DUKS:FIGHTING THE UGLINESS
by Segun Mafe
Nduka Abii popularly known as Duksarts is a concept artist and art director who believes it’s his "destiny to be an art solider who fights the good battle against the ugliness in this world". Using his prodigious talents in painting, sculpting, drawing and digital illustrations to help lift the consciousness of society and put a smile on as many people as he can. CONTENT:NG paid this genius a visit to find out what makes him tick.
LETS START WITH THE OBVIOUS QUESTION, WHO IS DUKS? & WHAT WOULD YOU SAY HE DOES?
Duks is a guy who was born to make art and make people smile. The name duks started when my friend Tomi Obasa called me Duks when I was in jss3 about 10 years ago or so. I am a design solider constantly trying to fix the ugliness. I like to make everything look nice… I’m just a problem solver, I like to paint stuff, I like to sculpt stuff. What exactly do you want to know about me cause to you I could be a demon or I could be an angel. I actually see myself as a guardian angel. I saw a friend in my dream, something happened to the person in my dream and the person called me two days later. I felt guilty because I felt I could have reached out earlier but she was like something major happened in her life concerning her family. I was like I had a dream about her two nights before and she was like wow, she was actually going through something similar. This has never happened to me before. It’s almost like foresight. But let’s move one, I am Duks, a visual artist. I draw stuff that’s pretty, I’m also a therapist, I draw to lift the consciousness of people.
Art is my pillow first of all, it is where I can simply lay my head and know I'm safe. I believe naturally I’m a rebel, even though I didn’t decide to be a rebel. Rebel meaning I oppose a whole bunch of things or rules about consciousness and I try to stay away from the edge. Art is how I can communicate with people, it is how I can make a mark, I can say something really strong that can shift a culture. It is where I can create babies… I make babies, I create energies that shift culture that can inspire people. I could even summon a truth with it that people could understand and could even make life much better. I realize that this is a very powerful language and I’m so privileged to be able to imbibe knowledge about lines, form, shapes and colour. I feel so privileged I’m able to assimilate all this data and bring it out as something more, something bigger than myself, bigger than the entire universe. It’s almost like a secret weapon, it’s like sports, it’s like singing but it’s more intimate than all that. I am able to make you see stuff that goes on in my mind. Sound does that as well but nothing beats seeing.
SEEMS LIKE YOU APPRECIATE THAT YOU HAVE A GREATER RESPONSIBILITY BECAUSE OF YOUR TALENT. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS INTERGRAL TO THE WORK OF AN ARTIST AS YOURSELF?
There’s a point in life when you’re like what’s the point of everything? As a human being life, living is the most important thing, feeling, being. I think every human being is an artist. You’re meant to go through life your own way. A friend of mine and I we’re talking today and I said life is about your experience and your contribution. What’s most important to me as an artist is my ability to be, to exist and understand that I’m a huge part of this vicious cycle, vicious life force that embodies incredible beings and experiences. It’s one of the most beautiful things to me… being a human being and being privileged enough to create life that's bigger than me and behold it. To look outside, to look at the moon. I like to embrace all things on the planet and all things I cannot see… from rainbows to auroras, spirits to feelings. I like to embrace everything and make sure I can incorporate that in what I do, which is creating.
HOW HAS YOUR APPROACH TO YOUR WORK CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?
I’ve become more serious towards my craft, time management wise. I’ve realized I used to be a lot happier when I was younger but now it’s just work. It’s still the same approach but these days I don’t feel like I wanna do stuff because it’s mostly commission based. I kind of force myself to create stuff these days. It was more about impulse and an incredible wealth of inspiration cause back then I did exactly what I wanted to do but now I have to create stuff because I have to and I’m being paid to. So now I have to manage my time like everyone else in the real world.
WHICH OF YOUR PREVIOUS WORKS RESONATES WITH YOU THE MOST?
