ONES TO WATCH / EKUN RICHARD
We're back with the second in a series of interviews with up-and-coming artists who explore the creative potential of printmaking. This time we're shining a spotlight on Ekun Richard – a young, emerging artist from Manchester, who is currently studying Graphic Arts and Design at Leeds University.
As you can imagine, the Look Up Instagram feed is a sort of never–ending rainbow of bright, poppy, technicolour images... It's a great way to wake up in the morning, but even so, it'd be really boring if they were the only colour palettes we were interested in. Enter Ekun Richard, whose penchant for earthy hues and more organic forms of geometric abstraction have well and truly caught our eye.
Studio wall featuring Ekun's 'You Have Grown Up So Fast' screenprint
While Ekun has lived in Manchester for most of his life, he's also travelled extensively. He recently returned from a summer residency at the National School of Art in Dijon, soaking up the culture and atmosphere while working on an ongoing project concerned with 'people, places, and time'. His adventures in Dijon seem to have fired his imagination, energising his outlook as well as his work; so much so, that he's now planning to do a Masters in Paris. To find out what makes his creative practice tick, we asked him a few questions...
Look Up Hi Ekun. Please can you tell us about your background, and how you first got into painting and printmaking?
Ekun Richard When I was younger I travelled around the world quite a bit… Being around different cultures and people had a subconscious effect on my mindset, inspiring me to explore things independently. Visiting galleries and museums in those places opened my mind to the history of art, but it took a while before I decided to study art. A few years ago I started thinking about what I wanted to explore in my life, and eventually I gravitated towards creativity. After my first year of university I started to focus on what I enjoy the most, and I found that an experimental approach to printmaking and painting spoke to me more than other areas or disciplines. You're constantly learning with these processes, and I find that refreshing. Messy, inky hands are fun too…
Sketchbook featuring 'Offerings to the Sun (People Places Time)'
LU How does printmaking fit into your creative practice? Is it something you plan to do more of in the future?
ER For me, printmaking is a process that I compare to note taking. The only way to learn is to make mistakes and that's one of the best things about it. Each print might not be perfect, but it has a unique quality and character. The opportunity to play with overlaying colours in printmaking is something that particularly interests me; it's something I've tried to translate into my paintings too.
Compositional study (oil painting) by Ekun Richard
LU Can you tell me a bit more about the course you're on?
ER I study Graphic Arts and Design in Leeds. The course is pretty open, allowing us to create work with a variety of processes. It can be challenging – we've been set a lot of specific briefs which can be restrictive. In terms of the city, Leeds is full of creatives and I've met lots of cool people who I'd love to collaborate with in the future.
'Grand' monoprint type project by Ekun Richard
LU There's an almost literary aspect to some of your work... Who are your main influences?
ER I tend to be inspired by people other than visual artists. Reading interviews with my favourite musicians or writers, like Sun Ra, Madlib, and Damon Galgut. I try to take little snippets of information that I can translate into my own life. Sometimes that can fuel an idea for something I want to make, or steer me in a certain direction. I'm definitely intrigued by the work of artists such as Fabio Viscogliosi, Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, and Berit Mogensen Lopez. They all achieve an incredible sense of balance in their work; that's something I try to incorporate in my pieces.
Framed compositional study (oil painting) by Ekun Richard
LU Your work often combines simple, geometric forms, albeit with a distinctly organic tone. Have you always been interested in geometric abstraction, or is it something you've arrived at as your work has developed?
ER I've always been drawn to it, but with regards to my own work it's definitely developed over time. I started by running around with a camera taking photographs – which I still enjoy – but as my mind wandered to other things, my work followed. One aspect of geometric abstraction that I gravitated towards is the idea that it leaves room for interpretation; room for people to create their own ideas and emotions about a piece.
LU I like the fact that some of the forms in your work are almost recognisable, but at the same time, not recognisable… It's a kind of ambiguous abstraction that reminds me of surrealism. Are these forms products of your imagination, or based on real objects?
ER It differs from one piece of work to the next. Some are more clear-cut… I like to create work that has some kind of narrative, but is still open to interpretation. It's satisfying hearing back from people – what they think a painting is about, or what kind of energy they get from the colours or compositions – and comparing it with my original intentions.
Oil paintings from Ekun's 'People, Places and Time' series
LU In one of your emails you mentioned a project you were working on that was "based on the interactions between people, places and time, using the language of colour to recreate these moments. I fill sketchbooks with drawings of colour to document these moments and try to sketch a particular meaning or emotion using shapes and colour to then make into prints." How's the project going? And how do you use colours and shapes to 'recreate interactions'?
ER Last year I had a lot of new experiences and I started thinking about time; how important and precious it is. I feel that every experience can be linked to a specific person, place or time, and I wanted to reconstruct these experiences through the language of colour. Maybe taking specific colours I remembered from the scene, or creating colours from the atmosphere, as well as trying to break down and illustrate those moments with a sense of balanced abstraction through composition. The forms are inspired by conversations with people or, for example, things I notice walking through a park for the first time. Just trying to observe the small stuff that we sometimes under appreciate and capture them in time. Almost like a photograph.
Detail of 'Happy Accidents' by Ekun Richard
LU Our Instagram feed is overflowing with bold, poppy colours, but your colour palettes are refreshingly earthy and organic. What's your approach to colour? Do you make deliberate decisions, or do you find that your palette has evolved quite naturally?
ER My palette has grown relatively naturally over time, by making mistakes and trying new combinations. Although I've always been more attracted to earthy tones, the more work I create the more refined my palette becomes. I think it's about a finding a balance with colour, and I realised that a subtle change can have a huge effect on the energy of a piece. I usually mix colours around, always adding little by little, making decisions thinking of the painting as a whole and how each colour coincides with the others.
Various works above Ekun's desk at the National School of Art in Dijon
LU You spent some time in France recently. Do you think the change of scenery and culture had an influence on your work, or on the way you work?
ER I spent some time at the National School of Art in Dijon (ENSA Dijon aka the École Nationale Supérieure d'Art de Dijon), working mainly on my project, but it was a very helpful experience for me as a person and as an artist. My work is usually influenced by my surroundings and that was the case in France. When I look back at my work I see little ‘accents’ and French elements… reminders of my time there. The greatest influence on my work was the energy of the people I was working with. I'd never worked in a space with such talented and dedicated artists before. It definitely inspired my work ethic, and it's something I won’t forget.
LU What's next, and what are your goals for the coming years as far as your creative practice is concerned?
ER I have some projects in mind that lean towards not having to rely on any machines to create things – some woodworking using handmade tools and pottery, for example. I'm also hoping to start my masters in Paris before the completion of Brexit (sigh) but if that doesn’t happen, I just want to keep learning, creating and travelling around the world, meeting more people along the way...
New paintings by Ekun Richard
Some artists seek a stable, consistent environment in which to focus and develop their oeuvre. For Ekun, and his fascination with 'people, places and time', a transient lifestyle might be more conducive to the evolution of his work. We hope he manages to do a Masters in Paris before Brexit, but who knows – the changes and challenges wrought by Brexit might enrich his work, as the relationships and experiences we've all taken for granted are altered or jeopardised by isolationism.
Brexit or no Brexit, Ekun has turned his attention to a fascinating subject – a subject he can mine for years to come, as the story of his own life slowly reveals itself, chapter by chapter. The results, whether in paint or print, are intriguing and refreshing, revealing the keen eye of a talented colourist.
Follow Ekun on Instagram here
Read our 'Ones To Watch' piece on Richard Marsden here