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MDX artist Kelvin Okafor unveils pencil portrait marking 4th anniversary of Prince's death

20/05/2020
Artist draws from iconic Herb Ritts image but opens singer's eyes, as a message to world to stay awake during the pandemic

MDX alumnus and award-winning artist Kelvin Okafor has unveiled a hyper-realist pencil portrait of Prince completed during the coronavirus outbreak - and has some reflections, in Mental Health Awareness Week, on the therapeutic effects of creating art during the lockdown.

Kelvin says he feels a deep connection with Prince and made the portrait to mark the fourth anniversary of the performer's death last month.

Kelvin used for reference a photograph of Prince with his eyes closed by the legendary Herb Ritts. But halfway through working on the portrait the pandemic hit, and he decided to give the singer wide open eyes, as a message to the world to stay awake in these difficult times.

The inspiration came to him after a very vivid dream about Prince, Kelvin says. "Having studied thousands of reference images and video footage for hundreds of hours over the past year, I felt it was enough to attempt to open up the eyes of Prince without any photographic reference at hand while drawing" says Kelvin. "There was an intangible presence I felt surrounding me, almost as if the spirit of Prince was right there with me, guiding me”.

The portrait took 300 hours of research and 300 hours of drawing to create in total.

Kelvin, who spends hours at a time in a state of intense concentration to create his art, considers the lockdown "a blessing," giving people the opportunity "to breathe and reflect on the way we have been living our lives", and a chance to explore our creativity.

"Through my artistic journey, drawing has always been my escape. It allows me to purge and to still myself when the world around me seems to be spinning out of control" he says.

"Creating art in this lockdown period can be a helpful distraction for many. I believe it can help others find peace through these unsettling times as well as discovering hidden talents they never knew they had. Many have been so consumed with their daily working lives that they haven’t found time to express themselves in a creative manner".

Kelvin has begun offering two online courses in hyper-realist drawing through his Online Academy, to help people find calm and channel themselves through art.

The courses, both based around drawing an eye and almost five hours in length, offer beginner and more experienced artists the opportunity to learn about Kelvin's techniques and how to achieve in-depth detail and realism. The basic course is currently available for a special offer price of £10 and the advanced course for £50.

Kelvin has previously spoken about his approach to making art. "Since I was a child I have always begun by drawing in sections/stages" he says.

"I visually dissect facial features - I study them and then I put them back together like pieces in a puzzle. This method of creating helps me understand expressions and also helps me appreciate the lengthy process each portrait drawing takes.”

Kelvin's portrait of late MP for Tottenham Bernie Grant hangs in the Houses of Parliament, and his recent work includes portraits of Naomi Campbell, Winnie Harlow and John Lennon.

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