There’s this Halo speed painting I did and posted it online. I was in college then, I was in Columbus College in Ohio and I made this painting of Master Chief a character in the Halo game. He was holding a gun and I also painted his environment, I dropped him in his environment. I painted this a while back about 7 years ago and it caught so many eyes. It took me about 20 hours and I squashed it into a 7 minute video and posted it on YouTube and added a soundtrack that kind of matched the visual. It was playback video, a video of myself painting this Halo environment that was kind of ultimately destroyed. I uploaded the video of the painting and towards the end I destroyed the city. The reason why this painting is one of the most thoughtful pieces I’ve done is because people saw that work and were so moved by the combination of the visual, the sound and the message. The message was beautiful things go or all things go basically. I’m not a Halo fan, I enjoyed watching people play it but it wasn’t as realistic as other Sci-Fi title games on the PlayStation. I looked at it and I saw beauty in it and I decided to paint an environment of this beautiful place getting destroyed and battered by bullets. Towards the end of the video I destroyed everything. I used after effects to explode everything but the way everything played together was just awesome because I think it moved people and I was able to promote a message for people to help Japan because there was a nuclear situation at that time and it just took off. People were so happy so to see that people actually paid attention, even artists could send a message that even though we have beautiful eyes that see beautiful things, let’s not forget that all things go. Everything that’s crafted… because I built stuff right in front of their eyes on the screen, put in hours in creating that painting and then I destroyed it. Why? I was just trying to let people know that beautiful people and beautiful things are made with time and built with trust, loyalty and could just go at any time. I then attached a Red Cross message saying ‘Help Japan through this crisis’. That was a pretty big piece for me.
WHAT’S YOUR REACTION TO PEOPLE’S CRITIQUE OF YOUR WORK? BOTH POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE.
I just take it as it comes. Although I can be a much better artist and I’m still learning about myself. People will appreciate my stuff, people will say you should have done it this way or that but as a creative and as someone who constantly seeks for knowledge, I will always listen to what people have to say. Maybe I haven’t put too much stuff out but I can’t remember the last time someone said to me “Hey what’s up with your art? Why does it look weird?” People just say yay and wow this looks nice and that’s pretty nice to me so far. I listen to what everyone has to say but in the end I will create what I want to create and how I want to create it. If you like it cool, if you don’t identify with it that’s fine. I will create the way I feel at that point in time.
CAN YOU SUMMARISE YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
Majority of my process is just me thinking about an idea, brainstorming. I could think about an idea and create it in my head for days. Conceiving the idea in my mind. I could be on that for days and the execution for that concept could take maybe an hour or thirty minutes and it would look cool, really cool, only because I have already organised everything in my head. How I want it to look, to feel. 70-80% of the work takes place in my mind. It could also take me days depending on the project but most of the time everything I want to do is painted in my mind before I make things physical.
SOME WOULD SAY LAGOS HAS A PROMINENT ART CULTURE, DO YOU AGREE WITH THIS SENTIMENT?
I’m not all familiar with what people are putting out in Lagos today but I’ve seen some pretty dope stuff. I’ve met some incredible photographers, painters, digital artists, young aspiring ones. That’s one of the things about being a little bit older, like I’ve watched my little brother’s mates grow up, wake up. People are flourishing o. I’m more familiar with the digital world. There’s the TSEs, Duro Arts, Etubi, Manny Jefferson, Mohammed Agbadi, Mr. Wentz, Tomisin Akins (lucid lemons), Aham Ibeleme, Adedayo Laketu (BaroqueAge), Dare Olaitan, Anny Roberts and the rising Moyosore Briggs (she's awesome). There’s a whole lot of people shouting now. Young Nigerians are shouting now with the help of social media mostly.
DIGITAL SEEMS TO BE YOUR FAVORITE MEDIUM AT THE MOMENT, ARE WE GONNA SEE YOU GO BACK TO PAINT IN THE NEAR FUTURE?
