Louis Okwedy: Pembrokeshire Artist
It’s a pleasure to meet Pembrokeshire sculptor and photographer Louis Okwedy, the grandson of a Nigerian chief, who grew up in Tenby. You would expect there to be some personal sense of “otherness” just asking to be explored with that kind of heritage – and Louis doesn’t disappoint.
If you go to his website you will see the video A Return to the Native Land which he created while studying at university. Inspired by his grandfather’s funeral in Nigeria, it draws upon both Welsh and Nigerian culture and stereotypes. Louis tells me that he was affected by the masks and the ceremonial ritual of the actual occasion, and the video was an attempt to understand the different aspects of self.
“The concept of otherness is of great interest to me,” he explains over coffee in the rather mundane environment of a supermarket café.
“My dad was the only black person I knew of while growing up in Tenby. It was this awareness of being different that would later fuel my curiosity about identity and belonging.”
Louis gained a degree in traditional sculpture from what was then the West Wales School of the Arts in Carmarthen.
“The course was great for me, lots of contact time and a very down-to-earth approach. I could spend from eight in the morning until eight at night in the workshop if I wanted. There were only 12 students on the course – which was also great – and I am still in touch with my tutor, Andy Griffiths, regarding current projects and opportunities.
Louis says he fell into film-making during the degree, hence the video on his website. He developed an interest in photography too, buying a friend’s camera and learning by playing around with it.
“I now have a much better camera and I like to experiment. I enjoy landscapes and capturing the hidden self of people as they enjoy the moment.”
Louis spent some time helping a friend fit out a narrowboat in Stoke-on-Trent. It was a project that went on for a few years but allowed him to develop his skills and to learn new ones. When he came back to Pembrokeshire a few years ago, he had big ideas and invested in metal fabrication equipment to bring them to life.
He says, smiling, that his dad “put up with” him for a few months while he got himself established. It might be worth mentioning that Louis’s dad is Phil Okwedy, well-known Pembrokeshire storyteller.
“I have utilised my skills in all manner of fabrication and construction and started getting bits of work as a sculptor across Wales. I am really keen to encourage creative artists to look at new approaches in learning,” says Louis.
What inspires his work?
“Seascapes, water, sand, rocks. I enjoy popping to the beach and searching out new views, new angles on the familiar. I also like to blur the lines between photos and art. Binary opposites are a fundamental part of my life.”
Louis’s interest in organic forms are clear in his work. He says he doesn’t try to recreate them. “I’m using industrial materials and techniques… they inspire me to draw abstract forms from them”.
He has exhibited at Manorbier Castle and Stackpole Walled Garden and is working on something new for the Art Out West exhibition and open studios in August. The work in progress is a copper piece, based on organic forms.
“I also do a lot of fabrication for kinetic artist Ivan Black and use his workshop for my creations. I find his approach fascinating.”
He explains that Ivan designs over many months, and the sourcing of components can be a crucial element in his process. Next year he will accompany Ivan to the US where they will install two new works for an American tech-giant.
“Some pieces he works on for Ivan are lit. The latest of these was two metres long with about 500 LEDs. “That’s a lot of wiring and soldering,” Louis says. “Not to mention the installation itself.”
Louis won a place in the Broomhill National Sculpture prize in 2016, where his entry is still on exhibit at Broomhill Sculpture Garden. He was also approached by the Millennium Centre in Cardiff to create a larger-than-life Roly-Poly Bird for the Roald Dahl City of the Unexpected Celebration in 2016. This was a community-based project, working in aluminium, and was based in Pembroke Dock Community School. Out of that came another project in the school, working with pupils to create three figures from the Welsh folktale The Devil’s Bridge.
One unusual project involved working at incredibly precise dimensions to create a mould for Farrs, a plaster moulding company in Stoke-on-Trent. This was then mass-produced and used to adorn the ceiling of a mosque.
“ I enjoy that kind of thing,” he says. “My work is all about the process, so I am always happy when I’m challenged to find new ways of working. I like running workshops and if anyone is interested in exploring techniques of working with aluminium, copper, steel, iron and bronze I’d be delighted to talk with them.”
Louis has more casting of original work planned and takes commissions for both sculpture and photography. You can find him and contact him on Facebook or on his website.