Tomi Olopade is student at Leeds College of art. His photographic painting style and bold use of colours makes his beautiful artwork stand out from the crowd. Throughout his academic life, he has always been a creative, originally studying architecture in Manchester, he realised his calling was in fine art. Tomi has already received many accolades in budding career as an artist. He has received recognition from musicians such as Joey Bada$$ and he painted Maverick Sabre’s 2015 album cover. Tomi’s work is a modern view of people of colour, executed in neoclassical manner. We caught up with Tomi to discuss his course, his projects, he has already achieved so much, so young – here we discover what his plans are for the future…
What made you want to study at Leeds college of art?
At the open day for Leeds college of art I was impressed by both the quality, and the amount of facilities that the school had to offer. But what was even more appealing to me was the way in which the fine art course was structured; there was a lot of freedom, and a good range of tutors with different artistic styles to help and guide us.
Your paintings have a strong personal style – how would you describe them and how did you develop this style?
I have been painting people since I was as young as I can remember, so I’ve always been working towards a high level of realism in my paintings. Since starting the course at LCA, I discovered the artist Kehinde Wiley. Wiley’s paintings highly influence my own aesthetic. The amalgamation of highly realistic portraits and highly elaborate surface pattern designs are something I brought into my own work in my own way.
What projects have you completed in your degree?
So far in my degree I’ve been focusing on developing my style and finding my voice as an artist, so my work has been split up into kind of mini projects. However, I recently started my first real collection entitled ‘Good Hair.’
‘Good Hair’ will be a painting series centred around the cultural importance of hair styles and hair care amongst black people.
Is there a piece or project that you’re most proud of?
I recently finished the first painting of the ‘Good Hair’ project. The painting is set in my local Barbershop and depicts my barber styling on a customer. It is in my opinion my best painting yet; I feel that I was able to make the patterns and the portraits work together on the canvas better than before.
Another project I am most proud of is the Maverick Sabre – ‘Innerstanding’ album cover I designed a couple years ago; I was allowed a lot of creative freedom working on this on, and able to come up with something new and very different to anything I had previously created.
Tell us more about the focus of your work?
My work is centred around people and culture, and the way people see each other, whether that be positively or not. Currently my focus is on Black British people, I have a couple projects planned centred around being black.
I also have ideas for projects in which I explore different cultures and foreign people, that may be misunderstood by the western world. I want to use paintings to explore life from as many different perspectives, breaking stereotypes and pushing the idea that we are all incredibly individual and also all the same.
How has your style developed while studying?
Before making the decision to study fine art, my style of creating had put me more into the Illustrator box. This I felt uncomfortable with, the idea of making art for other people did nothing for me. I knew if I was going to be an artist I had to create what I wanted too. Since beginning my studies at LCA, I have continued to hone my skills and my path and my vision has become a lot clearer.
Tell us about some inspirations of yours, and are there any that you would like to paint?
I used to do quite a few paintings of famous people when I was younger, most notably my painting of Kendrick Lamar based on his album TPAB, but that no longer interests me. Famous people are already put on a ridiculously high pedestal by society, regardless of whether they deserve it or not. Using my talents to raise that higher does nothing for anyone – I would much rather focus on painting normal everyday people whose stories most people wouldn’t even think ask. I have an upcoming project centered on that idea. I am still very inspired by a lot of musicians, actors and other famous talents, but painting portraits of them, like thousands of other fans already have, feels empty. I would now be more likely to paint about an issue or concept that they brought my attention too.
I’d say the inspirations of mine that I would like to paint are the people around me, and the ones I haven’t met yet.
Typically, how long does a painting take to complete?
It definitely varies. My largest piece that I’ve done so far should’ve taken about a month to complete, that’s the kind of timescale I want to be working at. However, that’s a lot easier said than done, I have a lot of other things I work on whilst working on a painting.
What are you trying to say with your art?
I got into making art at a young age because it was something I could do and work on myself, it was never about competing with anyone or trying to ‘be the best.’ It was something I could just work on for myself, and I only had to share it with people when I wanted. Making art is a place where I felt I had the most control. I can’t say yet if there’s any one statement I want to make with my art but one goal would be to encourage people to question the assumptions they make about people based on appearance.
Tell us about what you’re currently working on, and what’s coming up…
I’m currently still developing the ‘Good hair’ project. I hope at the very least the project will consist of 4 large paintings and maybe 10 smaller portraits. After this project I will start work on another project focused on black people, inspired by Kehinde Wiley, Kerry James Marshall, Yinka Shonibare, and Barbara Walker, it will focus on challenging and overcoming assumptions and stereotypes of black people and acknowledging how people have, and still are breaking down doors for us. I am very excited to start working on it but there’s a lot of research and prep that still needs to be done.
What’s you’re ‘Dream’ project?
Once the ‘Good Hair’ project is finished, I have a list of about 5 projects that are very important to me. They vary in subject matter, and styles and there might be a few projects that get done before them. I still have a lot to develop on as they are still just in the idea stage so that’s all I’m ready to say about them. I would also really like to get into filmmaking as a method of expressing my ideas. I’ve always been a massive film fan and have recently started putting together a concept for a film project.