Even in his early childhood years, Moses Oyeleye has always known that art would be his lifetime vocation, he tells Okechukwu Uwaezuoke
Just the fact of being allowed to use ballpoint pens for the first time meant so much to Moses Oyeleye. Back then, as a Primary Three pupil of the Fresh Myrtle International School in Okota, a mainland neighbourhood of Lagos, he considered this as something akin to a rite of passage. For this was also when he not only began to use it as a writing instrument but also appropriate it as a drawing medium. “Back then, I had a jotter in which I would replicate illustrations from textbooks,” he reminisces. “Little did I know that I was sharpening my skill with the medium and it would be my preferred medium years later.” A quick cut to the time he was concluding his studies at the University of Lagos. His proficiency in the medium had grown so much that he surpassed his own expectations of what he thought possible. “It’s been amazing what I’ve been capable of doing with the ballpoint pen between then and now,” he continues. “The first major pieces I did then were the Prime Leadership series, which was done to address issues in the political scene in Nigeria, featuring my colleagues in school.”
Born on November 15, 1993, in Lagos – as the second child and son of his Kwara State-born parents’ four children – his interest in art has been nurtured since his early childhood years. Back then, he would draw whatever caught his childlike fancies and showed an early predilection for faithfully reproducing images in the form of drawing.
Though he described drawing back then as “basically a hobby”, he would devote most of his leisure hours – either at home or at school – to it. With no real competing interests to rival this hobby is dominated his consciousness. Video games held little or no attraction for him unlike for most children of his age.
Nonetheless, music was, somewhere along the line, interpolated into his sphere of interest, easily complementing his art practice. Talking about music, he traces this predilection for the art form back to his paternal grandparents, who were folk musicians.
Still on his childhood years, he also recalls sharing the same passion for art with a primary schoolmate. “So, after school hours, we’d busy ourselves replicating drawings of murals on the school walls. While he was more disposed on cartoons and comic illustrations, I was more interested in drawing things the way they are, whether animate or inanimate. So, I could say that was how my love for portraiture and realism began.”
Representational art has been his stock in trade, something akin to his artistic credo. It is indeed something he remains unapologetic for. “I’ve always been keener on representing forms for what they really are, rather than attempting to stylise them,” he reiterates. “Since childhood, most of my drawings have been more of portraits than cartoons. I’d say realism comes from my tendency to be a perfectionist. I love paying attention to details, but my style isn’t hyper-realism though it’s close. My works are seen with vivid layers of cross-hatching ballpoint pen strokes.”
A quick dissolve to his secondary school years at Okota Junior Secondary School, Lagos. His encounter with the late Chinedu Sunday, who was then a student at the Yaba College of Technology, flagged off a period of artistic tutelage that extended a little beyond his senior secondary years at Matori Senior Grammar School in the same neighbourhood.
By the end of his secondary education, it had become evident to him that the visual arts and music would dominate his future activities. “For a period of a year and couple of months, before my admission and resumption at the University of Lagos in 2014, I became an apprentice to Mr Jamiu Apewo from 2012 to 2014,” he says.
Studying art at the university became a natural sequel to all these experiences, because – as he puts it – “it was like a DNA imprint that couldn’t be altered”. So, that foreclosed the prospects of any opposition from his parents. “My family knew I wouldn’t trade my passion for art for anything else. They take it as a divine calling, seeing that no one else in the family shares the same interest. If I didn’t study art, would have studied music. I’m still hoping to get a degree in music though.”
Oyeleye got his first big hit in 2017 when I participated in the #DRAWCHURCHILLCHALLENGE, a drawing contest to draw Churchill Olakunle, a businessman and philanthropist. “Ten out of several entries were picked, and the first, second and third place winners were determined by installation likes and comments. I won second place, and was awarded $600.”
Twice – in 2018 and 2019 – he not only participated in the annual Life in My City Art Festival competition but also made it to the grand finale. In 2018, he won the viewers’ choice category award, which was awarded by the Life in My City Art Festival’s artistic director Dr Ayo Adewunmi. Shortly after the 2019 edition of the event, he participated in a three-man exhibition organised by Mbari Uno in the upscale Government Reserved Area Ikeja.
The commissioned jobs he had done so far were mostly pencil drawings for which he had lost count. “I basically price my pen works higher than my pencils,” he explains.
Having long come to terms with the fact that art is his life’s calling, he looks forward to the future with optimism. “[Making art] is my full-time business,” he says. “It involves adorning places and rendering artistic services. With the aid of social networking, I see my works going places across the world. What this means is that I have to stay true in this business and stay consistent. Staying consistent is tantamount to how I much I’d evolve and how much mastery I’d gain over the medium. The goal is to create works of timeless relevance, bearing in mind that art is still one of the best ways to keep records of important issues in society even for the sake of posterity.”
On his sources of inspirations, the 2017 University of Lagos graduate of the visual arts first alludes to works from the Renaissance period before conceding some credit to contemporary artists. And talking about role models, he mentions only two names: Ibe Ananaba and Austin Uzor. “These people’s works are similar in style but they’ve got their individual uniqueness. Their pen drawings inspire me so much all the time. Though their drawings look sketchy, I love the fact that they allow the viewer to use his or her eyes to fill up the missing blank spaces, which therefore makes them engaging.”