Wave Chat with Artist, John Madu

John Madu

John Madu, City Girls on Rousseau’s Beach, 2020

I sat down a few weeks ago with John Madu, a painter based out of my very own, Lagos Nigeria. John is a an artist of many forms, most known for his figurative paintings heavy with symbolism and highly influenced by pop culture.

I was lucky enough to view John’s pieces at Unit London’s, The Medium Is The Message exhibition a few months ago (back when the streets were open in London … joys of Lockdown 3!) His pieces are vibrant and exuberant. You could see his clever play on current times and pop culture in each of his paintings, bringing a playful and warm aura to each piece.

How would you describe your style of work to our audience?

John Madu, In Pink, 2020
John Madu: I would describe it as Figurative art. Portraiture. It’s worth pointing out that there’s a lot of symbolism in my work. There are recurring objects that you’ll see, like lanterns, apples or books, that symbolise different aspects of every day life.

What feeling would you like people to have when they view your art?

John Madu: I think about the future a lot. It’s one of my major drivers. I want to know what people will feel when seeing my art 30 or 40 years from now. If I think of myself, I’m inspired by works of masters, looking at their works in galleries today and wondering, “what were they thinking then”? It definitely triggers something in me and inspires me. It’s a very big drive for me. How will people feel about my work in the future? How relevant will my work be? What stories will they take from my work?

Who are some of your favourite artists?

John Madu: Dali is definitely one of my ultimate faves. I was a fan of his lifestyle prior to even knowing about his art work. I love David Hockney. Ben Enwonwu. Picasso. Ndidi Emefiele. Just to name a few.

What’s your creative process when to starting a new piece of work?

John Madu: My process is mainly mental. I have to get inspired and think things through before I put brush to canvas. At the onset, my mind is racing through art history, current times, my own experiences. There’s a lot going through my head. I have to break it all up piece by piece before starting on anything physical.

Do you think the Nigerian art scene and associated infrastructure has now developed to the state of truly growing and propelling Nigerian based artists? Is there more work to be done?

John Madu: It’s definitely growing. Right now, there’s a wealth of opportunities for artists to engage with. There’s a growing platform for us and a lot of room to do stuff. For example, there are more galleries. More art fairs. And this is evident with the fact that there are a number of Nigerian artists doing great work internationally.

What has been your greatest milestone in your career so far? Are there any other specific goals you’re still reaching for?

John Madu: To be honest, this is a tough question! I’m doing commissions for some top collectors, like Alicia Keys and Swiz Beatz, which is dope. The fact that people can recognise my work and acknowledge that my paintings speak to them is another noteworthy accomplishment for me. Someone once called me to say that she saw a painting I posted; it reminded her of her childhood and she wanted to buy it. Stuff like that makes me extremely happy!

In all honesty, just getting my work out there alone is a great accomplishment.

What advice would you give your younger self?

John Madu: Be bold! Go all out! I was bold at the onset of my journey, and mid-way through, there was doubt and stuff that creeped in which led to me pausing for a bit. In hindsight, I don’t take it back because I still learned through out that entire process. But long story short, I would say go all out and do things with boldness.

What’s one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned over the course of this year?

John Madu: For me, 2020 was a great year. I loved it. It aided my traction as an artist. I learned that you can do things differently. Can always innovate. Everywhere is reachable from anywhere. The world is literally at our fingertips.


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