Interview by NNOROM AZUONYE
Michael Echekoba was born in London and raised in Nigeria. He qualified as a graphics designer in 1990 and has since pursued his chosen career as an artist and painter, exhibiting at several British, African and Oriental exhibitions. His paintings adorn both private and public places such as the walls of the Ex-Prime Minister of Malaysia, King of Swaziland, President of Mozambique and Commonwealth Partnership Management Ltd (CPTM). On returning to the UK in 1996 he worked for New Generation publishers as an illustrator and took part in-group exhibitions with “Hackney Hidden Artist” in 1999 and “Off Broadway Art Gallery” in 2002. He views his art as a journey from his experience growing up in Nigeria, influences living in England, and travels around the world and satirising these through his canvas. He aims at keeping African people in the Diasporas connected to their roots, while at the same time-sharing with the rest of the world the positive and entertaining experience of Nigerian culture.
You trained as a Graphic Artist. How did you get to settle into life as a painter?
I majored in Graphics Design, but my Art School taught Fine and Applied Arts, including Textile, Graphics Design, Sculpture, Ceramics and Art History etc in your first two years. We then choose our areas of specialisation.
I opted for graphics design and excelled with flying colours. Even while training to be a graphics designer I indulged in painting. Mind you, I won first prize in Art as part of Festival of Art and culture amongst Federal Government Colleges in Nigeria in 1984. That was for painting. While in school I continued to paint and sell to friends, family and collectors.
I later went to work at LTC Adverting for 7 years rising to a Senior Visualiser management position. I enjoyed my time and experience working in advertising.
I enjoy designing, painting, photography, video editing and even fashion design. I enjoy the flexibility of switching from one specialization to the other. All disciplines are bound by the same principles, trainings and experiences. They all involve creating something out of nothing.
Atimes one technique plays out in the other. I enjoy the freedom and I enjoy doing both graphics and painting, but I think I see myself doing more painting in the future.
You proudly position yourself as a cultural ambassador of Nigeria, is that correct?
I have always recognised the strength in Nigeria’s diverse cultural heritage, partly because I grew up at Umuahia, now in Abia state, went to secondary school, in former Bendel state, did higher school at Enugu, lived briefly in the North, worked for 7 years in Lagos. While in Secondary school we had excursions to different parts of Nigeria which exposed me to our untapped rich, culture, landscapes, beautiful sceneries etc. I often tap into these in my works of art. When I came back to the UK in late 90’s, Nigeria was going through very bad press, I thought I must do something about it using something I enjoy to create positive images of Nigeria as opposed to all the negatives which were not 100% who we are.
You have spoken about being influenced by places you have been. What about the people you have met? Who are the artists that have most influenced or inspired you?
The places I have been to comprise of the people, topography, culture, landscape etc. The place doesn’t exist in isolation. I tend to see similarities and differences in cultures and absorb myself in all. For example I did a painting on my return from Swaziland about initiation into womanhood, symbolism of womanhood. I found out we shared common culture although the application might be different.
I have be influenced mostly by Artist that taught me while in art school such as Nsikak Essien and Boniface Okafor. I also adore the works of Michelangelo, Picasso, and Ben Enwonwu.
What are the media you normally work with?
I work predominately with acrylic, pen on paper, pencil and mixed media. I like to experiment with found objects. I do a lot of tinkering, this keeps the excitement level going
Do Nigerian artists in the UK have enough opportunities to work and market their work in the country?
Nigerian Artists trained in Nigeria can do better to fulfil the massive potential we have. We are in the processes of forming a united front, (Association of Nigerian Artists, England and Wales) associated with our parent body in Nigeria. We have made contact with the right quarters, and it is work in progress. This project will involve holding annual Art exhibitions in a Major Art gallery in the UK, inviting major art collectors in UK and Nigeria, curators and auctioneers.
As you are aware Bonham’s (a major Art dealer in UK) is beginning to look in the direction of Nigerian Artists.
The bulk of the work will need to be done by us and the media with vested in interest in our cause.
I notice that you offer a great deal of your work in four formats of Canvas Print, Framed Print, Art Print and Greeting Card. Is this a good practice for the longer term branding of your work?
The bulk of my work is in Canvas and I pride myself in offering my work as unique one-off pieces. On a few occasions I have done very limited editions of poster and cards of my works. I do this to help reach out to people who desire to own my work but might not necessarily afford it. I make sure it is controlled, so the value of the original is not affected, the limited editions are always small.
Your themes are quite eclectic though, from music in “Reaching Out”, through love and friendship in “Affection” etc. Do you consciously avoid the political and the historical?
I don’t like to pigeon-hole myself. I try to satirise my environment. I draw inspiration from everything and I like to see myself as social commentator. I have done some political themes but I don’t show much of these on the Internet.
Do you have an exhibition coming up soon?
I am working towards my annual open house exhibition towards end of summer and an exhibition at the Royal Common Wealth society. I will announce these events as soon as they are finalised.
The art world lost a great figure this month in the person of Lucian Freud. Were you a fan? What would you say was his greatest gift living and future artists?
May His creative and talented soul rest in peace. Massive fan of his. A great technician. I liked his bold use of colours and strokes in his self-portrait and the portrait of the queen. He attempted to represent his subjects as seen. He would be greatly missed. SLQ