When you turn the lights on in the mind of Anthony Azekwoh, you’ll probably find chairs upturned, lamp lights buzzing from overuse, paint brushes lying on the floor, paint splashes long dried up now fixtures on the wall, papers with scribblings of ideas and sketches of future artworks scattered across the desk, mouldings of previous sculptures under the bed, and new ones being designed on top of it… In short, it’s chaotic, but it’s not without a method, not without careful thought. It’s organised chaos, and in the right lighting, you see its beauty. It’s a beautiful mind, the mind of Anthony Azekwoh. Let’sbegin… Lights on!
A Strange Origin
Those familiar with Anthony Azekwoh and his work may already know the story of his laptop
breaking, forcing him to take a break from writing (he had already written five books at the time by his 20 th birthday) and with the itching need of expression, pushing him to take up art: drawing firstly, then everything else from there.
Some may say that this is a story touched up for creative effect. But I know it to be true. You see, I and other keen young writers looked up to Anthony in secondary school. He was two years ahead of me and he was the guy who collected the accolades in the schoolwide literary publication in both fiction and nonfiction categories. He was good, he was damn good. But art wasn’t his thing, it wasn't in the conversation. Now, IT IS the conversation. In fact, the same secondary school, Whitesands School, now gives out an annual award to the best student in art called ‘The Anthony Azekwoh Prize for Art.’
How, I thought, could someone pick up a skill, an interest, on the cusp of their twenties, and in just a few years become internationally acclaimed? For Anthony, there were no cheat codes, just curiosity, an openness to a different form of expression that achieved a similar result in perhaps a more magical way.
Looking on Anthony’s website- Anthony Azekwoh - you’ll find a list of his inspirations:
contemporary artists and a wide range of books covering all sorts of topics. One book stood out to me. ‘Mastery’ by Robert Greene. In essence the book advances the diligent course of action, the constant refining of a skill, as the best way to become competent at something, the best way to gain mastery over something. Anthony read and immersed himself in the teachings of the book and, in many ways, he exemplifies them. He put in the hours practicing, he tried different styles, he attended art shows, showed his art work to people, slid into the dms of established artists and chatted them up using the same line, ‘Hi X, my name is Anthony and I am a young artist. I would love…’. Cute, but intentional, deliberate. And just as artists helped him, Anthony has set out to help the development of other young
artists setting up a fund in 2021 to support the ambitions of young artists and opening his studio to aspiring artists to have a go practicing their skills and benefit from one-on-one time with him.
A call for applicants to attend his open studio. Source: @AnthonyAzekwoh (Instagram)
If anything, Anthony's story is a display of what curiosity can do for an open mind, where it can take one to. He was not trying to be an artist when he began sketching and drawing. he was curious to see whether he could express himself creatively with a new medium. Now, Anthony not only draws and paints, he also sculpts. And by the way, he still writes. I was curious to find out how he could replicate the same amount of effort into these artistic domains, and whether he saw them as different domains, or one and the same thing.
One And the Same
‘It’s different dialects in the same language’ He said, when I put the above question to him. ‘Some stories and messages require certain mediums over others. My painting Yasuke for example, yeah I could have done it as a sculpture, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect. It’s more difficult to get the expression of his eyes with a sculpture. Sculptures are cold…’
Fun fact, if you check google images for ‘Yasuke’, Anthony’s painting is the first thing you see.
Anthony Azekwoh painting ‘Yasuke’. Source: African Defense Forum.
For Anthony, art- whether that be painting or sculpting, is all about storytelling. ‘it’s just about telling a story, a really good story to someone who you may never meet’ he said looking intently through the camera at me, there are different ways to tell a story. One way is to build it from the ground up, brick by brick and unveil the finished work to people. Another way is to put a few bricks up, and invite other people to join in and collectively assemble the finished work with you. That’s how I tell a story’ Anthony at work in his home studio. Source @AnthonyAzekwoh (Twitter)
Anthony at work in his home studio. Source @AnthonyAzekwoh (Twitter)
What’s to come?
I mentioned earlier about Anthony’s curiosity. He loves learning and looking for new ways to express himself. Embracing digital art and NFTs are just some examples from the past few years. But what’s to come in the coming years? ‘Who knows’ Anthony started, ‘maybe I’ll hang up the paintbrushes and go and make my film, when I’m bored of that I’ll make a mixed tape. Then, maybe I’ll come back and start painting again’.
Some Words of Advice
Sam Spratt, Dukes, Quadri, are some of the people Anthony slid into their dms to ask for advice. These are artists he holds in high regard, who he looked up to and still admires. But, according to Anthony, one must be careful about entering a rabbit hole of reaching out to people for advice. ‘At some point you have to go out and develop your own voice, and do your own thing. Because if you dip yourself in all those voices for too long, your voice could be lost’. ‘You have to be damn near delusional.’ he said smiling, ‘you think to yourself sometimes, this may not work… but you just have to be damn near delusional.’
There you go then reader, go and be damn near delusional.