The Journey Of A Self-Taught Artist: A Dialogue With Barry Yusufu
Barry Yusufu is a self-taught visual artist from Abuja, Nigeria. He is a student of Survey and Geo-informatics at the Federal University of Technology Minna. Practising different forms of visuals, he has successfully created a niche for himself in the art industry, as seen in his unique expression in drawing, painting, sculpturing and in many more. He describes his journey and concept of kolorealism in this dialogue.
BY HELEN AJAYI
This dialogue took place while Barry was transiting from Abuja to Minna, and Helen was visiting the busy City of Lagos.
Helen: Barry, can I get to know you better?
Barry: I am a visual artist residing in Abuja and Minna. I do several forms of art; from paper mache, sculptures, abstract paintings to charcoal figure drawings. My style of art is over expressionism. I love to express myself fully in my works, which makes some people think I am a crazy person.
Because of this I gave my art style the name Koloart, which means having freedom to express one’s self in whatever way possible at anytime, depending on one’s mood. I call how I express myself on my figure drawings Kolorealism.
As of last year, I’ve been to more than 11 exhibitions. My works are at Kulture Kode Art Hub Abuja, House 33, and Dream Home Gallery in Abuja.
I am a sole member of I Can Draw Africa.
My art is inspired by my passion for creativity. I’ve been creating ever since I was a kid. I find joy in creating and when I am able to speak about my ideas and issues that bother me through art, I get fulfillment. Everything I know in art or do today, I learnt it myself through trial and error, and research from the internet. I practiced, worked and experimented with different mediums, day and night to find my niche.
Helen: I appreciate that your style of art is visible in your words. Across the globe, we’ve seen different artists grow from being amateurs to world class professionals—even in other fields, would you say being a self-taught artist is a tool for attaining a level of professionalism in this space?
Barry: Well, for me, being a professional in anything you do is a mindset. You put in enough work to master your craft, you end up figuring out things they never teach in schools. I am a self-taught artist but I’ve found myself teach art to people—I’ve taught art in private homes, held online classes, owned art groups and in one of the biggest art galleries in Nigeria at Thought Pyramid, Abuja. So, whether one went to school to learn art or they are self-taught, what matters is the end result, what you can deliver, how good and genuine your works are.
And lastly, being a self-taught artist has been a process of finding myself. It’s okay to learn from others, but I believe every being is unique and has a default creative pattern different from another. When one tends to look inside, he finds himself. And that is art at its purest state. When you go through my works you’ll see that I’m hyperrealistic, realistic, abstract, surrealistic, and all these I figured through the journey.
Helen: I agree with you, I think there’s this form of unique process that evolves when art is self- taught, it taps into what is from within you and expresses the phenomenon that is your life experiences. Since your style is basically expressionism, you delve into almost every aspect of art, but I wonder if we can think of sculpture as a genre, as it involves the use of materials which could require installations. How well do you practice this art?
Barry: My style of Sculpting is different. Papier-mâché. Like I said, I am self-taught, now there is always the right process in achieving something. However, all I have at hand is the knowledge we got back in primary school, mixing of paper and starch to mold and because of the medium, it was perfect for my kind of ideas. I only think of ways to make it professional and sculpting is only an aspect of my art. I basically create depending on my mood; when I get bored of figures I go into painting, when I get bored of that too or it gets overwhelming, I sculpt. All for my sanity.
I really don’t do full figure sculptures. I tell stories through it. I get these ideas that I want to express in my head and I do that through paper.
“And lastly, being a self-taught artist has been a process of finding myself. It’s okay to learn from others, but I believe every being is unique and has a default creative pattern different from another. When one tends to look inside, he finds himself. And that is art at its purest state.“
Helen: Let’s talk about the art industry, how are we faring in Nigeria and Africa? Do you think we are maximizing the ocean of talents we have and are we actually utilizing our passion in developing our country?
Barry: Truth is, we are not ready as Africans for the ocean of creativity in Africa. Let me bring it down to Nigeria, we look down on our own artists and worship arts from other countries. Meanwhile, the level of creativity in Nigeria is overwhelming.
The Monalisa that sits at The Louvre Museum, Paris by Leonardo da Vinci is one most sung and talked about painting. People go from all over the world to see it.
The white man comes to Africa and gets African art because their minds are inclined that way, they see value in it. But not us Africans, no. Imagine how much we could generate from art in this country. People could come from all over the world just to see a painting or a sculpture. But we instead see artists as beggars, jobless, or diabolic.
So many African arts outside Nigeria are worth millions and people go out to see them. The likes of the Nok art. But how do we see our own arts? As diabolic! We are really not ready and there is no support system for artists in Nigeria. You see, young artists struggle on their own to get to a level where their works are valued. So they end up seeking international recognition because there is nothing for them in their own land. There are countries with nothing to offer but tourist attractions and that’s what they build their countries from/on. We have all the talents needed in this country to get that done.
Helen: I would say this issue of recognition is evolutionary. I remember how the music industry here in Nigeria grew with time and with different artists taking up the stage and becoming game changers for the industry. I believe with your wealth of creation and a whole lot of artists putting in their very best to promote art, we’ll get there. Now, I’m curious, (read: worried), how do you balance your practice with schooling and teaching art all at the same time?
Barry: True, I guess with time we will get there. On balance, here is the story: I finished my diploma in Surveying and Geo Informatics at a polytechnic. So, I basically applied to further my studies in the university. I didn’t get on my first try so I tried again. Within that period from 2016 was the period of me finding myself.
