Nnamdi Okonkwo: Artist of Abundance
At Throomers, we pride ourselves in our positivity and daily pursuit of a ‘thriving life.’ Said another way, we believe in the universal abundance that is available to nearly anyone who’s able to raise their awareness, spirit and energy and tap into the source. We recently discovered an artist who is tapped in deeply, whose inspirational life story fits so thoroughly with our philosophy that we needed to feature him in our inaugural edition.
Born in Eastern Nigeria in 1965, Nnamdi Okonkwo is the consummate throomer. Inspired by all demonstrations of excellence and the core goodness of humanity, his fundamental calling is to bring that same essence to whatever he does as both an artist and a man. Further, his day-to-day focused intent is to strive for perfection in the cause of providing enduring positive value to society. This is a big, impressive vision and it clearly describes a man operating at a uniquely elevated level of energy. Just where did this determination come from? How were the seeds planted? When did his spark ignite? Buckle up, throomers, we delve in ahead.
“It begins with my mother,” Okonkwo affectionately recalls. We both chuckle at the seemingly obvious remark, but he’s speaking about considerably more than his mere existence. He’s instead offering appropriate homage to the person most responsible for his nurturing and development into the gifted man he is today. “Without my mother,” he continues, “I wouldn’t be an artist. She encouraged me, never doubted me. I believe I was born to be an artist but my mother showed me the way.” He went on to say that he owes everything he’s become to two strong, loving and supportive women, his mother being the first. We’ll get to the second soon enough.
“I started drawing early in life,” he says, “but did not take it seriously until I was about 17 years old. I graduated with a Higher National Diploma in Painting from the Institute of Management and Technology in Enugu, but it was in Hawaii where I first realized that my artistic sensibilities were best expressed in the three-dimensional art of sculpture. I discovered that sculpture offered me a better medium for my statement of deep personal feelings and ideas.”
“Sculpture offered me a better medium for my statement,” as he’s said above, is a bit of an understatement if we may say. Truly, Okonkwo has become such an accomplished, collected sculptor that he’s now one of those iconic first name brands, not unlike Michael, LeBron, Tiger, Bono, Cher, Beyonce, and others. For those who know his work and love his “statement,” he’s simply Nnamdi.
Nnamdi left his native country in 1989 to pursue a basketball scholarship at BYU-Hawaii. Smart guy, both for putting his towering 6’9” frame to productive use and for choosing idyllic Hawaii to do so. While he certainly loved the game, Nnamdi was equally intent on developing his artistic talents. And that he did, graduating in 1993 with a BFA in sculpture and then a few years later achieving an MFA in sculpture from BYU-Provo.
While at Provo he met his future wife, Deidra, who was completing her degree in accountancy. They married in short order. As you’ve already guessed, she is the second vitally important female influence in his life. Besides the encouragement and love she’s provided him all these years, I think we can deduce who’s in charge of the books in the Okonkwo residence while the artist is absorbed in his studio. Busily thriving in their home of Fayetteville, Georgia, the family now totals five (not including the various sculptures always under development).
By perusing any catalog of his finished pieces, from tabletop to life-sized to monumental, you’ll quickly notice that his subjects are usually full-figured women. Either alone or more often in groupings, these alluring women are each expressing some congruent degree of peaceful knowing, confidence, playfulness, or unbridled joy. In short, there’s a lot of attitude and group hugs going on here. This is most interesting and worthy of exploration. Primarily, we’re told, it’s a function of Nnamdi’s cultural heritage which both honors and elevates women. “There is a heroic capacity to humanity,” he says, believing firmly that “our supreme inner strength is best exemplified by womanhood.”
Nnamdi chose the female form to express his deep conviction. But why the full figures? “It’s symbolic rather than literal,” he says. He believes the voluminous shapes are not only aesthetically pleasing but also serve to emphasize the inner largeness and capacity of the human soul. “My emphasis is on aspects of our common humanity,” he says, “which I find beautiful, noble, and even divine. It is my hope that my sculptures are, for many, a shrine of hope and inspiration.”
With introspection, my pedestrian eye sees these figures as the artist’s simplified expression of pure human abundance.
As for his artistic process, Nnamdi explained in an ATG Housing interview (July 2018) that he focuses on staying relaxed, patient and confident. He doesn’t push it, believing the source either provides his creativity or it doesn’t. If he gets stuck and uncertain with one piece, he simply lets it go for a time and moves on to something else. Eventually, he’ll return to the original sculpture feeling rested and fresh, oftentimes with even more creativity surging from his hands.
For all you sculpture nerds, he primarily starts with clay or wax and then casts the sculpture in bronze using the ‘lost wax’ technique. He then applies a hot patina to the bronze using chemicals and compounds that are specifically formulated for bronze patination. Meaning, the eventual greening of the surface making the piece appear antiquated. The finished product is sealed with clear lacquer and then waxed and buffed. “Doing an original piece of sculpture is like writing a book, especially in the style I am working in,” he said of his work. “It is a process of discovery for myself because I never exactly know how it is going to work out. It is like a journey.”
Getting to know Nnamdi and his tantalizing creations has for us also been a process. First of discovery, as he says, and then of knowing. As we sit in contemplation and study the poses, the thoughts and actions they infer, the seductive bodies, the confident and beautiful faces, we come to know. We know that this towering man is sending the precise message our world desperately needs at this precise time. A message of goodness and healing, inclusion and unity. For that, we honor this brilliant ambassador for the sacredness of humanity. We leave you with one more of his important messages:
“I go to work believing that there’s a God, and he inspires every one of his children, and I believe that God can inspire me as a husband, as a father and also as an artist.”
To that we say, Amen, and Godspeed, Nnamdi.