If you are a fan of hip-hop music or the visual arts, it’s about time that you became familiar with multi-dimensional artist, Eklipz. As a Toronto native and current Hamilton resident, this exceptionally talented artist has explored and mastered several artistic fields, making a name for himself as a stand out creative figure across Canada. Eklipz is currently having one of his visual art collections, Fight or Flight, featured at Art Basel in Miami, Florida.
Who is Eklipz? How did that name come about, and what does it mean to you?
Eklipz at this stage is a youth that came out of hip-hop culture and dedicated his life to the arts; who is now a father of 5, a husband and a full time artist. The name Eklipz came about out of my study of Egyptology, and I just love what an eclipse does. I mean, it’s blinding, it’s not something you stare at, but yet, it’s a phenomenon. It comes around everyone once in a while. It’s not something that’s here all the time.
When did you fall in love with art? What was it about art and expressive creative culture that really spoke to you?
I think exposure to a lot of artists, comics, cartoons and things like that were the initial draw. And I remember my Mom buying these little things called Presto-Magix from Bi-Way for me, back in the day. And I’d always run out of the backgrounds and the stickers really quick, so I’d draw my own.
We went through some upheaval within my family structure when I was young and I just noted that drawing and stuff like that as an outlet for me. There was some other stuff that I was doing that was more negative, and then I started getting attention for my drawing. I drew my niece. That was the first time I drew somebody, like a portrait style and it looked like her. And my family went crazy like, “yo! That looks like her!” So from there, I was like, “okay, this is serious.” So I started to dedicate myself to it. I bought an air brush and I started air brushing clothing and people were buying them in school and stuff like that. And it kind of got me more focused on the arts and stuff, and even in business.
You are obviously extremely passionate about art. Not only visual art, such as painting and drawing, but you also emcee, and practice photography and videography. Which art form was your first love? How did you develop such a deep passion for the other artistic platforms?
Drawing was my first passion, and then that gave me things like composition, it gave me structure on negative space, positive space, how to frame a picture. And then everything kind of came out of that.
I was born the same year as hip-hop was born and the music got me right away. Grandmaster Flash – The Message – I heard that, got into break dancing. I was pretty good at it. We had a crew that was repping all around the city [of Hamilton]. We were break dancing for like Brian Mulroney when he came out here, like to city hall. Got a little name for break dancing. The emceeing aspect of it kind got me from like, you know, rapping along with people. We had a radio show for like 12 years, so I kind of got into DJing, but not to the level of turntablist. And then, photography was something that kind of came out of drawing because I wanted to be able to do reference photos from people instead of drawing from celebrities and magazines. I wanted to be able to take my own pictures to draw from. So a friend of mine, Milton Lowe, taught me all about the camera, and how to use aperture, how to set my lights properly and things of that nature. And hip-hops do-it-yourself ethics kind of got me into videography, because a lot of emcees didn’t really have the budget to get videos created by people, because it can be quite pricey. So I just thought, I’ll just buy the camera and teach myself how to do it. So that’s how a lot of our video’s got done.
How did you get involved with Art Basel? What does it mean to you to have your artwork showcased in Miami?
Earlier this year a friend of mine that I used to ride motorcycles with, we reconnected on Facebook, and he lives in Miami. So, we connected real quick, and I was like “oh, I’ve been looking for you for like the past six years,” and he’s like “same way!” So when we connected I was like “yo, I’m coming to see you!” So I got a flight and went down to Miami, and spent 22 days out there, just chilling with him and his family. And I went out there with portfolios with the intention of getting galleries out there to rep my work in Miami. The two galleries that I really wanted to be in both were interested in showing my work, and once I connected with one of those galleries, we were like “okay cool.” We signed the contracts and they were like, “we’d like you to show for this year’s Art Basel,” which is very prestigious. A lot of people want to show, a lot of celebrities are out, it’s very well known. And it means a lot because coming from Hamilton, I have so many people that are like “yo, you need to be in Toronto, you need to be in New York.” And it’s constantly like, Hamilton’s not big enough. I think you can do it from anywhere, you have internet, you have so many different platforms you could sell your work on. But yeah, I’m very excited to go out there in December, just even for the Art Basel part of the show.
Your exhibit that is going to be showcased at Art Basel is entitled, Fight or Flight, which includes paintings of mixed marital arts as well as boxing. What was your inspiration for these pieces? What do you wish for audiences to take from your exhibit?
