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Conversation with the artist, July 2023

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Mathilde Le Coz - You are a self-taught artist but you come from a creative industry, can you explain how you came to painting? Did you feel you reached a limit to your creativity in the fashion industry?


Samuel Aiwerioghene - I did not feel the creativity part stopped in my other industry. There is still a lot that inspires me in this industry and it will always be like that for me. But I always felt that there was something, a way to express myself that I wasn’t allowed to in this industry. I am not saying the fashion industry is not a personal industry, it can be. But I wanted an another medium where I can express myself more directly. I’ve always been searching for that. When I started painting, it felt right, you can say whatever you want to say, more directly. 

MLC - Even if you started quite recently, there is quite a change of atmosphere between your previous work and this new series. Your first works were more narrative - why removing backgrounds, spatiotemporal markers and any signs of context?


SA - When I started painting it was more similar to what I do now. The focus was on the direct expression of an individual that I thought of, an expression that I have seen before, a way I felt or somebody felt around me felt. Then I progressed a little bit and started adding a narrative, a story, a background. Now I am going back to what I started with. I like a simple image. I like to be able to speak about an emotion, without distractions. I try not to cover things up. Now movement has come in, increasing this expression. To be able to speak in a simple image that is the goal of every painting I do. 


MLC - In many of your paintings there is the same face, the same recurring character, why?


SA - It has always been like that. I can only paint if I have a specific image in mind, a specific person, a specific identity, that I combine with an emotion. It always, in some way, goes back to myself. I see myself very much in a painting but I also feel I see many other people in it at the same time. It is a feeling I have had and that I know many people have also had. But I can only draw from my own experience and I paint one character who has this same feeling. 


MLC - And often this character looks outside the painting…


SA - Very often. It comes from this feeling of feeling misplaced during one period of time, where you feel you are the only one with this emotion, the feeling of being alone but without being alone, of feeling different, isolated. That is why there is a character looking outside, feeling something else, different from the other characters in the image. I am fascinated by people and real life and it goes back to having a connection with a person or a feeling. A direct way of communicating, to me, is through a painting where I have contact with an individual in the painting. 

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MLC - All your paintings are focusing on the male body and there is a very performative aspect to it: bodies that fight for example, postures that can be associated to dance or the theatre. You are showcasing what a male body is. Can you tell me about that?


SA - First of all the male body itself and the idea of it, human flesh, is the purer stage you can be in. Lately I have been attracted to this idea of vulnerability. To me the movement, the flesh of the body, engage the viewer even more. A way of moving can be telling more than a facial expression. I use it to back this expression or feeling and make it even more obvious. Looking for pure expression, I at times need to put everything away distracting from it. This is what the human body means to me right now.


MLC - There is something about masculinity, virility: your characters are often in a position of struggle, muscles are showing…


SA - The human male figure in a very masculine way interests me.To me it adds a dimension of realness, this is how the masculine body looks. But of course there is this underlying tone of showcasing something masculine, hiding a specific way of feeling. The masculine viril body works as an armour (cloth is an armour too, a way of communicating how you feel). I try to portray this person looking aesthetically pleasing whilst revealing this underlying feeling of not belonging, feeling insecure. It is about the contrast. 


MLC - Why did you start with the "Man see blue” expression when relating to your work? Your titles also relate to this expression… 


SA - I was playing with an expression in my paintings, a very specific and intense expression and I needed a name for it. I couldn’t explain this expression I was trying to paint, and “Man see blue” came out of a necessity for myself, to tell myself what it meant. It is an expression, a feeling, you feel blue, different, surrounded by people without sometimes being understood. 


MLC - Would you mind explaining your process?


SA - I have learned painting from people that had facial expressions that I thought were interesting. I learned by looking at them, studying their faces for a very long time, the nose, the lips. I work from photos that I have taken myself to images I found in books, online, movies, things that I have read or seen. I use them in different settings, combining them together. My paintings can be different images in one. And sometimes, it is just something I think about in the moment. When it comes to a canvas, I sketch directly on it and start painting often immediately. 


MLC-  - What about your references? 


I mostly look at photography and films. I like to spend a long time looking through photos of mine, searching online, old screen shots from films to find a specific attitude. My references is in some sense everyday life, a moment a attitude I witness on the street. I see paintings as a collective in some sense - that I built out of many thoughts. I am not trying to achieve everything in one work. What inspires me when I paint is the dialogue between the works... And music. I need to listen to music in order to be able to paint. Mostly I listen to jazz when I paint - and mostly Miles Davis, he is a hero of mine. But this can vary. Music always sets the tone for me.

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