First Person Singular: Aniekan Udofia, 36, Washington, artist


Aniekan Udofia, artist, poses in front of his latest work, featuring Chuck Brown, on the exterior walls of Ben’s Chili Bowl. “Live painting is like an artist bringing the studio to the public,” Udofia says. It’s like poetry.” (Joseph Victor Stefanchik/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
December 5, 2012

Growing up back home in Nigeria, I would draw in class all the time. Word got around to the teachers, so if they needed diagrams, they were like, “You. Come up here. Can you draw a hen? A chicken? A shovel?” I would draw, and kids would gather around my desk.

Live painting is like an artist bringing the studio to the public. It’s like poetry. You have to see the written word performed live to know how the writer intended it to sound. That’s what live painting basically is. You’re painting in front of an audience, and they’re watching the entire process. People don’t usually understand how art works. A lot of people think it’s a hobby-based career. It’s hard to take someone’s likeness and transfer it with your hands to a two dimensional surface. So I like the fact that people get to come in and see this process — from the background, to your layout, your sketch. Also, people have the idea of [artists] being closed — kind of weird people who don’t like interaction — but that environment changes the whole stereotype.


“It’s hard painting in front of an audience. People are coming up and talking to you,” Udofia says. ”Music is playing.” (Joseph Victor Stefanchik/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

It’s hard painting in front of an audience. People are coming up and talking to you. Music is playing. Last year, I did a mural at Bread for the City in Southeast. I’m [working] on a roof, I sketched out Frederick Douglass, and I can hear the same two guys. They would come out every day. You could hear them talking about everything from football to art. And they would go back and forth [about the mural]. This one is like, “Man, that’s Mike Tyson.” And the other is like, “No!” They reminded me of the two guys up in the balcony on “The Muppet Show.” I’m like, “I’m standing right here. You could just ask me.” But I think they wanted to see for themselves. Who’s it gonna turn out to be? That gave them a reason to come out there. And then one time, they came through, and one of them was like, “My man! Frederick Douglass! That’s who it is! I knew it.”

There was a guy, he was like, “You know, I do art. But I never really used spray paint before.” And I said, “You can try it out.” And so, because the spray paint takes a lot to control, he found out how hard it was. That’s the beauty of working out in the public. They saw when it was just a rough sketch. And then they saw when I started adding color to it. People come out and are like, “Wow, this is great. What’s it going to be?” They’re curious. Then you have the other side. People will come out and say, “I like the brick better.” But that’s what happens with public art. It’s open to everybody’s opinion.

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