Nigerian artist Ayogu Kingsley has not left his studio for two months, painting primarily at night when everything is quiet.
Patience, meticulous observation, and constant practice are the keys that help him overcome these hurdles whenever he is stuck in the painting process.
Flanked by many canvases of Black political and artistic figures — Malcolm X, Mohammad Ali, Fela Kuti, Chinua Achebe, Thomas Sankara, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nelson Mandela, and Kehinde Wiley — the canvases sit on the wall and floor, casting a majestic feel on the well-lit studio.
On one table nearby, oil paint tubes of different shapes and sizes sit near paint cans, buckets, and chemicals.
Beside him, there is another table with headphones, a sound box, and other items. Focusing on his tablet that is fixed to a tripod, he zooms in on a picture before swivelling to paint on the canvas beside him.
With each stroke, he breathes new life into the political and artistic figures on the canvas, blurring the lines between reality and imagination.
The craft, by Kingsley
As a skilled painter, Kingsley’s process reveals other dimensions in his portraits.
“For me, pictures are just references. What I’m painting is from my intuition,” Kingsley says as he slowly moves the tip of his brush on the canvas, carefully drawing a straight line.
He explains that a perfect example of his painting procedure is a portrait of the late Winnie Mandela, which is a blend of two different pictures and his imagination.
“That painting is made from here. Do you see that’s not the real face?” he says pointing to the tablet, which shows a completely different image of her in a grey suit.
The interplay between photography and painting is a fascinating dynamic in hyper-realism
“Look at where the face is coming from. You can see it’s not the same. I can pick a face from a picture, or a body from another picture, and add my own imagination to create entirely new images,” he says.
The interplay between photography and painting is a fascinating dynamic in hyper-realism, and Kingsley navigates this balance with finesse.
“I use photography as a reference, but my imagination adds a unique, personal touch that sets it apart.”
Ayogu Kingsley Ifeanyichukwu hails from Enugu, a state in eastern Nigeria. He nurtured a passion for painting from a young age and pursued his studies in painting and graphics at Enugu State College of Education.
His hyper-realistic paintings are lens-like in detail, and capture a wide range of emotions, which compel the audience to feel connected to the subjects.
This technique intensifies the emotional impact of his oil paintings, creating a profound connection — from facial expression to body language — between the audience and the depicted subjects.
Kingsley gained recognition in the Nigerian contemporary art scene and has been featured in numerous group exhibitions in Europe and Africa.
Having your exhibitions for others to view, review, and relate with is a dream of any artist
He has exhibited alongside notable artists like Zanele Muholi and was a finalist for the Art X Lagos Prize Awards in 2023.
Influenced by the likes of Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Kehinde Wiley, Kingsley pays homage to those who have paved the way. He says their work continues to inspire his craft, leaving an indelible mark on his artistic vision.
Reconnecting the past with the present
Black Consciousness is the recurring theme in all his pieces, as he seeks to redefine Blackness as a mindset, a means of self-regulation, and a source of authority. His work directly addresses the historical erasure of Black perspectives and voices, as well as institutionalised biases.
His re-imagination of prominent Black American and African heroes challenges the conventional European-Western approach to portraiture, transforming it into a tool for self-realisation for Black individuals often overlooked by both art history and archives.
To capture the detailed nuances of his subjects, Kingsley immerses himself in their world. He reads about their lives and ideologies, studying every shadow, texture, and contour, ensuring a faithful representation on canvas. Kingsley calls this practice “the art of reconnecting the past with the present”.
His reintroduction of these legends to new audiences has garnered some positive feedback. An Instagram follower sent him a message to thank him for his portrayal of Burkinabé president and visionary Thomas Sankara, explaining how the painting kindled a newfound admiration.
“So much learning happens during the painting process. I love learning new things through the people I’m painting,” Kingsley says.
Hanging above Kingsley’s workshop is a portrait of the late Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, sporting a long, beautiful lion fur jacket, khaki shorts, and brown leather cowboy shoes, sitting cross legged on a brown leather settee.
He named the painting ‘Chinua: A Man of The People’, a reference to one of the author’s novels.
Gripping the audience
Kingsley’s agent once told him that a woman cried when she viewed his painting at an exhibition at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair some years ago.
“I don’t know what she saw in the painting that made her cry,” says Kingsley, but the fact that she had a connection with the art was important to him.
While Kingsley paints many who would be considered politicians, his intention is not to be political. He agrees that the audience’s interpretations of any work of art don’t always align with the artist’s intention.
“The audience is free to interpret the paintings according to their understanding,” he says. “Life is politics, I know. How we live is all about politics, but my work is not political.”
“Painting always needs people’s validation to thrive,” he says. “Having your exhibitions for others to view, review, and relate with is a dream of any artist.”
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