Charismatic, passionate and eclectic are a few words to describe this remarkably gifted young man I’m happy to introduce as my next guest. Ugonna Ikechi alias ‘gunna’ is a Toronto based multidisciplinary artist and a co-founder of Zone District; an urban apparel line with a considerable client base in the United States, Canada, England, Spain and Nigeria.
Many a time Gunna blends rich, vibrant colours, textures and subtlety into his highly original flowing style. He is someone I identify as a pure expressionist – his thought provoking art is known for evoking deep emotions, as well as employing the senses of his viewers. If you are a curator, artist or an art enthusiast, Gunna’s work is one you should keep a definite close tab on.
Asides his work, Gunna’s unorthodox lifestyle and ingenuity has won the admiration and respect of many. I hope you guys enjoy meeting this great mind and get to learn a few things from him as I did.
As always, I advice you grab a cup of coffee or a snack and enjoy the read below 🙂
What is a typical day like in Ugonna’s life?
It kinda varies. I have a bizarre sleeping pattern. Generally though, I spend most of my days in my head, envisioning future art endeavours. When I do leave my mind, I spend large hours consuming art; from viewing fine art, film, listening to music, all sorts of art forms. I also create art some days but way less often than I consume lol.
What are three things you can’t live without?
My hands, my eyes and sadly, the internet
I find that most artists get their gift from a parent or some relative, do you come from a family of gifted artists or you are the first artist in the family (that is to the best of your knowledge)?
Growing up, there were a couple artistically gifted people around me. My brothers did lots of sketching; my cousin and uncle, who lived with us, were also really good at drawing. My cousin’s ambidextrous and it really blew my mind back then. I remember I would attempt to copy their drawings when I was much younger. I think my drawing style is definitely a subconscious fusion of all of these early influences.
How would you describe your art and what influenced you to become an artist?
I often like to leave the description to the viewer, but I’d say my art is a blend of thought-provoking symbolism and visually pleasing imagery. It’s kinda like where realism and expressionism meet. As to what influenced me to become an artist, it was a piercing urge. Like, that’s what I was created to be, you know? That’s all I really saw/see myself as, and I’m gifted at it so it only seems logical.
Your work is mind-blowing, where do you draw your inspiration to paint the things you do?
Thank you! It seems a lil cliché but I get inspiration from everything. Existence is bursting with potential inspiration, from physical aspects like nature, people, art and culture, to more mental/spiritual things like peace, religion, emotion and history. Literally every aspect of life can be inspiring when you really open up to it.
Did you ever consider going to art school and do you think art school is necessary for people who have the raw talent to paint, draw e.t.c?
Yeah, I definitely did. I damn near fought with my mum for it. I’m currently studying Communications at uni though lol. I do plan on going to art school afterwards. In retrospect, I’m happy I didn’t go to art school right away, cause I’ve had time to really reflect on what I want to do with my art, and I’ve gotten the chance to experiment on my own. Personally, I feel art school isn’t particularly necessary, but extremely helpful, for anyone trying to be a professional artist, whether gifted or not. It’s just like any other profession, you need some form of education in order to thrive in the field. I believe the knowledge and experience from art school would be priceless.
What particular struggles do you face as an African artist?
One would be being referred to as an African artist. I’m anti-labels and limitations, especially in a field as expressive as the arts. As much as I’m a Black, African, Nigerian, Christian, Young Male, I’m a human first, and I want my art to reflect that. I want my art to speak in such a manner that any creature with life will be able to relate to.
On an average how long does it take you to complete an artwork and do you have any specific rituals?
It really depends on the style, content and size of the piece. It could take a few hours, days or weeks. Lol I used to have some rituals earlier on, when I would fantasize being like one of the artists from history. These days, I spend a lot of time mentally conceiving the piece before I put anything on the canvas/paper. I speak to the Creator for inspiration and guidance, put some vibes on—Bob Marley, Billie Holiday, Erykah Badu, you know, vibes—then I begin.
Art means a million things to different people. What does art mean to you and what would you like your art to mean to others?
To me, art is a very broad thing. It’s sorta omnipresent, in the sense that everything can be art if observed with the right specs; poetry, music, language, science, dance, skies, cutlery, gardens, anything that involves a creation process, whether intentional, incidental or intuitional, is art. I want my art to change the way we think about ourselves and how we experience existence. I want my art to inspire people to witness beauty in the aspects of life that go unnoticed.
Who are some of your favourite artists and did they in any way influence your work?