After graduating from my polytechnic, I took a job at an eatery where I was making shawarma and pizza. The eatery later shut down because of poor management. November 2017 was when I held my first pencil after a very long while. That was when I decided to start taking my gift seriously. I began creating immediately, taking commissions, trying to get better and connecting with other artists around Abuja. It was life and death for me. I knew I had to put my name in the system. So, I made up my mind to work tirelessly.
At a point, I was learning tailoring and had to drop it because it was too much pressure for me. I was getting no sleep. That same period from 27th November when I got my first commission, I became better at my skill to the point of teaching the next year and going to exhibitions and all of that. I work from school. I come back home to work (creating) after school activities. At weekends, I get to Abuja to frame and deliver works to clients. It’s really not an easy struggle but it’s worth it. Left to me, I would have forgotten about school and chased my dreams, which I still am, but for the need to be relevant in the future, a certificate is almost a determinant.
Helen: I’ve heard stories like these of people in different facets of life—yours is a strange one, in a beautiful way. Looks like you’ve effectively created a niche for your art with Koloart and Kolorealism, do you think this has been in existence, probably behind the scenes or you are actually the father of this ideology (if I can call it that)? And can you tell me about ‘I Can Draw Africa‘ ?
Barry: I am the father of Kolo art and Kolorealism. I don’t know if it’s in existence already. Or maybe just the term. But in art, my style of art gave birth to Kolo art. Because I wasn’t stable in doing one thing consistently, I looked crazy, without focus, style or direction. So I created the term Koloart to help people understand why I am that way.
I wake up every day a different person, with the ability to create differently, to express differently. And I am never scared to go all in with my works…I can do a full figure drawing but I am never scared to express fully over what I’ve created with paint, Charcoal, dust, news papers or whatever I feel like doing at the moment, I always allow myself to control me. Kolo is a term used in referring to crazy people in Nigeria. Most over expressive artists are seen as crazy, from the likes of Vincent Van Gogh, Basquiat, Picasso. You name them.
I Can Draw Africa is an Art body like the SNA (Society of Nigerian Artists). I Can Draw Africa has been of great help to my art, they’ve helped me in taking my art to some heights, I wouldn’t have been able to get here on my own. They provide opportunities for artists to showcase their works, they are well-connected. I’ve had up to 4 or more exhibitions with them.
Helen: I believe we all need help at some point in life no matter how strong or how self-sufficient we’ve grown in our career. I think they are doing a wonderful job in promoting art and culture. So, now, I’m interested in your current work, what are you currently creating?
Barry: Presently working on my Kolorealism series (figure drawing and expressionism). I just finished one, about starting another. I am trying to build the style. Kolo Art has been established but, for now, I’ve been doing some abstracts basically. Truth is, I don’t and am not building myself in the art realm as just a figurative artist, or charcoal artist or abstract artist. I want to be known as an artist. No limits.
Man’s mind was created to be able to achieve anything it sets itself to do. As a kid, all I always wanted to do was splash paints whenever they give us exercises to draw and when other kids used just one color pencil in their set, I use everything in mine. I could color a duck with all the colors in my set.
Helen: Your art is unique and interesting. I am sure it makes your life beautiful too. Do you get to sell your works at prices that are worth the work put into each piece? And how far in the world has your work travelled? I would like to know your favorite piece and what makes it so.
Barry: This is a struggle for every artist. I don’t think anybody can actually pay an artist for the level of work, creativity and concentration being put into a work. It’s a process actually. One will have to grow in the system and gain the recognition first and can give freely a piece worth millions. But for now, I am not selling at that level yet and when buyers try to buy cheap, I will rather not sell my works.
Money has never been the motivation for my creativity. Getting paid is really beautiful and helpful. But the love for it is the drive. Now, whenever the pay comes in, it comes in. For pieces I feel I should sell at a certain amount, if I can not, I really don’t bother. Art appreciates. Art makes the world beautiful.
My works have gone as far as Florida, Haiti…and I am still growing in that aspect. We never stop and I really don’t have a favorite piece. At every stage, every piece is a favorite. At some point, I had a problem of letting go of my works, I would hang them in my home and enjoy looking at them for weeks. Every piece I create is a part of me. I really don’t know myself because I feel I have many sides to me. Every piece speaks to me in a way and so they are all special to me .
Helen: Apart from art, what else do you do? How do you get away to relax and refresh for work? They say all work without play makes Barry a….
Barry: Aside from being a student, I am a full time artist. Now I never forget to strike a balance. After every masterpiece, I take a time off, right now, this is me taking some time off, else I go into artist block. During these periods, I do other forms of art like I said. That’s why you see me working on some abstracts. Truth is, I work like a mad man. Sometimes, I would want that break but I always find myself creating again. Sometimes, you can’t help it. When my friends see that I’ve almost lost it, they come and force me to go out or take breaks.
Helen: You’ve been awesome and I want to say thank you for sharing your thoughts. Would you like to say something to encourage or appreciate the Art World?
Barry: As creatives, we have to believe in ourselves first before the world can, we have to value ourselves before the world will. Art is a process, let’s trust it.
Helen: Thank you, Barry. I wish you a wonderful time doing art.
Helen Ajayi is an Aquaculture Consultant and an Aqua-Art enthusiast with a three years of handson experience working with farms and research institutes, she consults for small and medium sized Aquaculture businesses which may include hatching, breeding and rearing of aquatic organisms. Helen obtained a B. Tech. Honors in Fisheries and Aquaculture Technology from the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA). She is currently undergoing a one-year service through the Nation Youth Service Corp (NYSC), serving as a teacher and instructor of Basic Technology. She spends time listening to music and hanging out with friends, She does Nail Art and Photography equally, @Havilotta on IG.