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Móyòsóré Martins: Embracing Abstraction and Imperfectionism in Grunge Art

Móyòsóré Martins: Embracing Abstraction and Imperfectionism in Grunge Art

“I don’t believe in perfection. I see a lot of beauty in imperfection because humans are not designed perfectly. The idea of perfection is a myth and I like to give myself a somewhat grunge aesthetics.”__ Móyòsóré Martins.

By Joy Chukwujindu

The African Art Renaissance has experienced a notable upswing since the turn of the millennium, indicating a burgeoning market with increasing potential. Contemporary African artists in Africa and its diaspora, who have honed their distinct artistic language and medium of expression, are now making significant strides in the global art scene, contributing to the expansion and diversification of the industry. Móyòsóré Martins is one of such artists whose works have been collected by renowned art auction houses like Sotheby’s and Phillips. His pieces have not only graced the walls of galleries across multiple continents — from Asia to Europe and North America — but they have also found homes in the collections of individuals hailing from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds. Once upon a time, this was not always the case for the Computer Science graduate cum mixed-media artist.

Growing up in the bustling streets of Lagos Island, Nigeria, and raised by a Brazilian father and a Nigerian mother, Martins did not have a formal art education. Despite this, with other challenges he had to traverse, including the loss of his father during his late teens, leaving Nigeria for Ghana and then migrating to the United States, and not being able to sell any artwork until six years after he started creating art professionally, Martins’ spirit remained indomitable. 

As a self-taught artist, he discovered his passion for art from a young age, heavily influenced by his father’s avid interest in collecting various artwork, figurines, and cars among others. This trait has persisted in Martins, who, like his father, continues to appreciate and collect art, unique pieces, and furniture to this day. 

Móyòsóré Martins - In conversation with Afrocritik
Móyòsóré Martins|Daniella Liguori

During his college years, he continued to express himself through designing T-shirts and bags and making graffiti, laying the groundwork for his eventual professional pursuit of art. Martins’ art style is expressive with grunge and rawness; he deviates from clean and polished strokes, using instead irregular strokes which add an authentic human feel to his art. Martins sticks to a specific colour palette that he has consistently used throughout his artistic career, skillfully blending and manipulating these colours in his paintings to give artwork with distinctive colour schemes. Notably, his pieces often feature hues and shades of yellows, blues, reds, and greens, among others, showcasing his mastery of colour and form.

Moyosore Martins. Lekki (2021). Oil on Canvas 73 x 64 inches - Afrocritik
Lekki (2021). Oil on Canvas 73 x 64 inches |Daniella Liguori

I took a virtual tour through the eclectic New York loft studio of the mixed-media artist. I had the privilege to bask in his artistic brilliance, with each section offering its unique experience. As Martin led the way, unveiling new sections of his studio with enthusiasm, I could not help but marvel at the array of collectables, colourful Kaws, sculptures, and figurines lining the shelves, with a treasured library sitting in a conspicuous corner. Our conversation – with the tour experience – is deep and insightful. He shares his creative process, speaking about both finished and unfinished pieces, and how he expresses himself through his canvas. “I paint on 3 to 4 canvasses at the same time, I am very spontaneous. I prepare myself for messages to pass through me into the canvasses”, he tells me.

Inside Moyosore Martin's New York studios - Afrocritik
Inside Martin’s New York studios | Daniella Liguori

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Throughout his seemingly contemporary artwork, one can easily detect that Martins is well attuned to his Nigerian Yoruba culture. In fact, one recurring image emerges in most of his works, showcasing his ancestral roots. In Not While I’m Dreaming (2023) and Lot on My Hands (2023), there is a distorted, yet unmistakably striking figure cloaked in the hues of blue and white, one which he acknowledges as a representation of his ancestry. “I come from a lineage of noblemen and seers and my grandad, dad, and their circle always had those striped uniforms on. The stripes also signified that life is two-way, you need to compromise and see other people’s point of view; for example, when I came to the US, I had to start again”, he mentions.

Not While I'm Dreaming (2023)
Not While I’m Dreaming (2023). Oil, oil stick, pigments, charcoal and canvas. 116 x 84 in. (290 x 210cm) | Daniella Liguori

 

They Didn't See It Coming, 2023
They Didn’t See It Coming (Triptych) [2023]. Oil, oil stick, pigments, charcoal and canvas. Three Panels 72 x 36 in (180 x 90cm) each. Total size 72 x 108 in (180 x 270 cm) | Daniella Liguori

Martins believes that his life is a combination of the one he left behind and the one he lives in the present. It is a combination of vast traditions and experiences he had in Nigeria and the exposure to different cultures which has deeply influenced him as an artist and an individual. Since his childhood, Martins has always had a distinct personality that sets him apart and shaped his artistic vision.  Having tasted the best of both worlds; the amazing life his parents gave him and the experience of close friends who do not share the same privilege, he has always shunned perfectionism.  “I saw things differently and I was constantly trying to find out why”, he says. This rejection of perfectionism can be traced back to being raised by parents with a 30-year age gap between themselves and being surrounded by vintage and mid-century interiors, and the nostalgic aesthetic of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

Martins’ art indeed embraces imperfections and distortions. His paintings, such as Attestation (Vouch), They Didn’t See Us Coming (2023), and Never Enough (2023), convey a raw and grudge aesthetics, with the artist incorporating layers, scribbles, overlapping images, and collage elements. This technique enhances the chaotic, disorderly, and rebellious nature of his art. Grunge art has been known to be art that rejects clean, polished looks, embracing unpredictability and nonconformity. He has always been drawn to the unconventional which reflects his humanity — his emotional depth, his scars, and his ongoing struggles. “I have never been normal. I don’t believe in perfection. I see a lot of beauty in imperfection because we are not designed perfectly. The idea of perfection is a myth”, he revealed.  

