JOHN MADU WAS BORN IN 1983 IN LAGOS WHERE HE STILL LIVES AND WORKS.
With a B.sc in policy and strategic studies, John Madu is a self-taught artist. He knows how to embrace his individual style, with a wide array of mediums such as acrylic paint, oil paint, spray paint, ink, burlap and collage.
John Madu is a multi-disciplinary, best known for his figurative symbolic style of paintings, usually along the lines of the complexity of identity, social behaviour and the effects of cultural globalisation on individualism. His work can be described as eclectic because of how he derives ideas, from a various range of influences and sources based on popular culture, African history, art history and personal experiences. Symbolism is usually evident in his work, with reoccurring iconography such as books, apples, and other recognisable items which convey a certain meaning in art, and act as metaphors to a subject.
Madu’s source of inspiration is from a variety of places, but can be narrowed down to a few things that inspire a major part of his art works, which could be current situations affecting society, be it political, social or just banal everyday life issues. Giving him opportunities and reason to record the history of his time, with the aid of resource materials such as magazines, books, social media, news and even real time situations. He believes the best kind of art is a reaction to certain issues of interest and divulging information to educate and also entertain.
His multidisciplinary approach has guided his creative interest in design objects, sculpture, functional art, and even artistic fashion pieces. Madu’s art has been featured in contemporary art exhibitions locally and internationally. He believes art should be perceived as a time continuum like the way we see nature and an instantaneous reflection of the creative part of ourselves being expressed, when a viewer comes in contact with his work.
WHAT IS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS? My creative process starts with an idea. So, my creative process starts with a thought process. I work around the best way to bring up my artworks to reality. The idea in itself is more important than the actual artwork. Because in a way, I try to sort out how I feel the work would appeal more and embody my idea.
WHAT ARE THE MEDIUMS AND THE TECHNIQUES YOU USE IN YOUR CANVASES? The mediums and techniques I use, mostly depend on what I’m trying to achieve in my work. Most of the time, I use acrylic paint. But, it is not just limited to acrylic paint. I also use oil, collage, mixed medium in general. So it depends on what I want to transcribe at that moment. I use a palette knife to create texture. By using this tool, I try to give body to the work.
WHAT ARE THE MESSAGES YOU WANT TO CONVEY THROUGH YOUR WORK? My work encapsulates how I feel identity should be projected. I like to speak about identity, everyday life, and masculinity. But, most importantly, my art tries to change stereotypes on how or what people from Africa should be. My work is universal. I think inspiration is universal as well. So, my art can’t refer to only a new type of Africa or new trends from Africa. Art is not stereotypical. I’m not influenced by indigenous factors. My art is influenced by universal factors because I feel the world has become a small place and we are mostly affected by what affects other parts of the world.
HOW DO YOU WORK? WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC PROCESS? My artistic process starts from the cognitive. I guess the physical is what I tried to express through my creative process. I have my ideas set on the canvas and through mediums, I use to create. I don’t have a particular way to create. Most times, I don’t know how the work is going to turn out. I have to trust the process. I usually have a blueprint before I start. Like iconography, dark-skinned subjects and things that are pretty common in my work. Those things are usually concurrent when I create a work. So basically, I may just put my paint on the canvas. I trust the process I follow. I like to surprise myself most times. The way I use my paint, my brushes, the mediums I’m interested in, are inspired by what I attend to create.
WHAT ARE YOUR SOURCES OF INSPIRATION? My sources of inspiration are very eclectic. I’m inspired by a lot of things. I’m inspired by popular culture. I’m inspired by experiences. I’m inspired by the people around me. I’m inspired by music, books, and other artists. I’m inspired by other people’s experiences as well. Sometimes, things that can interest me at the moment can turn into something creative. Sometimes, I just have conversations with people, and I feel inspired so I create.
DOES YOUR ART REFLECT YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES? My art reflects a lot, my personal experiences. Actually, it reflects mostly my personal experiences. It reflects things I have seen, things that have popped up through conversations. My art is about my personal experiences. I would say that my art comes from my personal experiences.
DID GROWING UP IN THE 80S/90S IN LAGOS, INFLUENCED YOUR ARTISTIC VISION? Growing up in the 80s in Lagos has been one influential factor in my artistic path. As well as the part where I grew up in Lagos. I grew up in the suburbs. There was a lot of cultural evidence everywhere in my area. There were galleries, mostly selling artifacts by artisans. There were video clubs, nightclubs and karaoke. All these things shaped the way I see the world. Lagos is a very cultural city. And I feel that growing up there, just made me infused myself in the culture of the city. It sharpened my creative mind.
WHY DO YOU REPRESENT SCENES THAT ARE INSPIRED BY DAILY LIFE? I like to represent scenes inspired by daily life because I feel it is a very powerful form of recording history. Mostly, when I’m creating art, I think about the future and I think about how the people in the future are going to feel. I work the same way anyone walks into the Louvre and is inspired by works of the masters. I believe recording daily life means representing stuff that people can relate to. And for me, this is a very powerful form of art because life imitates art and art imitates life. Daily life is something that interests me because it is recording the history of a certain period which will be important in the future.
YOU ARE OFTEN INSPIRED BY CLASSICS OF MODERN ART SUCH AS LA NUIT ÉTOILÉE BY VINCENT VAN GOGH. WHY DO YOU INCLUDE ELEMENTS FROM THE AFRICAN POP CULTURE WHILE REVISITING ART HISTORY? Lots of classic works are very powerful and very inspirational. I’m inspired by works by the Masters. There are lots of elements of these classical works that are evidenced in my paintings. I feel revisiting history is very powerful in art. Sometimes, recreating paintings or works by the masters help me try to think like them, to feel how they felt. African pop culture is evidenced right now in real life, in my life. So, that’s part of me, that is the foundation of my art. The additional journey to art history makes it concrete to pass through time. This is me running to history. I feel going through history is one of the most powerful moves in art.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SHARE WITH THE VIEWERS? My work mostly aims to educate and entertain my viewers or teach them something new. I always believe in art trying to speak or saying messages across. I feel like learning and being entertained is the most powerful form of art.