By Beanie Stolper
Lagos born and London made, Soldier embodies the new wave of multi-hyphenate creatives that call the UK their home. Soldier’s opening foray into the art world, with his message-driven camouflage artworks, has solidified his space within the new-wave, budding London’s art scene. Soldier’s paintings not only subvert traditional notions of concealment and guerilla warfare, a hallmark of his work, but also comment on this new space within the art world that Soldier exists in. Having modelled for cult brand Supreme and currently fronting their latest Timberland collaboration campaign, as well as i-D and Dazed, we discuss how important his friends and inner circle are for his come up, as well as the community and influence he has gained from skating. Soldier’s relaxed yet extremely thoughtful and intuitive approach to his practice and way of life has allowed for the seamless exploration of a variety of creative avenues.
Beanie Stolper: Hey, so great to chat with you! Seeing as the theme for this issue is Home, how does a sense of place and belonging relate to your work?
Soldier: As an artist I always take shit with me, memories, ideas, things I’ve seen and experienced - this informs everything I do. All the art I make contains colours and patterns I’ve seen. They say home is where the heart is... well, whenever I make anything I put my heart on the line, reproducing things I want to be around. I make a world for myself and others who can relate to my art, a world they can slip in and out of, like a good movie.
"They say home is where the heart is... well, whenever I make anything I put my heart on the line, reproducing things I want to be around."
Beanie Stolper: You’re originally from Lagos and now live in London. How did you start out in London and how would you describe both of their culture and community? Does your idea of home differ between the two cities?
Soldier: Life is fucking crazy! When I was 16, I found myself leaving home in Lagos, searching for meaning to everything and trying to experience as much as I could. I was hungry to experience more, so I could make more art, the hunger never leaves me. London and Lagos are kind of the same place; busy, vibrant, and full of people from different cultures. I love the chaos of both places. Lagos is more of a jungle though, Lagos can eat you up and spit you out if you’re not careful. London is where you get shit done because of how developed it is compared to Lagos, in terms of technology and the standard of living. There are a lot of new sub-cultures coming out in Lagos at the moment; the skateboarding, the underground music and art scene, these are the things I love seeing, and I have friends in all those communities. I’ve never had a proper home, so I have no idea what a home feels like, nor do I care if I am in a new place at any given time. I’ll just make new friends and call it my home.
Beanie Stolper: You’re part of skate collective, Motherlan, who are distinctive in their unique sense of belonging, togetherness and camaraderie. How has skating guided how you approach your outlook on the world? Why are you drawn to skating?
Soldier: I fell in love with skating because it was a tool I used to rebel against my parents when I was younger. Skating for me equals freedom - literally, you can do whatever the fuck you want on a board, dress however you want, and ride however you want. There’s a lot of variety as well. You get to see different people having their own take and opinions on what skateboarding can be. I use this freedom and variety to make art. It is always ‘fuck the system’; it was made to be broken because it has so many errors. One thing I hate about skateboarding is the way people in the skate community judge your skating. For an activity based off of fun and freedom, there are a lot of weird politics involved, which I do not fuck with. Skating, like everything I do, comes with style. It’s all about how swaggy you can make shit look. Making the tough shit look easy, that's the motto!
Beanie Stolper: Having spent time at home during lockdown, how did this intense and unique period of self reflection impact your approach to your work?
Soldier: I love spending time thinking, I overthink. Lockdown was a good time to just think about things. Nowadays everyone is just doing and they may eventually end up doing whack shit. One of the most important things you can do as an artist is just sit down and fucking think, just enjoy life! Lockdown was that for me! The pause was quite fun, apart from the curfews and the police chasing you from the parks.
"Nowadays everyone is just doing and they may eventually end up doing whack shit. One of the most important things you can do as an artist is just sit down and fucking think, just enjoy life!"
Beanie Stolper: Why have you chosen to explore camouflage in your artwork and what first interested you about it?
Soldier: I got the camo-style of painting from my nickname. Most of my friends call me SOLDIER, and that nickname stuck. So I wanted a style that matched that persona, that alter ego. He’s very gangster, like Tupac. I have always been amused at the concept of the military. I find wars stupid and unnecessary but I do like the aesthetics surronding it, especially in the 90s and early 2000s. The idea came from the fact that in Lagos people are not allowed to wear or have camouflage, and I wanted to change that, I really think it’s backwards. Camouflage is also a good way of concealing things, hiding things, and I really believe in the art of hiding in plain sight and not being seen. I think many kids feel like this on a day to day basis.
Beanie Stolper: As a young contemporary artist and creative, what are your thoughts on being situated within the often traditional, auction-led art world, and how would you say you place yourself within or outside of it?
Soldier: I feel like many people in the art world may not really understand me or warm up to my ideals. I feel, if anything, they might see me more as a mascot than an actual artist, because my approach isn't regular and my personality and my skills are intertwined. I find it cool speaking to traditional art people and pissing them off with my lack of knowledge. I also really try to learn from them too, the art terminologies and all of that. I just like colours and creating things, but I also want to feel how it is to sell art in an auction house like Sotheby’s and be amongst other great artists. I feel like a kid watching all the grown ups at the dining table, if you know what I mean?
Beanie Stolper: How have you kept a continuum of inspiration and what other creatives and intellects inspire you?
Soldier: People inspire me. My friends, Slawn, Onyedi, Paolo, Jack, Petr, Tega, Mike, Dash, Freddy, Fin, Clint, Justice, Chris, Zacftp, Santi… All of them, they inspire me! Movies, music, my whole life keeps me inspired. All my friends do great things and that keeps me going.
Beanie Stolper: You have also forayed into the fashion world, frequenting Supreme collaboration campaigns with names such as Emilio Pucci, Jamie Reid and Nike, as well as editorials for i-D and Dazed and lookbooks for FUCT. How did you first get involved and how does this feed into your other practices?
Soldier: I normally find myself working with friends and people I look up to. Many things I've done I do because I find it cool. The first Supreme job I got was through my good friend Grace. I got to meet the people behind it and they were amazing people.
Beanie Stolper: You also create clothing under the collective Motherlan. What is it you want to achieve with the brand?
Solder: World domination!
Beanie Stolper: As a multihyphenate spanning a plethora of creative endeavours, what is next for you and what direction do you want to explore with your art?
Soldier: I want to make toys, sculptures and shit. I also want to design more, maybe make a movie or some adverts. I want to keep exploring how much stuff I can do with camouflage, maybe paint my whole house in camouflage? I know exactly what I want, I’ll just surprise y’all!