Artist Spotlight: Austin Uzor

By Danny Dunson

Austin Uzor (image courtesy the artist)

Born in the eastern part of Nigeria in 1991, Austin Uzor hails from Imo state. He received his BFA in fine and applied arts in 2013 from the University of Nigeria Nsukka, where he majored in drawing and painting. Shortly after graduation, he kickstarted a studio practice which led to local and international recognition that set the groundwork for his first-ever solo show in 2016, titled, “visitors”. As a very skilled draftsman and painter, he explores the world of the unknown by means of psychological spaces, feelings and alternate realities in search of existential truths. Uzor moved to the US in 2016 and this move is now the subject of his current body of work, a narrative that focuses on the traumas of being displaced. He is currently undergoing his MFA program at the University of North Texas where he is majoring in Drawing and Painting. He is also a Teaching Fellow ay UNT teaching undergraduate drawing and painting. Uzor has exhibited locally and internationally, and his work has been collected and published globally.

ArtX: Tell us about you as a person.

Austin Uzor: I go by Austin Uzor, I am from Imo state in the eastern part of Nigeria although I was born and raised in Southern Nigeria. I’m Igbo by ethnicity. I spent the first 24years of my life in Nigeria. I am currently based in Denton, Texas where I am pursuing an MFA degree in painting and drawing from the University of North Texas (UNT). I have only been in the United States for three years. Fun fact: I do not talk to people often because I am an introvert but whenever I start talking, no one can get me to stop.

How long have you been practicing art professionally, when did you consider yourself a real artist?

I have been practicing art professionally since 2013, after I finished my BFA (drawing and painting) from the University of Nigeria Nsukka. I have always considered my creative process as an authentic one because I am always in search of new ways at every stage in my creative practice. I think I considered myself a more equipped artist once I found my voice, and that unequivocal path that leads to self-expression, which changed my purpose from not only making art for art’s sake but to telling stories and sustainable truths.

Tell us about your training, both formal and informal.

I am self-taught for the most part, although I have a bachelor’s degree in painting and drawing from the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). Being surrounded by so many talents from different fields can help set you towards the right path to self-discovery, and that was exactly what happened in my case. I taught myself how to draw and paint before my college years, when I eventually got into school, all I wanted to do is develop a language and vocabulary for self-expression. So the community of visual artists, students and teachers was one that helped me grow and nurture my visual vocabulary in a formal way. Fast forward to today, I am attending UNT, still pursuing that dream, in search of new ways.

What medium do you prefer to work in?

I basically work with oils when I paint, and ballpoint pen when I make drawings. I prefer oil paints because it is one of the very few mediums that allows me to express myself without any restrictions. It gives me access to an unlimited orbit around my creative process, and the tenacity of uncertainty that comes with exploring an entirely new world in the process of painting. I also use the ballpoint pen to make drawings because I have always loved seeing forms transfigure into multiplicities of lines scattered all over a surface, with different purposes, only to reconvene at the end, and unite for the sole purpose of creating life on two-dimensional surfaces, especially in the absence of chroma. I equally love the immediacy in permanence and swift gestural result I get from the use of the ballpoint pen. This might be unconventional to most traditional artists, but it is perfectly suitable for me.

Who are some of your art inspirations? What are some of your non-art inspirations?

Some of my non-art inspirations are watching documentaries and listening to real-life stories, Traveling and meeting new people and experiencing new adventures. For art inspirations 90% of my friends are artists, so I basically live in the art world.

When do you know when a work is finished?

I guess I know a work is finished when instinctual habits to keep working on it, and establishing new visual boundaries slowly fade away. At that point it is either a successfully finished or an incomplete piece. Most times I run into that wall of not completing paintings or drawings not because that is the goal, but because it is the part of an endless exploration process in the studio where my mind becomes restless and runs riot. It gets to the point that I just have to create anything to give my mind a structure to work with. It’s just like giving a dog a bone, because you do not always find a door at every corner of a space. Sometimes these activities end up at dead ends, and most of the time, they were intended to temporarily solve immediate problems. Sometimes these activities also open up new portals to fresh discoveries in a new realm.

Tell me about your process when working. Do you listen to music or do any rituals to get ready to make art?

I think music and visual art goes hand in hand, so I listen to selected music as a form of introspective meditation while painting with lyrics and sound in my mind before leaving for my studio, and when I arrive at my studio, I feel pumped because my mind has already been warmed up to create. Most times I just do not go straight to painting or drawing. These days I spend more time in front of my works just gazing and getting lost and sucked into the reality of the work I have created. As for the ones in progress, I always tend to metamorphosize into this creative power with access to life in front of all these objects that are without life, with the sole purpose of extending this energy of ‘Life’ to my creations, by way of touch.

This process can go on for hours, and it opens up multiple portals that I can eventually tap into, while creating an original world void of external influences. I also pace a lot in the studio when I think. I think that is me unintentionally mimicking the idea of “taking a walk”, most times I pace around in circles for hours until I find a solution to my restlessness. Whenever I pace in the studio, I know it’s about to go down as something big is on the way. My mind collects data and in the process of transcribing it I start pacing, more data comes in and I might not have the right storage capacity at that point so when it becomes too much, I have to download this data to physically transcribe it which simply means I have to get to the studio and mark art.

What are the meanings and the concepts behind this particular body of work?

As an immigrant in the United States in this day and age I do not feel totally accepted into this world and system and these insecurities drive me into traumatic realities that either alter every single experience I encounter or make my realities appear dreamlike. The issues of displacement and questions of what makes a home a home comes into play as the idea of presence and absence gets investigated. The feeling of not fitting into this particular world which I now call home is one reality and the feeling of and fear of no longer fitting into the world I was born and raised in becomes an alternate reality as well. I am left with are memories to be salvaged as I intend to create a separate world distant from the previous two, a place where only I am familiar with and a place where I can heal this trauma.

What do you want viewers to take away from your work?

I just want anyone who sees my work to know that they have fragments and little bits and pieces of my mind scattered on two-dimensional surfaces.

What are your biggest goals as a visual artist? And what has been your proudest moment professionally?

My biggest goal as a visual artist is to be able to keep telling stories from my experience and the experience of others as I aim to get more and more visual listeners. My proudest moment was probably having my first solo show at age 24.

Learn more about Uzor from his UNT profile feature.
Follow Austin Uzor on Instagram at @austin.uzor.7
*all images are courtesy Austin Uzor


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