In the Studio with Alexander Ikhide

In the studio with Alexander Ikhide, a multidisciplinary visual artist whose practice explores ideas of the body and tensions that arise between photography and painting as both distinct forms. We met with Alexander to tell us more about growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, his greatest influences, and unexpected sources of inspiration.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

My practice as an artist started sometime whilst I was a student in my undergraduate, back in 2011. My critical awareness of the potential of art to be a tool to communicate ideas and concepts through a visual medium led me to be more engaged and invested in the process of art making.

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?

I’m originally from Lagos, Nigeria. I lived in Lagos till the age of 14 before I moved to London, where I now live and work. My childhood and teenage years in Lagos were very different from London. Having access to the local libraries around my borough allowed me to spend time going through comic books and youth fiction novels whilst I was out of school during the holidays. I then discovered museums and galleries around London that were free that I could go to, which really helped develop my sensibilities for art from an early age.   

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practise, artistic work? Was there a pivotal moment when you felt you were on the right track?

I remember being in art class in secondary school and my art teacher was really interesting, just in the way she would talk about art and artists. How the work they made connected to their personal life and what they were experiencing/going through at the time. Art for me in those early years felt like an escape almost, and allowed me to be able to express myself however I wanted. It felt like something you didn’t need to be ‘good’ at, but rather just enjoying the process of making and seeing what happens. I felt I was on the right track when I decided to carry on Art into my A levels and then further into university.  

What’s the message of your work? (themes/narratives/purpose) Where do they come from? How would you describe your aesthetic? 

I don’t necessarily have a fixed message for my work, as my ideas/thoughts are always changing. I’m constantly researching different ideas/themes/topics that I feel resonates with me and what I’m trying to communicate through the work. As I take on a multidisciplinary approach to my practice, I try not to worry too much about having a recognisable style or aesthetic. I believe in some ways, that can be very limiting to an artist and how you’re able to express your ideas.  

Who/what are your greatest influences? 

My influences/references are quite varied, depending on what my ideas are currently in my work. I look at a wide range of artists and their work, and I figure out what stands out for me. It could be their use of colour, technique, subject matter etc it all filters into my approach to my practice. 

An unexpected source of inspiration?

I would say music plays a bit of a part in my thinking process, as I’m usually listening to music whilst I’m working. The energy I get from hearing a rhythm or beat feeds into my moods/feelings whilst I’m in the process of making. I tend to listen to music that is mostly just sound, rather than lyrics in those moments. I want to still be immersed in the process and not be too influenced by outside factors. 

What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?

I want the viewer to take from my work a sense of enquiry, and of a critically engaged mind. I’m often asking questions and playing with meaning and symbols in my work through the use of images. I think photographic images are very direct in how they are able to communicate to a viewer and they stick in the subconscious parts of our mind that we often aren’t aware of. 

What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise/aesthetic? How has your art evolved? Do you experiment? 

My practice has always been in a state of constant evolution. I feel as an artist, if you really see yourself doing this for the long term/your whole lifetime. You have to keep evolving and pushing your work in the direction it needs to go, regardless of how it will or may be perceived by other people. We’re all on a personal journey of self reflection and discovery, these aspects play a very important part in moving forward and not getting stagnant in your process. My advice would be, always be open to experimenting with new ideas and new ways of working, oftentimes there is a hidden potential that goes unnoticed if no risk is taken to break out of being safe and comfortable in your work.   

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

A clear mind and intent. You have to focus all your energy on what’s in front of you, otherwise nothing will be produced.   

Tell us about the inspiration behind your works?

I’ve been inspired by a lot of abstract expressionist artists/art at the moment, looking at works from Robert Rauschenberg to Gerhard Ricther to Sam Gilliam to Jean Michel Basquiat. They each have a connection in terms of their use of colour, form and unconventional approach to painting. Each with their own unique language to communicate what their idea is to the viewer. In my way of developing my own language through the use of photography and painting, I’m incorporating several aspects of these artists’ work into my own practice, as well as contesting our contemporary discourse on painting, with figurative painting seen as the ideal and expected approach to painting. I’m more interested in an interiority and layered understanding of the subject matter than just the literal or narrative.      

Something in the future you hope to explore?

Not sure, yet. Wherever my ideas take me.