Art: Ayo Sopeju

Each year I give myself a goal in how I want to grow the scope of this site. In 2017 those goals were to bring more attention to people and creativity. While I've only begun to dip into the subject, it's only fitting that I start this new year by sharing the story of really unique creator who is also someone means a lot to me. Meet, Ayo Sopeju.

As much as I proudly admire Ayo for his art, it's not how I first came to know him.  It was through one of his other creative outlets. In 2007 I started rock climbing at a local gym here in Toronto called, Joe Rockheads, where Ayo was a route setter. In early 2008 I attended a bouldering competition at the same gym and photographed Ayo competing in the finals. In the days following that event there were a few selects which I felt really captured his passion for the sport, so I spoke to Ayo and gave him a framed copy of my favorite. That exchange began a really exciting period of work photographing and getting to know Ayo.

One such project that really stands out was from a day trip to climb at the Niagara Glen. We schemed to have Ayo put up a first ascent on a new problem located on the overhang of a boulder situated right in the Niagara River… just down from the whirlpool. Maybe it wasn't the smartest idea (hence the route name "Down Low On A Bad Idea") but the image worked out and it later appeared as double page spread in the fall edition of Gripped Magazine. What people don't know about the photo is that right after Ayo finished the problem, he dropped off the boulder and directly into the Niagara River... into the blue rapids... and immedately out of site. Those of us on shore were in shock until Ayo, in true Ayo fashion, calmly pulled himself out of the river and over top the next boulder - smiling ear to ear. Ayo and I went on to work together on some cool projects including posters for the Tour De Bloc presented by Mountain Equipment Coop.

To be honest and candid, out of all the people I've been able to photograph over the years, Ayo has been always been my favourite. Each collaboration together has a lot of fond memories attached to it. The only plausible explanation I have is that his positive attitude and presence seem to find their way into the frame. Thankfully there was more to discover about Ayo.

It was somewhere around 2010 or 2011 when I was invited to attend a small art show opening of Ayo's.  Without previous knowledge of his interest in illustrative art, I was blown away by his talent and the meticulous attention to detail. It's very hard to describe but incredibly rewarding to invest time discovering all the nuances of each piece. At a distance his pieces take on a flowing motion like sand spilling onto the floor or fine particles suspended in swift breeze. To me there is this incredible sense of captivating fluidity.

However to truly appreciate the master level of Ayo's work you need to step ever closer. This is because as you close the viewing distance, you can see that each particle is not just a stroke of the graphite pencil, but actually an individual and unique outlined shape. Each sits uniquely positioned to hold a place amongst the greater mass. Like a single star in a larger galaxy - completely complex.

At a gallery show in early 2017 called 'Echoes', I was fortunate enough to finally add some of Ayo's pieces to my personal art collection. The first piece is a large scale graphite on paper called "Dark Matter" which to me looks like small bristles being spilled onto the floor and beginning to spread outward. In the photo set enclosed here you can scroll through the images to see the "Dark Matter" piece in greater and greater detail. Most recently, Ayo has pushed his creative boundaries by beginning to work with ink on paper. From the same show, the second piece in my collection is called "Our Enemies Have Done Their Worst." It is an ink on paper piece that creates a very subtle 3D effect which draws the inward. Both are now proudly displayed on our art wall.  

Travelling around the city of, Toronto, you can find more of Ayo's work on public display. For example, one of Ayo's largest pieces, a monster scale 4 piece graphite on paper piece currently hangs in the lounge area of Lululemon's (Ayo is an ambassador) mens wear shop called The Local on Ossington St.

Since Ayo has always been a supporter of my photography and this site, I also commissioned him to create a piece for Life Is A Beautiful Detail. The open ask was to apply his artistic expression to the word 'life' in any way he saw fit. The final piece can been seen in a photograph below. As part of the commission and to learn more about Ayo's progression as an artist, I reached out to him for a quick Q&A.  Enjoy.

Q: When did you start drawing?

A: I've been drawing forever. I think I classified it as doodling until after university when I started to give friends drawings as gifts every once in a while.

Q: The level of detail in your drawings is almost incomprehensible, how long does each piece take?

A: Depending on their size, the drawings take between 5 and 40 hours to finish. The bigger ones tend to be the most popular so I end up more on the 40 hour end of the spectrum lately.

Q: I've got to know, how do you create each of these seemingly perfect little components to each drawing?

A: Everything is freehand. I like the level of concentration that it requires to keep lines tight and also the inevitable imperfections that come with using only my hand and a pencil. 

Q: Who are some of the people who inspire you?

A: A lot of people inspire me. Mainly people who've consciously made changes in their lives to be happier or express themselves more.

Q: Where do you find ideas for your creative work?

A: Inspiration comes from everywhere. The flick of a piece of hair, trying to communicate a feeling... lately the movement of water and waves.

Q: Have you always been based in graphite on paper, and have you worked in other mediums?

A: Graphite is one of themost accessible drawing tools in the world. I love graphite because it is simple and at the same time very powerful.


Q: Why the recent change or addition of ink on paper?

A: Lately I've been experimenting with adding colour to my drawings. It changes my process a little and keeps things interesting.

Q: What's your favorite piece and why?

A: Some of my favorite pieces have never been seen by more than one or two people. The results of an experiment or a mistake that I keep private or show only at home. 

Q: What's next with you and your artwork?

A: In general the plan is to do more and more complex drawings. I'd like to experiment a little with new materials and hopefully discover something new. 

Q: And finally, you recently moved to Minneapolis. What's up with that?

A: I moved to Minneapolis for work. I've been in Toronto for the last twelve years and I'm excited to change things up, look at things from a slightly different perspective. 

Q: What's the best way for people to see what you're up to and what you're working on?

A: Instagram is probably going to be the best place to find out what I'm up to... I've started working on some new stuff so I'll post some photos soon

Ayo now calls Minneapolis, Minnesota home and is route setting in the Minneapolis Bouldering Project. If you're ever in the area definitely check out Ayo's creative expressions on the bouldering walls.