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Tonye Ekine’s journey: From scribbling on walls to becoming a multi-disciplinary creative

A person smiling and wearing a hat. There are painting in the background.
  • Written byAnnika Loebig
  • Published date 25 October 2022
A person smiling and wearing a hat. There are painting in the background.
Tonye Ekine, 2022 MA Drawing, Camberwell College of Arts, UAL | Photography: Kat Smith

Tonye Ekine’s earliest memory as an artist is of him scribbling on the walls of his childhood home in Nigeria.

“My mum was the first person to notice me drawing, so she got me a little toy that allowed me to just draw and erase,” the MA Drawing student at Camberwell College of Arts says.

Since developing a love for drawing from an early age, Tonye has been on a rollercoaster of a creative career, involving different practices that all nevertheless turned out to be connected.

“When I left school, the art sector wasn’t so prominent and it didn’t look very sustainable, so I went into the one industry that was more promising, which was applied arts.”

Tonye quickly found himself working across the digital creative sector, from advertising to graphic design, creative director and corporate communications at Glitch Africa, and even working as Editor-in-Chief for City Info Africa.

Tonye working on a painting.
Tonye Ekine painting in the studio, 2022 MA Drawing, Camberwell College of Arts, UAL | Photography: Kat Smith

“People still care about your creative knowledge, especially colour theory. Working with photographers, designers and others is a lot like seeing a painting being put together. It’s about how you create a story; it’s all artistic. Coming to UAL has been about learning to evolve and develop to get to the next stage of my practice as an artist.”

One main focus in Tonye’s work is the art of storytelling to engage viewers with his paintings. As we started emerging out of the Covid years, he’s been increasingly interested in the symbol of masks and how they changed the way we’re able to interact with each other.

"Everyone is familiar with wearing masks and not being able to recognise the next person wearing one. For me, there was a really interesting dialogue about who is behind the mask: when you wear a mask, I have to look at every other thing around you to read about you. It’s very interesting to play around with people’s emotional reactions to my work where I create scenarios like that.”

Tonye’s art journey in school often centered around spending countless hours making sure every detail of his art drawings was perfect and mastering what he was told was the standard of the arts. Since then, he’s become more concerned with exploring his own experiences and allowing others to relate to his paintings. It’s one of the reasons he’s hugely inspired by pop artists and the ways in which the movement simplified art without compromising the weight of its contents.

“It makes it easier for people to engage, and that’s something I’m very inspired by and try to improve myself.”

“I feel like the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to not put yourself in a box. If you have an idea, just go for it and test it out and see. You’ll learn by making.”

"I feel like the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to not put yourself in a box."

— Tonye Ekine
A close up of Tonye painting. We cannot see what he is painting but he has a concentrated expression.
Tonye Ekine, 2022 MA Drawing, Camberwell College of Arts, UAL | Photography: Kat Smith

With years of experience under his belt and a desire to find himself in the art community, Tonye’s next step is to break free from the constraints of the ‘painter’ label to allow him to be a more multifaceted creative.

“I want to work with shoe companies, different brands that have to do with communication, and still allow myself to work on my creative practices. It’s very interesting to see the role of an artist develop in this world that we live in, and I feel like I have a part to play in that as opposed to just creating a piece that hangs on a wall in someone’s house.”

“There is freedom in expression – and that’s where you find identity.”