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Kip Omolade

May 10/2016
INTERVIEW BY Glen Leavitt

Kip Omolade is an American artist from Harlem, New York, with a background in graffiti art and a BFA from Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts. His latest series, Diovadiova Chrome, is a sequence of hyperrealistic oil paintings depicting massive chrome masks. Omolade casts these masks himself, which he then uses as a model for his paintings. The end result is a fascinating hybrid of African tradition and contemporary materials. We spoke to Omolade about Benin masks, Paris Hilton, and the meaning of chrome, “the poor man’s silver.”

Kip Omolade Diovadiova Chrome Diana II

 

G—In your series, Diovadiova Chrome, you explore immortality and contemporary notions of beauty and luxury. What prompted your interest in these themes?

Kip Omolade—Paris Hilton. During the early phenomenon of reality TV stars, I became fascinated with the idea of the instant celebrity in mainstream media. I wondered if art could participate in this star-making machine.

So, I ironically spent ten years developing the Diovadiova using one model as a muse. I drew, painted, printed and sculpted over 100 images of a single person. By confining myself to one model, Diovadiova also allowed me to stretch my imagination as an artist. I developed different styles including the current technique used in Diovadiova Chrome.

G—What does the title of your series, Diovadiova Chrome, refer to?

KP—Diovadiova is the name and concept I developed to describe the relationship between immortality and contemporary iconography. Dio is the Italian word for god, while the word diva, in the historic sense, means goddess.

G—This series involved a very labour-intensive process. Can you describe what the preparation and process was like?

KP—The paintings start with a mold of the model’s face. This is the most communal part of the process as my wife usually assists in applying the mold and plaster strips. I make a cast plaster sculpture from the mold. Then I sculpt the eyes and parts of the nose based on several photographs of the model. I make another cast in resin that is later covered in chrome. Adding the artificial eyelashes helps convey a feeling of glamour and exaggerated emotion.

After positioning the sculpture against a colour-saturated background, I photograph dozens of references for the oil painting. The painting process is the longest part of the procedure as I slowly add thin layers of oil until I achieve the desired details and colour luminosity. In the beginning of the whole process, there is a sense of unpredictability as the mold captures every unexpected nuance and expression of the model. However, when I paint, the work becomes more deliberate as I control every mark on the canvas. The whole process takes about five months.

G—What is it about chrome that appeals to you as a medium?

KP—Jeff Koons once said that steel is the poor man’s silver, but I think chrome is actually more accessible. Chrome serves as both a mirror and a common language for luxury and importance.

G—Can you explain your interest in faces for this series?

KP—As social creatures, we are designed to recognize other faces. Our survival depends on how well we read each other’s facial expressions. Even now, we use emoticons to convey what words cannot communicate. As an artist, I want to connect with as many people as possible, and the face just seems like an obvious choice.

G—The imagery in this series is identifiably of African descent. What was it that drew you to that particular subject?

KP—As an American of African descent, I think it’s important that art represents a broad scope of all ethnicities.  In art school, I was constantly disappointed that history class omitted vast images of people of colour and reduced the contributions of African artists into very narrow terms. African artisans were depicted as being mostly primitive and their skills incapable of representing realism. Simultaneously, notions of beauty were usually reserved for Caucasian European women.

One of my goals as an artist is to show a varied vision of people using a technique that has roots in African history.

G—Can you tell me about the role of symbolism in your work? To what extent are your artistic choices influenced by a desire to communicate some meaning beyond the immediate visual effect?

KP—With my work, I’m always looking for what it means to be human. I’m interested in the universal masks we all wear. Masks shield our secret identities and protect us from the world. Yet no matter how much we hide who we are, an inner reality still permeates. Universally, masks are magical channels between the spiritual and physical world. Although facial features are stylized and immortalized in these symbolic sculptures, we still recognize the common human experience. Masks reveal the truth because, within them, we see ourselves.

G—Did you study specific mask-making traditions for inspiration, or is the connection to African mask-making more of a general conceptual approach?

KP—I developed the Diovadiova Chrome process on my own, not really knowing where I was going. It was a lot of trial and error, but as I was experimenting, I saw a relationship between my technique and the ancient Benin “lost wax technique” which is also a process of using molds.

Incidentally, my mother used to make her own versions of African masks when I was younger, and my Center for African Art internship fostered an appreciation for ancient African techniques and aesthetics. There’s always been an intrinsic desire to use the mask as a motif.

Kip Omolade Diovadiova Chrome Diana I

 

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