement and I’m here for it! There’s a statistic we all learn about in backcountry travel that I will try and summarize, regarding avalanche safety, which says that there’s this incredibly dangerous age range among men in the mountains, roughly like 24-34 years of age, I’m just guessing here but it’s around there. Anyways, if you add a female to that team the likelihood of the group avoiding an accident goes up like 50% or something ridiculous like that. Women are amazing, they communicate better, they’re more supportive, they listen, they delegate more, and express hesitation because they don’t let their egos get in the way. I think women are incredible leaders and teachers and I plan to bring this energy to the classes I teach. To create a safe, brave space for expression, for trying new things, and for learning, connecting, and sharing. I can’t wait!!

What is one of the most memorable meals of your life thus far? It could be the food or the company that made it have a lasting impression.

A couple of years ago, I went to Japan for the first time to visit my friend Kozy Kitchens and her husband Dan. They were moving back to Japan and had bought an old farmhouse to renovate and turn into their home and an artist residency someday. While we were there, she took us to visit some friends who had a similar old farmhouse in the mountains that they had turned into a bed and breakfast style place to stay the night. We had this most amazing dinner cooked in an Irori, and we all sat on the floor around it and roasted wild game from the surrounding countryside and ate wild, foraged foods from the forests, there were some other friends visiting as well, from all over and it was just magical. The company and conversation were amazing, the food was amazing, and all in this ancient farmhouse in the mountains of rural Japan. What a great experience, I will never forget it! I really hope to visit again someday when travel becomes possible and the grad school craziness is over.

‘Hiraeth’ will be on view from November 13, 2021 – December 4, 2021

Opening Reception with the Artist(s):
Saturday, November 13, 2021