From Nigeria to Houston: A Painter’s Journey

by Shayla Kuykendall

Discovering one’s gift is an essential part of one’s journey, and sometimes the people met and places traveled have a way of defining how one’s gift will develop. In 2006, Kingsley Onyeiwu came to America from Nigeria at the age 14. Before moving to the U.S., he knew art would be an area he pursued even though his interaction with art was limited. “Art was something far away from me back home,” he said. “We didn’t have museums or art galleries. I loved comics like Spider-Man, so I would go to Barnes and Noble to read and sketch.”

After moving to Houston, Kingsley’s high school teacher encouraged him to take art as an elective. He became acquainted with the different mediums of art, but he didn’t start painting until he attended Texas Southern University where he majored in art. He later met Michael Collins, an artist-in-residence and full-time professor at Houston Baptist University, at Project Row Houses in Houston’s Third Ward. Collins encouraged Kingsley to apply for the Master of Fine Arts program at HBU. “Project Row Houses are shotgun houses in African American neighborhoods,” Collins said. “They’ve turned those houses into studios where artists get a house…then work with other artists.” Like many at Project Row Houses, Kingsley was influenced by Dr. John Biggers, a renowned muralist who founded TSU’s Art Department in 1949. Kingsley became inspired by the work of the former professor, wanting to make sure his work has a “unique voice.”

In 2016, Kingsley became a MFA candidate at HBU where is he studying art with a concentration in painting. Walking into his studio for the first time, Kingsley recalls feeling like a kid seeing his stool and easel. He described it as a gift: “It allows me to feel comfortable and gives me my own ‘bedroom.’ It allows for meditation and has become a place that has grown on me.” While in his studio, Kingsley likes to listen to music as he paints. He draws inspiration from classic rock to hip hop, all of which helps him focus.

Kingsley describes himself as a painter producing realistic, detailed art, with women of the African diaspora as his primary subjects. Drawing with charcoal is one of the elements he uses in his artwork. “It helps me get my theme across to my audience. I do not hate abstract art, but I don’t feel like my art would flow into abstraction. I don’t think art should be a mystery. It should be relaxing.” He believes art representing African culture is missing in a lot of museums today. With this in mind, he produces art that represents his culture.

Kingsley sees himself as a storyteller and wants people to feel inspired by what is echoed in his work. “When they look at it, nothing is impossible to achieve,” he said. “It all started as a dream. I didn’t know I could represent myself and people.” He feels that art is important and that without it life wouldn’t have any beauty. “We underestimate the power of art, but it is in everything we do in life.” Kingsley will complete his MFA program in May and prepare to teach higher education in Houston.

To see more of Kingsley’s art, follow him @lagos.goals on Instagram.

Shayla Kuykendall thrives on bringing people's stories to life, whether it be through broadcast or digital media. For her previous internships, she has interviewed members of Cirque Du Soleil and reported during the World Series Parade.

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