Uzo Art is fast becoming a household name when it comes to modern, contemporary art. A graduate of the University of Virginia, Uzo Njoku, founder of Uzo Art LLC, attributes her success to some time off and inspiration from her surroundings. Here’s what we learned about her:
How it all started
So I actually came into college studying statistics, I’m very math-oriented, (uhm) but…
KAMOKY: What does that mean? Are you good at math or?
UZO: Yeah, I’m very good at math (chuckles). I attended classes and the other students there, you could tell they loved it. I sincerely was just doing it to please my parents and hoping that with a career in math, I would eventually make enough money to have a roof over my head. But it wasn’t something I loved and so I took a year off after I graduated and I used that time to start painting. I had never painted before, but now I’ve been doing this for 5 years. At the time, I would do smaller replications to decorate my apartment and every time I shared my paintings on Facebook, I would get such great feedback which really encouraged me to go further. That’s how I started painting daily and it never felt like a chore. Art for me has been a constant inspiration and I’m always inspired by the world around me. I create what comes to mind. I explore colors, patterns, and I just keep going.
On developing Uzo Art
Two years ago I formed the Uzo Art LLC and published my first coloring book. I gave myself just a month to complete it because I work better under pressure. Not fully having the funds for a grand publication, I published the coloring book myself through pre-orders. It was a success and from there we kept expanding. At the time, living with my parents also proved valuable because I didn’t have the pressure of needing to pay rent and so with what I had I was really able to plan and strategize. I started putting together ideas and goals I wanted to achieve.
On what inspired the Oluwatoyin ‘Toyin’ Salau print
I had been following the story like many others and when I heard they found her body, I just sort of dropped everything and started to work. I spent the whole night doing this digital piece and I said I’d give out a hundred prints to memorialize her. I ended up giving out 1,000 of the Oluwatoyin print. Even though we expended a lot of our resources, it was worth it, and we were able to put together some funds to give directly to her friends to support her private burial ceremony. It was so sad because she was so young and didn’t deserve to die like that. No one deserves it. Seeing how she was such a strong black woman who was fought for others, my main focus was to make her as powerful and as beautiful as possible.
On what makes this specific piece different
Doing this art print of Toyin was different for me because I don’t consider myself a social artist. I don’t create art for things going on. I create art for myself and for people so that even during hard times we have something beautiful to look at. The moment I started seeing pictures of her, I was like you know what, let me try and create her in the same beautiful light I try to put other black women I create. Doing all of this, I tried to capture Toyin in one picture, the best way I knew how.
On explaining your career path to African parents
I think a lot of African parents just want to see that you are doing something that in their mind is stable and would put a roof over your head. Most want instant gratification, but my parents understood and once they saw me on television because of the coloring book, they really opened up. Now everyone in my family supports me; my extended family, my grandmother, everyone. It feels really great because it does make things a lot easier. I would advise anyone who has difficulty sharing their passion with their parents to just keep pushing and eventually they will open up.
On her dream art gig
I want to be commissioned by Nike. I want to create something for the fans, the Nike fans. The Nike pants, like the joggers. I want to create a pattern for it and I think it would be really good if I could get that opportunity.
Advice for others who want to do something similar
Don’t spend too much time speculating. Just do it. You will learn along the way. Make sure that you always treat yourself as a business. Have a website because that is your online portfolio and that is how people access you. Make sure that your customer service is on point. You should protect yourself with some form of copyright because you have contracts, you do commissions and things like that because artists are exploited every time. I suggest that all artists get their art to a business class or some form of art administration. Without art administration, artists won’t be able to have fun, advance and do so many things. Make yourself well rounded in terms of the creative and the administrative side of things.
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