Disclaimer: I have the last Black Artists Collective subject of the year, and I gotta say, I feel like I saved the best for last, because this person has such an infectious way of being, that you will, indeed, get your life. Here we have Odera Igbokwe, whose interview I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Odera’s a person who stands so firmly in himself and allows for that to translate in anything he touches, which you receive instantly as you begin to read about him and his art. Confidence seems like an understatement as I’d take in how Odera recounts the stages in which he realized his love for art, not just CREATING it. Odera doesn’t just live, he EXPERIENCES, and I’ve always believed that as human beings, it’s a luxury we don’t take advantage of too often.
Odera knows himself, and that alone inspires me. But it was his art, that I fell upon during a regular scrolling session through Twitter, that drew me to him. I was intrigued by the blatant Afrofuturism and Black LGBTA representation in the images, with colors vibrant without intimidation, and depictions outlandish and imaginative. As I looked through the work he gave me, I noticed his style felt familiar, in that it can easily be placed amongst the pieces we’ve seen of ourselves from notable Black artists, and fresh, because it was his own, with a spin only Odera can emulate. I loved how in tune he is with the people who inspire him, along with how connected he is to the many forms of art, such as music, and how he can easily describe how he feels or what standard he’s trying to reach, with a single song lyric.
This whole experience with him was wonderful, and I hope you’re taken away by it like I was. Enjoy 🙂
Name, Age, Hometown:
Odera Igbokwe. I turned 25 on August 15, 2015 (5 seems to be an important number in this sequence #LeosRiseup). Hometown is Maplewood, New Jersey.
When did you start drawing (or when did you begin to take drawing more seriously), what made you start drawing, and why do you continue?
I started drawing at an early age but there are landmarks for when I took building a career in art more seriously. I think the first sign was that I would occasionally opt to watch other people play videogames instead of playing them myself. Part of it was the fear of getting run over by a boulder in Tomb Raider, or getting beat up in Streets of Rage. But a lot of it was giving myself the opportunity to have a visual experience. I was truly fascinated with these worlds and I would constantly do drawings based on my favorite games, shows, and comics.
I was really drawn to the arts as a child, I loved to draw, sing, and dance. But I was also VERY shy and afraid of people’s judgment. Singing and dancing required more time in public spaces, so practicing could become a spectacle. However, with drawing I could do it anywhere and on my own terms. No one could take that away from me.
Around the age of 12 is when I started to take drawing more seriously. Internet access meant time to hone my craft at my own pace. I have very distinct memories of signing up for Fanart-Central and DeviantArt and seeing an entire new world of possibilities. Having that audience and community really pushed me to keep going. By the time I was a junior in high school, I saw that visual art was a viable career option.
Now I continue because I have no other choice. It is one of my joys and blisses. It is #bound2 me.
How would you describe your main (if you have many) drawing style?
For a while my work was very derivative of Golden Age Illustrators and my instructors at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). And my natural tendency is to do a lot of labored and layered paintings, where I can tickle every surface and texture of the image.
I still really enjoy that process, but in recent years I’ve made a conscious effort to discover the full depth of my drawing style. I am learning that I really love ink work with a brush, patterns inspired by African textiles, and juxtaposing those with my painterly-atmospheric images. I’m also learning that suspension of belief is more important to me than a realistic or “correct” image.
I guess I would say that stylistically, I want my drawings to feel like they are dancing across the page to summon the deities living within me.
Where do you want to take your art, career wise (if it’s more than just a hobby for you)?
When I was in school, there was this idea that Illustrators would either do editorial, books, or visual development/concept art. But I am realizing that the world is much larger than that and I can carve out my own path.
Now I joke that I am building an empire: “I’m currently at a Destiny’s Child Say My Name, and I want to get to a Crazy in Love or possibly even B’Day by the next year or so.”
In more tangible forms that means continuing to make fantastical illustration work that really puts us and our people at the forefront (people of the African diaspora, LGBTQ people, women of color, and all the beautiful intersections in between). If I were to speak more specific goals into reality I would say “I want to continue to combo-break the internet, until I am teaching a traveling workshop on “The Contemporary Illustrator as Celebrity,” blogging for Saint Heron’s art section on Fridays, and then in the studio for the rest of the week juggling all of my dream projects.
Do you practice discipline, where you draw even when you don’t feel like it, versus drawing when you want?
I try to draw every day, even if it’s just a scribble to keep my drawing muscles warm. If you are making a career out of drawing, you don’t have the privilege to only draw when you want to.
How do you prep yourself for a drawing session?
Physical activity helps keep my mind focused. That usually means a dog walk, a jog, or my personal favorite: a dance break. Then I put on some good tunes and do some loose drawing where I am free to mess up before working on any assignments or big projects.
Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of RPG game soundtracks. Final Fantasy Distant Worlds III is a current favorite. Joe Hisashi is always ***flawless. And the OSTs for the games Journey and the game Papo & Yo are amazing. If I am deep in the painting/drawing session then I go into my vault of playlists and favorite albums (Aaliyah, Bjork, Beyonce, Utada Hikaru, Janelle Monae, Nobuchika Eri, Erykah Badu, Zaki Ibrahim, Zap Mama, Oumou Sangare, etc). I could do an entire interview about music choices and the illustration workflow.
What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve created? Your least favorite?
I always try to find a personal connection to any project I am doing, so I have lots of favorites. I have been lucky enough to give Beyonce & Solange some of my paintings (multiple times) while at their concerts, so those obviously hold a special place in my heart.
