Picture or drawing? That’s the first question that comes to mind when you see Kelvin Okafor’s work. For over 4 years, Kelvin has left the internet in awe of his extremely realistic drawings. The realization that it’s a drawing and not a picture is an overwhelming one. Kelvin’s work is not of this world.
Born on the 1st of November, 1985, Kelvin Okafor is a British artist of Nigerian descent. His parents are from Ibusa in Delta state, Nigeria. Kelvin has always been inclined to creativity right from his childhood.
Kelvin grew up in Tottenham and is proud to say he still resides there despite the media and the tainted image it has, especially from the riots.
“Sometimes people [in the area] find themselves in unfortunate situations, but it’s a very homely community. It makes you want to prevail and push forward. For some people it can be discouraging, but for others they can see it as a reason to push forward and work harder to get out of there.”
Kelvin has shed the negativity associated with his place of birth to become one of the leading young artists in his field.
Kelvin was educated at St Ignatius’ College in Enfield, where during his studies, at the age of 15, he started to recognise his talent in art due to the complimentary expressions he got from his peers and teachers. He began to develop his art skills as a result.
He did a Foundation Art & Design course at City and Guilds Art School (2005–06), and went on to study at Middlesex University (2006–09), graduating with a BA degree in Fine Art.
“Drawing has always been a burning desire of mine. I was 15 during my studies at St Ignatius College when I discovered I could draw to a noticeably skilful degree. It became apparent to me that I had a talent or skill to draw by the reactions of my teachers and peers. I can comfortably work in any artistic medium such as sculpture, glass, printmaking, painting and casting, but it was the pencils I fell in love with. I focus solely on pencils because I want to master its technical use. And it’s also due to the fact that from a very young age, I’ve always found the pencil to be such a humble instrument. It amazed me that with only one shade of lead, you can create so many tones and textures, and almost create the illusion of colour.”
One of the biggest challenges Kelvin has to overcome was getting his parents to realize that art can be more than a hobby, it is an actual profession. Since discovering his love of creating with a pencil, Kelvin who can now command £22,000 for one piece, struggled to show his traditional Nigerian parents how much potential value lay between him, his pencil and paper.
He faced discouragement from his parents initially. They wanted him, his younger brother and two older sisters to work in a place with secure income like a doctor or lawyer. They just couldn’t understand how he could profit from art. But Kelvin worked hard at building his portfolio and developing his craft, not for their approval, but he just wanted them to see the passion he had.
After his university end of year show in 2009, where one of his drawings sold, his dad began to see the potential that his art held and saw the possibilities.
“You can either get discouraged and not do something or it can fuel something inside you to prove to people you can do it.”
Focusing on Kelvin’s art, he draws very lifelike portraits of ordinary people and celebrities using pencil and charcoal. Early pieces included portraits of Amy Winehouse, Mother Teresa, Lauryn Hill, Jamal, Nelson Mandela, Beyoncé, Daniel Craig, Corinne Bailey Rae, Rihanna and Tinie Tempah.
Kelvin works at ease in any artistic medium be it sculpture, glass, printmaking, painting and casting. For him to passionately fall in love with art he firstly fell in love with using pencils and how pencils gave him the flexibility to create dynamic textures and tones of colours in his drawings. Each piece of photo-realism, as the genre is known, takes between 80 to 100 hours to create using pictures or life models as inspiration.
Kelvin has proceeded to win numerous awards including the Catherine Petitgas Visitors Choice Prize, part of the National Open Art Competition. He also had his debut solo exhibition in Mayfair at the prestigious Albemarle Gallery, which remains one of his biggest achievements.
Kelvin was also selected as one of the top two pieces of work in Cork Street Gallery Open Exhibition Winter Show. He has also exhibited at The Mall Galleries for the Threadneedle Prize Exhibition and National Open Art Competition with four exhibitions at: The Minerva Theatre, The Prince’s Foundation, Pallant House and The Science Museum.