Chrome Faces Protrude from Drippy, Graffiti Backdrops in Hyperrealistic Paintings by Artist Kip Omolade
Set on a graffitied backdrop, the chrome masks Kip Omolade (previously) paints appear to emerge from the canvas, jutting out from the vibrant display to confront the viewer. The Harlem-born artist layers dripping colors and typographic markings that contrast the smooth, gleaming faces protruding from the center for his new series Masks: Portraits of Times Square and Luxury Graffiti, which he completed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement, he explains the history of the collection:
In New York City during the ’80s, my tag was ‘Kace’ and I would ‘get up’ on MTA subway car interiors, public walls in Brooklyn, and graffiti black books. Throughout the ’90s, I never stopped tagging. Even when I was painting from life, I was still tagging here and there in random spaces. Years later, I produced a real-life ‘Kace’—when my twin sons were born, I named them Kent and Kace. The ‘Kace’ tags in these paintings reference NYC subway ‘bombing’ of the ’80s, but mostly it’s about legacy. I want my work to represent our shared experiences of the past, present, and future.
Omolade’s process includes sculpting a resin mold of a chosen subject, which he then covers with chrome and uses as a reference for his hyperrealistic portraits. Many of the masks are reflective, revealing a hidden landscape. In Omolade’s self-portrait (shown below), an American flag in the shape of a bullseye marks his forehead, a nod to racial injustices in the United States.
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Brooklyn-based artist Kip Omolade creates large-scale oil paintings of chrome masks, depicting not only the subtle details of female faces, but incorporating the reflected environment of each piece. The series, entitled Diovadiova Chrome, makes reference in part to historical African sculptures, while exploring contemporary aspects of identity, luxury, and immortality. Each piece begins as a mold and cast taken from an actual model which is then utilized as source material for Omolade’s towering paintings which can measure several feet tall.
“Diovadiova Chrome portraits historically connect to ancient, realistic African sculptures such as Benin ivory masks and Ife bronze heads,” shares Omolade in his artist statement. “The oil paintings are psychological studies that investigate immortality, the universal masks we all wear and contemporary notions of beauty and luxury. The labor-intensive process involves making a mold and cast of each model’s face, reworking the cast plaster sculpture, producing a version in resin and adding a chrome layer with artificial eyelashes. The final sculpture then serves as a model for the hyper-realistic oil painting. This technique maintains the likeness qualities of portraiture while re-presenting a mask that serves as a conduit between the spiritual and natural world.”
The term Omolade uses to describe the series, Diovadiova, is a word he derived from a combination of the Italian word “Dio” meaning god, and the historical meaning of the word “diva” which is goddess.
Omolade first began his art career working as a graffiti artist while interning at Marvel Comics and The Center for African Art and went on to earn a BFA from the School of Visual Arts. His work was most recently included in the Re:Semblance exhibition at the Redbull House of Art in Detroit and last year’s FREAK OUT! show at Zhou B Art Center. You can follow more of his work on Instagram.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.