Victor Ekpuk

Washington, D.C. | by February 11, 2013

Victor Ekpuk’s stu­dio is on a quiet street in Wash­ing­ton, DC and part of a group of stu­dios ensconced in an old school build­ing.  The build­ing has been spared the rav­ages of real estate devel­op­ers who greed­ily chop up the insides of beau­ti­ful old build­ings like this one into the appro­pri­ate num­ber of profit-​​maximizing units.  The mar­ble stair­case remains, its treads worn from use. The ceil­ings remain high and the win­dows tall.

Victor’s stu­dio is up those stairs and is a sunny space he shares with another artist — a large shelv­ing unit func­tion­ing as a wall between his space and hers.  It was serendip­ity that led him here four years ago when the stu­dio in his Alexan­dria, Virg­nia home grew too small for him to work com­fort­ably.  At the time, Jef­fer­son Pin­der was mov­ing out of the space and Vic­tor very quickly agreed to move in. Vic­tor points out that the main attrac­tion of the space (other than the beau­ti­ful build­ing and the fan­tas­tic light) was the large white wall dom­i­nat­ing one side which was per­fect for the large-​​scale draw­ings that he was work­ing on.

His intense focus on draw­ing for the past sev­eral years led to a string of solo shows in the DC area and in Europe, along with acqui­si­tions of his work for per­ma­nent col­lec­tions at the World Bank and the Smith­son­ian Institute’s National Museum of African Art.

As an African-​​born and African-​​trained artist now liv­ing in the United States, Ekpuk’s work in draw­ing bears dis­tinc­tive ele­ments that are drawn from his Niger­ian roots and what he describes as the “African aes­thetic.” The most obvi­ous of those ele­ments is the use of nsi­bidi char­ac­ters as an ele­ment of his draw­ings. The pic­to­graphic char­ac­ters form an essen­tial part of his larger scale works. His num­bered series of Com­po­si­tion draw­ings are a per­fect exam­ple of this. The nsi­bidi char­ac­ters trans­form the white spaces in between the bold min­i­mal lines and color blocks in the series from serene silence into some­thing almost alive, some­thing that almost res­onates with sound.

“Nsi­bidi is an ancient form of writ­ing that uses sym­bols to rep­re­sent con­cepts,” explains Vic­tor. “It is prac­ticed in Nige­ria and West Africa and it is still in use today actu­ally. So when I started look­ing for form to express my con­cep­tual ideas I started doing research into tra­di­tional African art and aes­thet­ics and that really attracted me.  It’s also from the part of the coun­try that I’m from. My fore­fa­thers were doing this so that made it kind of per­sonal to me.”

Victor’s work the­mat­i­cally draws from all of his expe­ri­ences, both as an African and as an Amer­i­can. “I like to go through the whole spec­trum of human con­di­tion, social, polit­i­cal. There was a time when I was liv­ing in Nige­ria when my work was very polit­i­cal because I was liv­ing under a very polit­i­cally tense atmos­phere, we had a dic­ta­tor­ship for a very long time,” He says. “So hav­ing lived here for some time, a lot of my Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence is com­ing into my work as well, social com­men­taries. And some­times if the pol­i­tics get too heavy I just like to explore the aes­thet­ics of form. I like doing that as well.”

Recently, Vic­tor stepped away from draw­ing and moved back to paint­ing, a medium that he uti­lized before he took up the intense focus on draw­ing.  As we talk, he sits in front of a giant ply­wood styl­ized out­line of a head that is being lay­ered in blue acrylic paint, the nsi­bidi char­ac­ters scrawled into the lay­ers of paint.

It’s the fast­ness of acrylic that appeals to Ekpuk.  “I like using acrylics. In the ear­lier paint­ings I was doing I needed it to dry fast so that I could rub them off and look aged. Acrylic worked well for that,” he says. Victor’s paint­ing and his draw­ing share a rhythm. Epkuk’s work is done with painstak­ing care, and the thought and effort is evi­dent in each piece, yet both paint­ings and draw­ings alike pos­sess a sim­plic­ity and imme­di­acy that sug­gest their hav­ing sprung into being. In some instances, Victor’s work does so lit­er­ally, such as the“drawing per­for­mance” at Arti­sphere in Arling­ton, VA on Octo­ber 9, 2011, where he cre­ated a piece enti­tled “Med­i­ta­tions on Memory”.

Vic­tor Ekpuk is rep­re­sented in the United States by Mor­ton Fine Art, and you can learn more about Vic­tor and his work at

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  • Joyce says:

    Your faces do well with con­cern on depth, and with the ger­e­nal look of most fea­tures and the posi­tion­ing. they are amaz­ingly good though they have a few, only a few, minor detail prob­lems, and that is truly “see­ing” what you’re draw­ing and not what your mind thinks. it’s an agi­tat­ing thing when you can see the shape of things but you’re mind changes it to suit it’s ideal of that fea­ture. in any case though i absolutely adore your art­work, they’re brilliant.

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