The News Media has been a-buzz with the name of Kelvin Okafor, so I said “Hiaan!!! Make we no for carry last oh;” our readers must get acquainted with the Nigerian-born, London raised Igbo boy who is making waves with his works of art.
Kelvin’s family relocated to the UK in search of a better life. His father worked as a Warden for a Council Estate, and his mother was a housewife. Kelvin grew up in one of the country’s poorest areas,and lived a life that was far from privileged. A particularly gruesome memory for him was the repossession of their family house when he was 11-years old. “It was just before I started secondary school and my life changed completely. We were homeless — not living on the street but we didn’t have a house for ourselves for the next three years. We moved from place to place, from cousin to cousin.” They lived in five different homes over the course of just a few years — before eventually moving into a council flat, where the family remain today.
Kelvin was too poor to socialize. There was simply no money to spend on trips and clubbing and drinks, so he ended up spending a lot of time alone. Thus began his sojourn into the world of art. Perhaps, poverty also kept him from drug abuse as well, which was rife in that neighbourhood. So he turned his misfortune around and spent his time perfecting his skills.
The 27 year old had an education that was made possible by the sheer doggedness of his parents. He attended St Ignatius College, a prestigious Jesuit school in Enfield, several miles away from their home — whose ex-pupils include Alfred Hitchcock and Beatles producer Sir George Martin. Kelvin went on to study Fine Art at Middlesex University, and there, he honed his budding talents to near perfection.
Jonathan Jones who writes on art for the Guardian UK and was on the jury for the 2009 Turner prize had this to say. “Kelvin Okafor is a miraculous artist. If Leonardo da Vinci was alive today and he saw what Okafor has achieved with pencil, paper and a bit of charcoal, he would recognise a talent well worthy of his respect – a brother in art. So would the Dutch painter Jan Vermeer, or the Baroque genius Caravaggio.
Kelvin draws with pencil and some charcoal, but look hard as one might, no pencil mark can be seen in his finished products. Apparently, he favours using a simple pencil because it is ‘humble’ and allows a subject to shine. [Perhaps back then, they were also the cheapest means of artistic expression he could afford.] So stunning are his pieces that a one sells for £10,000, although he could also charge anything from £800-£3,000 for his work. Each work may take from 80-100 hours to complete, given his 10-15 hour work days.
Gradually coming into the limelight, Kelvin was the recipient of the Catherine Petitgas Visitors’ Choice Prize, part of the National Open Art Competition. He was selected as one of the top two pieces of work at Cork Street Gallery’s Winter Show in 2012 and won the Cork Street open exhibition’s runner up best of show award and a cash prize. Kelvin’s work was on display at the Watercolours + Works on Paper Fair at the London Science Museum. A portrait he drew of King Hussein of Jordan is to be presented to the late monarch’s widow, Queen Noor.
For those who criticise his work as not being ‘arty’ enough, Jonathan Jones has an apt comeback. He posited that “Kelvin Okafor is not alone among modern artists who have fixed their gaze on celebrity photographs. In the 19th century the Iimpressionist Edgar Degas made a painting that meticulously recreated a photograph of Princess Pauline de Metternich. In the 1960s Andy Warhol made haunting silkscreen portraits derived from magazine photographs.” So there!!!
Kelvin says that he is gratified by the joy and pride he has brought to his family, who wept for joy when the BBC carried a news item concerning him. “It makes me feel happy to know I am making my family proud. That means the most to me. It makes me want to work harder and do more.”
Wow. What a story. Kelvin has a beautiful gift that was refined in the fires of penury. What disadvantages are you facing? They may be preparing you for future greatness. Don’t ever, ever stop trying.
To view the artist’s work slide by slide, visit his blog http://kelvinokaforart.blogspot.com/ and be awed!!!