Most anyone who has any critique of African art has heard the story of a struggling African artist. Whether it be finding the means to pay for materials, finding clients to buy their paintings, or being a victim of exploitive deals from gallery brokers, the African artist generally reflects the story of trying to be successful against all odds.
What we don't always hear about are the ins and outs of victory a determined artist undergoes in order to achieve their success. What we see instead is their finished art pieces. And we love them! But do we intimately know the feelings, ideas and stories of why they chose to create that painting?
Most importantly, do we know the dreams of a better life they hope for by submitting their painting to the genre of African art?
Perhaps that is the shroud of any kind of art: what it is the artist was thinking and what are they intending to contribute? But there is one artist we know of who is sharing his dream: That artist is Ghanaian Nii Hylton.
This intelligent, hard working, young African artist is unbreakable in his will to succeed. His African paintings are always successful in his own mind because Nii does not so much consider how they will be judged by others, but instead Nii judges them for himself only. He writes, "I knew what I would be capable of if I ever became a well known artist and that is my driving force even today."
Showing happiness through dance and music, his subjects move through his contemporary paintings with a unshakable faith. When viewing them you can see his subjects consuming such an external energy that their placement on canvas transforms them into a powerful, everlasting idea that breaks any negative circumstances of their painter or even their viewer. Nii might as well be painting a self-portrait of himself in each painting he makes, for you can sense through them the feelings of the artist’s deepest dreams and beliefs.
Nii just simply does not sulk for himself when he thinks of the struggles of an African artist. He says instead "I took advantage of what society in Ghana had to offer me: Education, a diverse people, and mediums were all there and I used these to motivate my style and generate ideas.”
In 2002, Nii earned a diploma in Graphic Design and Painting at Ghanatta College of Art and Design. In 2004, he headed to the United States to attend Truman State University in Missouri, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts. In his first year at Truman, Nii was granted the President's Honorary Scholarship Award in Academic Excellence and the Art Assistance Scholarship for his artistic skill.
Has traveling influenced this artist's perspective on his success? " No." Nii says, "Studying art abroad opened doors to many opportunities, but I never allowed money to push me to paint. To me, being a successful artist comes from doing what you do best at for your own fulfillment."
Nii Hylton paints in both contemporary and traditional ways of Black art through subjects that are as much cultural as they are social. Nii frequently uses a palette knife for texture. His medium is a mix of acrylics on canvas. One of the defining attributes to his artistic skill is that his works contain much variation in their signature style. "Every second piece from the last always ends up completely different" Nii says. Like most African artists though, Nii paints his subjects using bright colors.
Of his painting mental process, Nii says, "My mind is always empty every time I touch a paint brush or a palette knife. But as I begin to paint, every first color, stroke, and texture I lay down on the canvas brings about the key to the next step. It goes on and on until I arrive at what will be my final work.
I enjoy using acrylics because they dry very fast and therefore I paint fast. A couple of my greatest pieces were completed in less than thirty minutes. I love the idea of spending less time to paint and people spending more time viewing it.”
Of realizing his career as an Black African art painter, Nii says "As the years go by, I have become my own mentor and inspiration. Sometimes, I feel I am the only artist in the world!"
In the entertainment industry of the United States, celebrities repeat again and again that if you have a dream and work very hard at it every day and don't give up, then that dream of yours will be emulated perfectly in you and eventually will be discovered by the public.
Sounds magical doesn't it? But in a sense it is true. Nii Hylton is a testament to that. He believes that his African art paintings become not only a piece of his own aspiration, but that others too are influenced by what he depicts in his artwork.
Is turning success from conflict possible for anyone? Yes, if you work at it and express yourself with all your might, Nii says. In your best moments, get naked in your mind and let your thoughts be the most honest and clear they have ever been. And when you are ready, let your paintbrush interpret these thoughts on the paper or canvas in front of you.
For African artists, Africa itself, more often than not, is their inspiration. If this is so with you, let the continent and ancestors you are paying honor to contribute to your story. It will add great meaning to your piece. For already there is a long line of past and emerging artists who have created and are creating a tapestry of the rich story and heritage that is Mama Africa.
If you are willing to go deep into your art, make that soulful piece that fulfills your destiny as a painter of the great history of Africa. You may then be surprised that your success has risen over your conflict. - by Gathinja Yamokoski and Nii Hylton