Last year I did redesigns of the cast of Sailor Moon as women of the African Diaspora. It was amazing to see it snowball into lots of Internet engagement. Sailor Moon is iconic and so representative of an entire generation and our need for sisterhood, justice, and resilience. So to see such a widespread and mostly positive response from a western and Japanese audience was humbling.
FEM4FEM holds a special place in my heart, because of its personal and collaborative nature. It was truly a labor of love, and came together spontaneously and effortlessly. It was also one of the first times I injected my sense of humor into my work. And seeing so many people connect to us subverting masculinity with crop tops was pretty special.
Recently I did some character illustrations for “1001 Knights”, where I created five “Vogue Knights” each representing the five elements of vogue dance. It was super indulgent and pretty much felt like “What would happen if Final Fantasy’s Magus Sisters went to a vogue ball?”
And lastly, I’m really proud of my illustration for Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed. It was a breakthrough for me in terms of technique, but also because Octavia Butler is sacred text.
Any piece that’s my least favorite no longer exists on my website anymore 😉
With each new piece I trim + purge my portfolio.
What piece of illustration (whether it be a cartoon, a comic, an animated film, fanart, etc.) inspired you so much, your views on art took a turn for the better?
I think of illustrators of the past and present who really make my heart sing, and Yoshitaka Amano, Erte, Rebecca Guay, and Jeffrey Alan Love are at the top of that list. So learning to be as dynamic as them is providing some interesting juice to my body of work.
Amano is especially inspiring to me because he’s helped me realize that not every single illustration has to be a 60 hour painting process. Sometimes an ink drawing with lots of movement and flat colors can be just as exciting. He is also great at suspension of belief. He can create a wonky brushmark to represent a hand or foot and I don’t question it. It simply works in his realm of image making.
Sites like Tumblr, Deviantart, and Instagram give artists a chance to share their art with a community of artists. Did your confidence shift when you discovered other artists and their styles of drawing? If so, how do you stray from that mindset? If not, what did you learn from those artists?
Artist communities have been a part of my art practice since the early 2000s on FanartCentral, DeviantArt, ConceptArt.org, and even posting on random jpop forums. So I quickly learned that I wasn’t that special because I could draw, and that there would always be someone better than me at something. By the time I went to RISD I took solace knowing that there could only be one me. No one else could do a better job at being Odera. #nopassengersinmyplane
How has online distribution helped you with your art?
The abyss of the Internet can be quite daunting if you don’t know how to navigate. But ultimately it is a great platform that is critical to my process. Now artists can find their audiences much easier; there are fewer gatekeepers; and dream projects are a lot more feasible in the era of Kickstarter and Patreon.
What’s an opportunity that came your way through your art?
As a freelance illustrator, pretty much every next assignment comes from my art. But I would say the most interesting/recent opportunity was being interviewed twice by GREE news, a Japanese media site, for my Sailor Moon redesigns and Sailor Mars Cosplay.
What struggles have you endured on your journey to becoming a better artist to your own standard?
Immediately after graduating from art school I was flung into the real world.
And the most poignant struggle was that moment of doubt where I wasn’t getting hired for any jobs. Part of it was that my skills simply weren’t there just yet. But there was also this creeping suspicion of race, gender, and misogynoir being part of the equation. My default characters are black. And typically Art Directors hire you for what’s in your portfolio. So there were moments where I wondered if I had to compromise, and asked myself, “Do I need to draw more white men in fantasy garb and women as objects to get hired?” It was a quick conversation, because I obviously don’t want to contribute to that wheel of erasure. Ultimately if I am creating personal work then I won’t compromise my vision. I just have to keep in mind that, “We have to work twice as hard for half as much.” #thanksPapaPope
What message do you want your art to represent?
My name Odera, translates to God has destined/willed it. So I guess my message would be:
Odera: The will of Afro-Diasporic resilience & the transformative destiny of queer intersectional magic.
Who are a few artists you’ve made friends with online (or who’s work you admire from afar)?
I’ve made so many! And have been lucky enough to meet some of them through social gatherings and illustration events. There is an entire generation of young illustrators that are so diverse and making spectacular work. And I don’t mean diverse just as a buzzword for the sake of being diverse. I mean a truly inspiring diversity that is injected into their artwork. It’s especially beautiful to see these people from all these walks of life speaking up in the illustration world (against sexism, racism, etc.) and sharing their voice outside of their images.
I really admire young Black illustrators I’ve yet to meet like; Richie Pope, Chris Kindred, Shannon Wright, Asieybarbie, Kat Blaque, etc. for simply existing and making such important work.
I also love the occasional ~*queer*~ twitter bantering with Nico Delort and Ricardo Bessa (which is typically us just geeking out over Final Fantasy soundtracks).
Is there a Black person who you thoroughly admire for their eccentricity and artistic style of being?
Self love is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
Thank you for being you.
What’s the BEST advice, from experience, you can give to an aspiring artist and/or fan?
The journey never ends, so you just have to be willing to keep pushing forward. There are always lessons to be learned.
Have the foresight to create a home or community that can nurture your artistic growth.
For recent art school graduates; Get a job. Any job even if it is unrelated to your passion. A steady paycheck is critical to supporting the early stages of freelancing.
Don’t wait to pursue your dream projects or dreams.
Don’t worry about being “good enough.”
Start working on them now.
The worst thing that happens is you don’t like the results.
Do you have any projects in the works that you’re okay with sharing?
I am constantly doing commissions and always excited to work with new people. For more information check out.
Angelica Alzona (great friend and fellow illustrator) and I, have started a Digimon zine! Be sure to visit pepperbreathzine.tumblr.com for more info.