The face is the most important part of the body, if you get the face right the rest will pretty much follow. It is the shapes in the face and the colours in the face that tell me what the drawing is going to be. My work is more about that abstract stuff than who the person is – a face is the starting point, but the point is the picture. I use the structure of how things slot in to the face, and continue it, like a jigsaw puzzle, across the rest of the picture.
In my current experiments in the studio, I look at one of my portraits, make a large photocopy of it, and chop it up, to make a collage, and from that I make a new drawing. I cannibalize my own artworks. I draw the collage together with found images that I like, to make the figures active within a wide space. You can make a new face. The pictures become themselves, like a new person, the person and the background together. The green lips are echoed in a green shape in the background, the yellow in the eyeballs is another shape in the background. The foreground and the background sometimes push up against each other, interlocking, like in a jigsaw puzzle.
The picture gets new layers, so it becomes really complicated. You want the drawing to go far enough but not too far. Like a bus, you have to know when to get off. I look at the original artwork and try to outdo it. It’s like I’m having a race with it. I evolve it. It is the same process whether I am using photocopies of my own artwork, or looking at artworks by other artists.
My drawings are different with regard to time. Some drawings are like a snapshot. Others take a long time, and become layered and complicated, intense.
When I know what I’m doing I work fast, But when I need to work out what to do, I have to wait, till I realize what to do. I think about the different curves, things slotting in together and working in different directions. I keep looking at the drawing and respond to what’s there. Each mark responds to the last, and to all of the drawing so far. I make a tension between the hard straight lines and the curves. Often, the red goes next to the green, the curve next to the straight. I am interested in the balance between one thing and another.
I use many different drawing materials, charcoal and ink. More recently, colour has become really important, I am using oil pastel and oil bars. I like to use different tones of colour, sometimes really deep strong colour and sometimes more faded and soft colour. With the oil bars you can make really subtle faint or thick lines, and you can use linseed oil on top of them to make them look faded, or you can make them come up really dark. With the oil bars, if you start softly, you can go back over something, you can get away with changes a little bit.
The Intoart studio is my launch pad. With Intoart, I’ve had opportunities and done things I never thought I would do: all this great work and all my research, working with all these great museums and galleries. Meeting fellow artists like Dryden Goodwin to think through work I have made over time and thinking forward to new challenges. Not just thinking about myself but with other artists in the Intoart studio as well. So when Ntiense [Eno Amooquaye] was making new work for an exhibition at Texture Museum in Belgium, I helped her with that, I encouraged her. Working together with people is important. We work on our own drawings, but we also look at everyone’s work, and make comments. For me thinking through and talking through what I am doing in the studio helps me know what to leave behind and what to take forward.
The next thing I plan to do is to work from a live model. I have got quite a lot of stuff to go through – a lot of questions. I have been working out what to leave behind, so I am not going to use 2D source material any more, but I want to take with me into the new work a strong use of colour.