‘Art is for communicating with people and telling their stories’

Nigerian artist Famous Umobuarie talks about his passion to portray life through his hyperrealist lines

‘Art is for communicating with people and telling their stories’

The French word hyperréalisme (hyper-realism) was first used as the title of an exhibition in Brussels in 1973. It is a style of art in which the artist uses “photographic images as a reference source to create a more definitive and detailed rendering, one that often, unlike photo-realism, is narrative and emotive in its depiction”. In simple words, it is a form of creating illusion by enhancing reality. Hyperrealist artists try to bring an added dimension of reality to life.

The News on Sunday (TNS) talked to Nigerian hyperrealist artist Famous Umobuarie.

Born in Benin City; Edo State, Nigeria, Umobuarie studied visual arts at the University of Benin. His hyperrealist expression is an exuberant and marvellous depiction of human portraits rendered in ballpoint pen and a humble lead pencil. His work is so realistic that one has to look twice to make sure the artworks are drawings and not photographs.

His depiction of textures, surfaces, lighting effects and shadows appear clearer and more distinct than the actual subject itself. He stresses the effort to capture the emotion of his subject. The results are outstanding.

The News on Sunday (TNS): What does the blue, a dominant colour in your work, symbolise?

Famous Umobuarie (FU): Blue is a primary colour across all models of colour space. It is the colour of the ocean and the sky; it often symbolises serenity, stability, inspiration, wisdom and health. I feel this sense of inspiration whenever I work with the ballpoint pen. Blue can be a calming colour and symbolise reliability. In most cultures, it can also mean sadness. It can also be associated with life. Notice that the sky is blue; the ocean is blue; and it is calming to the eyes. I like passing out a message to people. I feel it appeals to both men and women.

TNS: What is your favourite part of the process?

FU: Strokes; drawing lines vertically, horizontally, as an arch, in a circle, in other ways. My art is born out of lines in harmony! You see, it is amazing how a single line can create an illusion looking so realistic. Most people think that it is normal but I feel that it is a process the world should pay more attention to and appreciate more. I want to make people see how 1,000,000,000 lines drawn over 200 working hours can make the difference from a blank paper.

TNS: Some experiences are formative in an artist’s choice of subject matter or aesthetic style. How have your life experiences influenced your aesthetic style?

FU: Oh my! In a whole lot of ways! I draw from the things going on in my environment and society. I have come to discover that people are amazing in different kinds of behaviour and character. Whether it is good or bad, there is always a message to their actions; and I just love talking about it. I see it as something that the people themselves should be aware of. As an artist and a human being, I go through challenges in life and most times I smile in the midst of those challenges, believing that it is going to be alright. This applies to my process strokes. I have gotten a lot of questions from people asking me how I try to make my lines smooth and not so obvious when drawing. The truth is I do that because I go through the ups and downs of life. It is not always rosy and even in then I smile and still be happy with people. So the lines are there but not obvious!

TNS: Why do you only use coloured ball point pens as your medium?

FU: I use the humble lead pencil, too! I just discovered that the ballpoint pen is a tool that understands what I want to pass out to people out there in the world. I still use both mediums, to be honest.

TNS: What is the message that you like to communicate through your images of humans?

FU: I like to talk about life and experience. Sometimes, I just like to caution people, educate them on the terrible things going on our society today. Art is life; and it is the highest form of human expression for the society that creates it. Along with my interest in communication, I use my work as a means to communicate with people and tell stories. A prevalent image in my work is the self-portrait, 1975, inspired by the late Fela Kuti — the great legend who sang the song titled Water No Get Enemy. Kuti sings, “If you want to bathe your child, you go use water; if you want to cook, you go use water; water calms a hot head.” The drawing talks about the significance of water in the life of a human being; water is life and there is no one who can do without it.

TNS: How would you justify your statement that female figures in your work are an agent of expression?

FU: Women are so special! There’s so much about them. I think they have got everything in control in the sense that sometimes they can be calm, soft; sometimes they can be lions if they want to be. I see females as an agent of expression because they quickly connect to people’s minds - in a flash - without the viewer even wondering what’s going on in this masterpiece. They are special as they give birth to life.

‘Art is for communicating with people and telling their stories’

TNS: Which artist has inspired you the most and why?

FU: Kelvin Okafor. He is my mentor in the art industry! I got to know him on Facebook in 2016. At that time, I didn’t know how to draw in the genre of hyperrealism or even realism. There was something about his work that just made me pause scrolling through my phone. I have been seeing hyper-realistic artists before, but when I came in contact with Kelvin’s work, I felt this peace inside me. It was more than just the graphite on paper he did, I felt this love from his works and I decided right then that I will create art. So I took my pencils and started practicing and drawing whatsoever I could find or see and developed as I progressed.

TNS: How does your work comment on current social or political issues?

FU: Through symbols and ideas, I communicate a meaning to the world; basically the truth and nothing more.

TNS: Which current art world trends are you following?

FU: I am following the contemporary art style.

The writer is an art critic and artist based in Lahore

‘Art is for communicating with people and telling their stories’