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Rising Stars: Meet Monica Ikegwu

Today we’d like to introduce you to Monica Ikegwu. 

Hi Monica, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
I am a Baltimore Based Figure Painter. I’ve always done art, but only got into painting when I was 14 during high school. For me, I planned on becoming a pediatrician since I was a child and art had been a hobby that I didn’t plan on continuing once I got into college. During the college application process, I had applied to schools with medical programs. My father had called me from out of the country and insisted that I apply for the art school in Baltimore (Maryland Institute College of Art). I ended up being accepted into the art school and they offered me the most scholarship which is the main reason why I ultimately decided to go there. In college, I had some success and developed a way of painting that had a significance and an impact on people. I felt that I was genuinely called to do art and decided to pursue it seriously around my junior year of college. I am now still in school pursuing my master’s degree in painting from the New York Academy of Art. I also sell my work through the two galleries that I work with (Band of vices art gallery and Galerie Myrtis). 

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
For me, I jumped into the professional side of the art world relatively early (probably when I was around 19 years old). I found that doing art full time was not only about making the images but also managing yourself on another level. It was a lot of focus, discipline, and self-control. I had to learn how to say no to things that I wanted to do just so I had enough time to paint. I also had to work on the confidence to present myself. Not only in person, but on social media. It’s labeled as artist, but you end taking the role of several different jobs. I even had to teach myself how to make custom shipping boxes. 

Back in undergrad and even now, I was working to create work for shows when I also had classwork to do. I had to do my school work, but do it in a way that reflected my own work so that I could later exhibit it. The main struggle is figuring out how to balance everything. 

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
My work centers around black portraiture. I paint people, but I give them the opportunity to decide how they are viewed. I allow people to choose their own clothing, their pose, and their props. I feel that in art people are used as vessels to tell the story that the artist has created. I wanted to see how it would look if flipped. What would happen if I allow the people to determine what the image looks like? 

I also, focus on the idea of clothing and fabric. People can convey a lot about themselves through the clothing that they wear. I would like others to see that clothing is not something that we just wear, but something that we use to add to our character. 

My work is usually seen as a collective group of people that are confident in themselves. They attract attention with the heavy focus of detail along with the exaggerated use of color. 

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
I found that going to art exhibitions and art shows are great for meeting people in the field of art. By attending art shows I have met a group of amazing artists that I am honored to know. 

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Image Credits
Monica Ikegwu

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