Like I said, I consume a ridiculous amount of art, so I have a lot of favourite artists; Jean-Michel Basquiat, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Vincent van Gough, Yasiin Bey, Wes Anderson, Claude Monet, Erykah Badu, Rene Magritte, Donald Glover, Salvador Dalí, Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell, Kerry James Marshall…to name a few lol. They definitely influence me and my art in a variety of ways. A trait most of these artists have in common is their intention to alter the way we view art, reality and ourselves, which is paramount to me. Another major attribute is the variety of media they use(d) to create art and their unwillingness to be put in a box. In other cases, their attention to detail, soulfulness and honesty impact my work. I see my art as a hopefully harmonious melting pot of all these various influences.
The “Chlo.e” painting is one of my personal favourite; her emotions are raw and well portrayed on canvas. Can you take us through the journey of how Chlo.e came to be?
Thank you! ‘chlo.e’ is a special piece to me, and I’m happy you feel the emotion in the painting; that was my main focus. About a year prior, I made a drawing in blue and red ink, which is what the ‘chlo.e’ painting was based on. It was a lady with a similar expression, and I felt the urge to blow the piece up. I wanted to play on the juxtaposition of emotion in the painting, from the plain, vibrant pink background to the drips and active brush strokes on the face.
You’ve held a couple of successful exhibitions in the past, are there any tips or advice you’d like to give to younger artists who are looking to exhibit their work for the first time?
Honestly, don’t get too fixated on little issues; the main goal is to present the art and get the work out there. It’d be great if there’s a connecting theme within the pieces; it’s also alright if there isn’t. Seeing as it’d be your first showcase, it doesn’t have to be a professional gallery space or anything; you can really make any convenient space work. I’m not suggesting you don’t put in effort though, mediocrity is never acceptable. I just believe the work is the most important aspect, cause it’s super easy to get worked up over things that might actually be irrelevant.
Is there any rumour you would like to debunk about artists?
I don’t know if it’s a rumour exactly, cause I witness this a lot, but there’s this idea that when an artist attains some financial gain, it’s seen as selling out, which doesn’t make any sense to me. Another thing that really bothers me as an aspiring artist is based on the blueprint that artists of the past have left behind, and that’s the issue of substance abuse or tragic endings. Sadly, generations of artists have been fascinated by the lifestyle and kept this tradition alive. I’m no judge but it seems to me like people just really need the right tools to navigate the BS of the art industry and life as a whole.
You have a clothing line called Zone District. As a student, how do you manage to balance your work, art and business?
It is so damn hectic yo! It’s never really a perfect balance, something always suffers. Thankfully, I have friends who co-own Zone District with me, so there’s a division of labour there, which still isn’t always the most fluid cause we all have other things to balance as well. As for the art, I just work it into my schedule in some way to keep it going.
If you were not an artist, what other career path would you have chosen?
I actually don’t know. I’ve had previous career choices but I don’t really think I’d have followed through. I honestly don’t see myself as anything other than an artist.
I’m going to mention 2 words and I’d like to know what they mean to you or whatever crosses the mind of an artist when he hears it. Innocence and Faith.
Hmm, these are quite remarkable questions. What comes to mind when I think about Innocence is a beginning, purity. As for Faith, I think of the next level of hope, you know, rather than hoping in instability, depending on a/the reliable source.
I’m aware not everyone has a bucket list but what are 3 things you would like to do or achieve before you finally kick the bucket?
I don’t have one but I’d say I want to achieve true happiness–whatever that may be; I want to have my work in globally-accredited galleries and museums; and I want to travel to various parts of each continent in the world.
Can you tell us something not many people know about you?
I have a super power and I can’t reveal what it is exactly.
If the whole world had your attention right now, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that they exist for a reason. You are not here by some cosmic mistake, you, as well as every thing/body around you, were created for a purpose. Your job is to find that out by searching for the truth within yourself and the entity that created you. You are an imperfect masterpiece with immense abilities and potential that should not be wasted. Finally, above all else, love is the solution to every problem; love for yourself, other creations, and the Creator.
Last but not least, do you have any good book, movie, documentary or place you’d recommend to your readers?
The movie I’d recommend is one I’m yet to see. The very first fully painted animation feature film called ‘Loving Vincent,’ about the life of the legend van Gough. It just began showing at film festivals and my brother got the chance to see it. I watched a video on the production and it’s mind-blowing the amount of work that was put into making the film. Each movie frame is an individual oil painting done in the style of van Gough, by a large group of painters over ridiculous amounts of time. I really can’t wait to see it. As for a book, I don’t read too many of those cause I’m more of a visual person, but I’d suggest reading The Bible. It’s amazing the perspectives on life that can be gotten from it, and it’s a really great piece of literature.. just gotta be open-minded with it.
To stay updated with Gunna’s work be sure to follow him on any of his social media platforms below:
Thank you for stopping by today but before you go, do show Gunna some love by dropping a comment or any question you may have for him below, and be sure to watch out for my next incredible guest!!