Describing himself as an abstract expressionist, Martins employs bold brushstrokes to create his works. These brushstrokes are not merely utilitarian but serve as direct expressions of his energy, emotion, and psyche. For instance, he uses bold strokes in the 2022 painting, Sentiments Melange.  This artwork could be interpreted as a representation of multiplicities of perception and identity. The eyes atop each other layered on the face could symbolise insight and introspection, while the cluster of eyes could evoke a sense of spirituality, the feeling that these eyes are staring into one’s soul. The distorted and abstract faces layered in the painting might suggest the fluidity of identity. Overall, this artwork invites viewers to explore the interplay between individual perspective and interconnectedness. “I tend to create things that evoke human emotions and also have to do with time and manifestations — I am just painting my reality, my truth, my journey”, he adds during our discourse.

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Moyosore Martins, Sentiments Melange 2022. Oil, oil stick, pigments, and charcoal on canvas 72 X 60 in. (180 x 150 cm) | Daniella Liguori - Afrocritik
Sentiments Melange (2022). Oil, oil stick, pigments, and charcoal on canvas 72 X 60 in. (180 x 150 cm)| Daniella Liguori

Some have perceived Martins’ work as dark and even occultic because his art and lifestyle are unorthodox. He believes there are two sides to him; Móyòsóré — the father, husband, friend, brother, and son — and Móyò, the artist, who embodies darkness, rebellion, and isolation. Martins shared with me that he seldom engages in social activities and may spend an entire week secluded in his studio. He paints at nighttime into the early mornings and sticks to this routine. Yet, he chose to embrace his uniqueness, revelling in both light and darkness as integral parts of who he is. This duality finds expression in his art. “I enjoy the raw appeal my art gives; that aesthetic that it is older than my time. The inspiration sometimes is beyond me”, he opens up. For Martins, every brushstroke is imbued with his emotions, scars, and sometimes, prophesies of what is to come. “There are moments I look at my work and wonder how I was able to create that. I sometimes create art in a state like that of a trance”,  he reveals. 

The artist is a virtuoso of multiple disciplines. Beyond the canvas, his talents unfurl into fashion, music, sculptures, and culinary arts. “I am a pretty good chef and I hope to own a cafe restaurant someday stocked with art, figures, sculptors”, he says. Within his studio, there is a section dedicated to his music, filled with sets of vintage stereos and vinyl where he produces and records music. Interestingly, he owned a clothing line before venturing into art professionally, and one cannot mistake his unique fashion sense for his unusual trouser cuts. When I asked why he chooses to wear all-black fits most of the time, he responded, “I am a villain, and that’s my uniform. They make me stand out.” 

In Martins’s world, the ideal environment for creation is not merely a space — it is an ethos, a reflection of his eclectic and insatiable thirst for beauty. Surrounded by the finest vintage pieces and furniture, an uncommon stack of books, art pieces and rare collectables of pop art, his studio is a sanctuary. For the creative, functionality is paramount, yet every object bears the imprint of his style. This is why it is difficult to put a pin on which is the best of his creations. When I asked about his favourite piece of art, he said, “I really don’t have one. I’m not a man of one thing. My paintings come in different timings, emotions, energy and manifestations, so I can’t pick one thing”.  At the time of our discussion, he was working on a piece, Aeon, which depicts going back in time, and I managed to steal a brief glimpse of the artwork, where I saw a cluster of figures donning face coverings resembling traditional African masks, evoking imagery of ancient civilisation.

Art, pop culture iconography, and other eclectic items in Martins New York studio - Afrocritik
Art, pop culture iconography, and other eclectic items in Martins New York studio | Daniella Liguori

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Despite the allure of external validation, Martins turns inward, which has helped him cultivate his craft. This is why the painter emphasises the importance of finding one’s artistic voice, of honing the skills and insights that set one apart from the crowd, in a world awash with social media metrics and fleeting trends. “This is a reminder that true recognition comes not from chasing fame, but from staying true to oneself”, he says to draw the curtains.

As for what lies ahead, Martins’s calendar is a representation of his global impact and philanthropic spirit. From exhibitions in Hong Kong and Switzerland to a prestigious philanthropic residency in Ghana, his artistic endeavours go beyond borders, bridging cultures and communities in pursuit of a shared vision. With each brushstroke, one thing remains certain, Matins’s journey is far from over, and the world eagerly awaits his next chapter.

Joy Chukwujindu is a Nigerian lawyer. When she is not lawyering, she doubles as an art and culture writer for Afrocritik.

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