I still paint, well I haven’t painted in a while but I hope to do two shows this year by God’s grace. I’m in a place where I don’t feel like creating right now. If I’m uncomfortable I wouldn’t paint for like two months because I feel I need to hibernate for a while because I feel spent. I need to find more inspiration, I need room to experience more in order to create more. But I’ve had this burnout for a while now. It shouldn’t stop me from creating, it shouldn’t stop me from taking jobs, and it shouldn’t stop me from wanting to push my standards higher, to learn and improve my creative abilities.
YOUR WORK HAS GARNERED RAVE REVIEWS AND ONE COULD EVEN SAY MAINSTREAM APPEAL, PART OF THIS SUCCESS IS DUE TO THE SINGLE AND ALBUM COVER ARTS YOU'VE CREATED OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, IS THIS A NEW FOCUS FOR YOU?
I do cover arts but it’s not my main focus. It was a focus for a while but I feel like I need to chill out. I’ve been doing it for a while but now I feel I need to take a break. So I’ve been turning down jobs left, right and centre. It’s not like I don’t want the money or anything but for the sake of my mental health. I need to relax, refocus and know exactly what I want to do. I just bought about twenty books based on art, colour, drawing, painting and concepting. That’s really where I am right now, I’m re-learning.
BUT I’VE ALSO SEEN YOU DO COVER ART FOR FUN LIKE WHEN YOU EDITED ONE FOR BLACK PANTHER AND ANOTHER FOR THE TOMB RAIDER MOVIE.
I’m a huge fan of the culture. I love the whole kingdom of comic books and superhero movies. Bruh… this is where I’m from, this my world, this is where I belong. I’m just saying I’m tired of doing stuff for people I just need to create stuff for myself, create stuff that will last.
I REMEMBER ABOUT A YEAR AGO YOU WERE PLANNING ON TEACHING PEOPLE HOW TO EMBRACE THEIR CREATIVE SIDE THROUGH ART. IS THIS STILL IN YOUR PLANS?
I plan on mentoring people soon because a lot of guys have been reaching out to me about something similar. You’ll be the first to know when I’m close to embarking on that journey.
WHAT FRUSTRATES YOU THE MOST WHEN IT COMES TO DEALING WITH CLIENTS?
It’s always nice when a client is open to new ideas, crazy ideas, ideas that kick ass. I see myself as more of a consultant than anything else because I’m not lacking in ideas. When I have these ideas, I’m blessed enough to be able to execute them also. What most of my clients pay for are my ideas. I appreciate when clients know what they want but when they give me full creative license they get the best out of me.
I WANT TO GO BACK TO WHAT YOU SAID EARLIER ON MENTAL HEALTH AND HOW IT IS ABSOLUTELY VITAL. BEING AN ARTIST, CAN YOU EXPAND ON THE IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD PSYCHOLOGICAL STATE ?
Mental health should not be taken lightly. My mind is my house. It’s the only real home I’ve got where I can hide for a while. In this place, I can hide for a little while. In this place, I can relax, cleanse, renovate and enhance all that I am before I proceed to manifest my thoughts and wishes into the physical. There’s a catch though… the mind is like the wilderness with no boundaries, so there is always a need to beware of our escapades. The gift and the curse. We are free but we are not. There are times when malicious thoughts creep in. when this happens, I accept it for what it is, then I rebuke it if it will only bring me harm. I could be inspired by certain peculiar thoughts, I try to keep my mental neutral. It’s always good to listen to music, take a walk or do some kind of therapy to cleanse. I won’t say for sure that I have mental illness, but I’m doing one hell of a job in there just to keep my mind straight, and it’s working. Anyone who thinks they may have a problem should not fret. We really are all insane here, in one way or the other. It’s okay, see a psychiatrist, talk to friends and stuff, but I strongly believe that God won’t gift us with minds we wouldn’t be able to tame.
THANK YOU DUKS
Creative Direction - Nduka Abii (@duksarts on Twitter & Instagram)
Photography - Esosa Igie (@Krones_Shots on Instagram)