Painting Blackness: Interview with Self Taught Contemporary Artist Sir Idris

Painting Blackness: Interview with Self Taught Contemporary Artist Sir Idris

Our series of interviews is part of a global discussion on the process, ethos, and practice of digital artists. We are excited to continue to share the experiences of some of the best contemporary artists in the world. We want to gain a better understanding of their process in hopes to inspire generations of African creative artists and technologists. Enjoy!

Idris Habib is a self-taught multi-disciplinary artist whose works evoke his explorations into blackness through portraiture. We were struck by his emotion-filled portraits that reflect his musings on representation, blackness, and aesthetics. We love his play on iconic imagery and figures in his artwork and we are honored to have him share his journey through art. Be sure to follow him.

Idris, can you please tell us more about yourself, where are you from and how did you begin your journey into art.

I don’t really know how to talk about and or describe myself but I do know one thing for sure that I am very curious about how things came to existence yesterday, today, and tomorrow and yarn to take part in what is to be now and tomorrow. 

I studied marketing as undergrad at Long Island University in Brooklyn and Economics at City College in Harlem as grad student

“I prefer and enjoy making artworks from unconventional mediums, that pleases my mind and soul. I make art for me…”

I will say that my life has been experimental since childhood due to the fact that I have moved a lot from places, cities, country to country, cities, and places.  I was born in Accra, Ghana. I moved a lot as a child then to U.S.  I am now and have been back here in Europe for the past 5 to 6 years working and living between countries and cities.  I spent majority of my weekends in the Netherlands these days because I have a small studio space where I practice art whenever I have time. I love traveling and love seeing different place and its people and culture if there is some. I draw my inspiration from people watching and listening to music. Art has always been in me since I was a kid. I don’t know if you remember the 7up cartoon in the 80s but I use to draw that a lot.

Where do you find inspiration? Can you share some of your favorite artists and why they have had a meaningful impact on your work?

The artists in me, is inspired by artists, mostly musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Jazz legends such as Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane and Nina Simone, Sun Ra just to name a few.  Music, in general, has been a big part of my life and work.

Since I was a child, I saw paintings and sculptures and tried to make sense of them and I never understood why until my adulthood while I was in a museum in Paris.  I was always trying to compare rather than seeing that we are all different, and see things differently.  There are traditional artists who have inspired me such as Henri Matisse, I love the way he used colors, Rembrandt,  Kehinde Wiley, Barkley Hendricks,  Kara Walker, and Kerry James Marshall works speaks to me.

We as black people inspires me, our being amazes me, especially our features, and our body’s structure, our smiles, our walks and ways of expressing ourselves is art. 

In all actuality, I find people very fascinating, especially those who have change themselves physically and or by design, and I refer to this as people being in an altered state.  Some of us are trying to look more and more European than Africans.  The skin bleaching and the hair thing nowadays have led me into using more black paint than my usual mix colors and this has been a great pleasure to do so, and it’s now becoming my thing.  Making the skin tones and details fascinates me more than the finished work.  This is reflected in my recent body of work, including “ Black Diamond”, “3%” and “Black Pastel” 

Does your art represent something about you, does it represent a message about the world, does it focus on history or look to the future?

 My art represents me and my people. It represents my blackness to the world to see and love, appreciate and respect. All of our histories have no expiration date, so I want to focus on the future where we get to tell our own story to the world rather than the other way around. My work is and will tell our story with love and pride.

Idris, Can you tell us about the process of making your work?  How do you make your work? Are there particular tools/materials/software/technology that you use? Is there a connection between your process and your artwork’s message?

I prefer and enjoy making artworks from unconventional mediums, that pleases my mind and soul. I make art for me, and it’s mostly based on my experiences in certain places and time. I try to place/project what I want to see rather than what I saw and experienced. I hope it will be translated to whoever views the “finished” piece(s). I know and believe people have and will have their opinion in the end but it’s more, for me than anyone else.

I use a lot of photoshop to shape and redesign the images I want to paint before drawing them on a canvas and or paper. I usually take a nose or an eye from one image and replace it with another to have. I paint what I want to see and how we are made and build as back people.  I am tired of artists painting us looking like clowns and all fucked up. We are beautiful people with the best features most people pay to acquire. I use about 5 different types of black acrylic paint and I also mix my own. I sometimes use my finger.

Why do you create art? is it for money? for fame? to fulfill an inner calling? change the world? does your art contribute to your society? should it?

I am not sure if I can call myself a real artist, but art is part of me and me part of it.  At least I’m trying to be and take part in it. I want to see changes in art and I feel the only way to do that is to be part of it in any form and or shape.  

Art encourages me to look beyond my surrounding. These past 10 or so years have been my most challenging and thought-provoking years of my life and I feel the only way to express this, is through art due to the fact that art has become the only thing I have that is sort of good in my life right now. It keeps me calm, it gives me a sense of relief and keeps me sane. 

 I don’t know what I will do without this amazing gift from God. This art thing kind came out of nowhere even though I drew, made sketches, painted as a child to calm myself as a kid with high energy. I never really thought of it as something serious because I come from a very traditional family.   But my trip back to Europe, where I traveled through Switzerland, France, Germany, and Belgium in 2007-08 really triggered something in me, which led me into doing more art and everything relating to art.  So, I have been practicing art “professionally” a little over 12 years now. I used to and still make what is called commercial art on vinyl and sold d them on the streets of Soho New York.   I don’t see fame or money-making in this art thing for me.  but if it leads to it cool, other than that I paint and create as therapy. I do want people to see us as beautiful Black people.

Do you think you were born an artist? or Do you think you became an artist?

 I was born an artist and my whole existence is art. They way we are made is art and the process in which we are made into is art therefore we are art. And one can become an artist by practicing each and her art form.

I am self-taught through experiences with people from all walks of life, from seeing street art growing up in the Bronx, to street fashion everywhere in New York City, Paris, and now everywhere in Europe and around the world.  I think of myself and every other human being as work of art created by God but he/she really took his/her time in creating us as color people. The definition of our body alone speaks volumes.

Do you think you have a responsibility to share your art with the world? Or is it for your eyes only?

It is my responsibility to share my art now because I want the world to see our beauty and I want us as Black people see how beautiful we are. I used to only paint for me and for a while I would ask why are all the black people in these old paintings in museums is either a made, slave or looking like clowns with big eyes, big red lips? How many black people you know looking like that? I have seen black royals, rich black people from generations before my grand parents. I have also seen pictures of black Victorians.

Where is your favorite place to work?

I paint and create everywhere I can… I draw a lot during my train rides and in the plane during the flights. I paint in my hotel rooms. I will always look for an art supply store wherever I am in a new place or environment. I always have some pastel, pencils and a book to do something on. I do have a small studio space at home where I really paint in my art mess. Because I I usually work on multiple pieces at the same time

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