All of the murals that hit walls around town during the Richmond Mural Project grabbed their fair share of attention, but one that received a particularly warm reception was Aniekan Udofia’s mural featuring local legend Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, located at the intersection of 2nd and Marshall Streets in Jackson Ward.
All of the murals that hit walls around town during the Richmond Mural Project grabbed their fair share of attention, but one that received a particularly warm reception was Aniekan Udofia’s mural featuring local legend Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, located at the intersection of 2nd and Marshall Streets in Jackson Ward. Aniekan’s decision to feature a famous member of the local community helped integrate his art into the history of the neighborhood and make it not only a celebration of street art, but of RVA itself. The Nigerian-born artist currently lives in Washington DC, and has gained quite a bit of notoriety around that city from his murals similarly depicting DC’s cultural icons–Duke Ellington, George Washington, Frederick Douglass, and more. His work was brought to national attention through illustrations he’s done for magazines like XXL, Vibe, The Source, Elemental, and DC Pulse. He’s also contributed clothing designs to urban athletic wear companies And 1 and Native Tongue. The two murals Aniekan contributed to the Richmond Mural Project (the one at 2nd and Marshall, plus another one two blocks north at 535 N. 2nd St) demonstrate not only his artistic talent, but his devotion to history and community. While Aniekan was in town last month, we spoke to him about his impressions of Richmond, the evolution of his large format work, and why painting a mural makes him nervous.
How did you get involved in the Richmond Mural Project?
I got involved through Art Whino. I have done a few shows with Art Whino in the past, so I already knew about the mural project in DC [DC Mural Project]. So from there I knew Shane from Art Whino, and he contacted to do this. I was really amped about it.
I saw some of the work and I’ve been following it for eight months, seeing what you do. What did you go to school for? Did you go for art or did you start working on the street?
I went to school a little bit, just to learn the fundamentals. But it didn’t really help. So my learning really is from the streets, seeing other artists and their techniques, and talking to artists about their process. That’s always been my thing, and it still is. That’s how I keep going.
When did you decide that you wanted to do murals?
It was tough at first, but [I] gradually went from larger canvases to using wood panels, and then from the wood panels it was an easy transition to walls, as far as size. That was my process for doing that. Once I got into that, the larger the pieces, the more fun you can have with ideas.
Has it been three years that you’ve been doing murals?
I would say it’s been about five years now. I just started using spray paint two years ago.
Do you still get nervous about projects or is it natural?
It will never be natural! A lot of times, the sketches look really good, but by the time you take it to the wall, you’ll realize what made the sketch look good was the size, because it’s in a small book. By the time you take it to the wall and find out, that’s over a month’s work in that little corner. There’s always a bit of nervousness, where you’re like, “OK, OK, let me calm down on this design–how’s this going to come out?”
Have you ever been to Richmond before?
This is my first time. I gotta tell you, this is amazing. Richmond is the perfect melting pot. It has a taste of almost the entire East Coast. You feel New York here, you feel Philly here, you feel Baltimore, and so on. And the other thing I love about Richmond is the murals. I’ve seen so many murals, and it’s not just like one that I’m working on through Art Whino, but the local artists, and all kinds of styles on every corner. Another thing I love is the hand painted signs. That seems like a cultural thing here, I love it. Originally I’m from Nigeria, so that was a big thing. We used to have shops and that was a thing [in Nigeria]. I saw that here, and it’s like that culture, and maintaining it. I love it.
I’ve been seeing people on social media have been taking pictures of your mural. Do you realize that Jackson Ward, for a long time, was considered the Harlem of the South?
Yeah, actually, that’s what people have been telling me! The reaction I’ve been getting from this mural so far has been excellent. Like Bojangles–I saw a statue of him earlier. People are coming out and the reaction is really great. Somebody made reference to the shoes, and I’m telling them that I got a pair of shoes like that. It’s really amazing out here with the history and culture.
You’re based in DC, but are you planning to do more murals farther out?
Definitely. This project has opened my eyes to that a lot. I’m seeing the reaction is that no one really cares I’m from DC–they’re more into the work and what they’re getting. I just did something really similar in DC at Ben’s Chili Bowl. It’s kind of like icons, and my thing is portraits, so I like to mix the portraiture into the abstract, graffiti inspired abstract backgrounds.
The arrow is very graffiti, and gives it a lot of energy too. Then you’re molding in something historical.
I wanted to make it funky, fun, and also with the movement of the tap dace. I wanted to capture the movement of that.
Do you have any projects lined up after this?
After this, I have murals [in] DC. I have two more, so when I get back I’m doing that. I also have a possible show with Art Whino that would hopefully [take place] before the end of the year. Then a few commissions in between.
Thank you for being here.
Thank you! It’s been a fun experience. It’s been amazing just watching everything and having an audience.