Fight or Flight to me is a natural human behavior. It’s about when there’s adversity, it’s like, do you stand and deal with it? For myself, as an artist it’s like, okay, being a full time artist, with a wife and five children, do I continue with these goals and ambitions of trying to get out into the world with my art, or do I get a full time job? You know? That was part of Fight or Flight to me. But, to depict someone like Muhammad Ali who had the world against him at one point, just for his personal choices of not going to war and for bettering himself within Islam. And to have everybody want to come against him, and jail him and take away his belt and stuff and he stood firm on his beliefs, to me, that’s Fight or Flight. You know, Anderson Silva as well, coming from, you know, poverty in Brazil, to becoming one of the world’s best fighters. And just what you have to go through to have a fight mentality to get into the ring and fighting against an opponent when you’re getting broken down, but still have to stand in the fire and reach down within your warrior spirit to come out victorious.That’s what I’m striving to do with my art. When I draw people, I really try to capture a moment from them, what they stand for. I want you to feel something.
Did you create these pieces specifically for the show? If not, how did you decide which pieces you’d like to show case?
I started to create them before I had the idea for the Fight or Flight series, and I just thought that for Miami Art Basel, there’s a lot of people that come from the generation that I come from. You know, Jay-Z was there last year, Kanye, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, you know what I mean? I think that they come from the same blending of culture that I come from. So I think that a lot of people would appreciate Muhammad Ali, Anderson Silva, some of these people that I chose to show. You know, Mike Tyson, and the Mike Tyson story. This dude comes from foster homes and you have this gentleman that takes a liking to him and teaches him how to fight, he becomes the world champion. Goes through all type of allegations, and he’s still here telling his story, and totally changed his life around.
Aside from the Art Basel show, a lot of your artwork has been heavily influenced by hip-hop and hip-hop culture. When did you develop your love for all things hip-hop? In what ways has hip-hop influenced your life?
Well, hip-hop got me young. One of the things, like I said, the do it yourself kind of aspect. I was supposed to go to Penn State on a football scholarship, I chose not to, and directly out of high school I opened up my own clothing store. Doing something like that, taught me that it can be done, ‘cause when I first started it was all t-shirts. And I remember people coming in and dissing like, “yo, this ain’t no shop!” You know? They just wanted to tear it down. But within years, I was able to learn how to put the funds back in and grow it into one of Hamilton’s premiere stores that a lot of people kind of went on to utilize.
Through hip-hop I was able to learn knowledge of myself. Before I even knew what it was, it was through the message of the music. It was through things that I started to naturally intake. And once I became conscious of what it was, I was able to broaden my awareness through it. So I am very grateful for hip-hop, it has allowed me to travel around the world. It has allowed me meet – like my book, Hip Hop Homage has allowed me to meet a lot of the people who I hold dear in regards to what they’ve done for hip-hop, and have them see my art, and have them give me mutual respect for what I do and that’s one of the things that hip-hop has given me. And it has given me the awareness to give back to the youth and make sure what I’m doing has legacy and longevity.
Out of all the work that you’ve done, what has been your favorite project to work on thus far? Which piece are you most proud of, and which piece do you believe has made the most impact on audiences?
I couldn’t give you an absolute favorite, but I could give you one that was really impactful for me as of late. I recently did a memorial mural for the community of Firgrove at Jane & Finch. There were 12 youth that were victims of violence, that were killed, mainly by guns and I did a mural, which was a basketball player with wings and 12 doves symbolizing the 12 youth that were murdered in the area. Having the people in the community come out, and express their thanks for it, it was really impactful. There’s a minister that runs the program that asked me to do the mural, and he was going to his office one day and there as a little boy sitting outside his door, and he asked him “what are you doing here?” And he said, “oh that’s my mom,” as he pointed to the dove on the mural. And the minister called me crying and was like, “this is what your work is doing out here.” And even the hug that I got from one of my sons, that really showed me that he got what it was about, and what it meant to the people. So, that is one piece in particular that makes me strive to be like “you know what, it’s not just a photo or a painting, or whatever.” It has the ability to bring out different emotions.
If you live in, or are visiting the Miami area, make sure to check out Eklipz’s work at Art Basel, taking place at the Art Fusion Galleries. The showcase, which began on October 11, 2014, runs through December 15, 2014. Also make sure to keep up with him on Twitter!
Martika Gregory is a professional photographer, based in Toronto who has been creating for the past 7 years. She has worked with many people, photographed many events and, more recently, has focused on developing her conceptual portfolio. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @MartikaGregory.