One only has to stroll down Queen Street West to be inspired immediately by the art all around the neighborhood. Queen Street West is a mere example of how much Toronto’s art scene has evolved. Toronto-based artists are now able to make a living, creating if they so desired.
There’s a growing presence of art all around Toronto and the city is quickly developing a community of artists on a larger level and I couldn’t be more excited.
I caught up with well-known Toronto-based painter, Kofi Frempong and although he was busy, he was kind enough to share his story.
Suburban Sassy (SS): Tell me about your journey to becoming an artist.
Kofi Frempong (KF): I first fell in love with art when I was five years old. I noticed my father doodling Egyptian characters and I was really amazed at his line work and his ability to translate a character from his mind on to a piece of paper. From there, because I couldn’t draw the way he did, I started off by tracing images using the light coming through the window on to a piece of paper. In time, I was able to strengthen my own skills to the point where I didn’t need to trace anymore.
For most of my life I really excelled at drawing and coloring, but had always been afraid of painting. So much so, that I almost failed art classes because I would skip all my painting assignments.
SS: You stopped for six or seven years, tell me about that. Why did you stop? And what made you return?
KF: A combination of things led to that 6/7-year gap in my art. One being that I was focusing on supporting my wife as she was trying to determine her life purpose and figure out how to realize her dreams. As well, it was a considerable period of several transitions and adjusting to them – new career, getting married, starting our family and buying our first home. The work of a Community Health worker required a lot of my time and energy as I was heavily involved in all aspects of community work. And because of this, I found it difficult to balance everything and almost no space for my art.
The same day my wife was accepted into the Midwifery Program, was the same day I drew my first piece after almost 7 long years. Not only knowing that she was following her dream, but seeing that she was good, gave me a sense of relief. It inspired me. My wife and I are always talking and reflecting on who we are as individuals and how far we have come as a couple. And in one of those many conversations, it became clear that there was a shift in support. Where I had spent time supporting her and her journey, now she was able do that for me and support me in my own passion. She let it be known that she would support me in any way needed to assist me in realizing my own potential with my art – whatever it might look like.
A year later, I got over my fear of painting while in front of a crowd of 500 people, with a live painting at a monthly community event that I curate (Freedom Fridayz).
I stay in my own lane. If there is an avenue that presents a barrier, I create my own way.
SS: How difficult has it been to establish yourself as independent artist in Toronto?
KF: I had a five-year plan and I was able to achieve all my goals by year two. I attribute it to several things. Prior to the art, I was very popular in Toronto because of the work that I do in the social sector. My approach to marketing comes from being genuine and not being afraid to go outside of conventional ways of doing things. Lastly, I stay in my own lane. If there is an avenue that presents a barrier, I create my own way.
SS: What inspires you daily to create?
KF: Me being alive, the gift of being able to wake up every day, inspires me to create. Specifically, (but limited to), interactions with people, great music and a blank canvas. The drive to create has never left me. It just came out in different ways. When I wasn’t painting, it came out in the community initiatives and programs I developed. It came out in writing and through interactions with people. That’s who I am – the ability to create is my inspiration.
SS: What has been the biggest challenge constantly channelling creativity, daily?
KF: I don’t know if there is a challenge – because if it doesn’t come out on a canvas, it’s going to come out one way or the other.
SS: What is your creative process like?
KF: I don’t necessarily have a set creative process. I respond to a “by any means necessary” philosophy and use the tools that I have at my disposal. To me art transcends the canvas or the medium. When I feel compelled to create – I create.
SS: Your art is centered around black women, tell me about why you focus on this in your painting. What story are you attempting to tell?
KF: My overall message as an artist, centers around love and depicting narratives of people of the African Diaspora that isn’t usually shown in the mainstream media. My overall goal is to eventually represent the whole family and as many people in our community as possible. This might include women, men, children, black folks in the LGBTQ community, people battling mental health issues and those who are differently abled. Right now, I am at the stage where I am starting with women and will continue to add to that.
SS: There are a lot of mixed mediums being used in art, how do you differentiate yourself from other artists?
KF: I don’t try to differentiate myself from others, I also don’t try to do what everyone else is doing. I simply try to stay genuine to doing things my way and honoring my natural sense of curiosity. So, if it happens to be something that is innovating and unique – so be it. Or if it looks familiar – so be it. But what is constant, is that it is coming from a genuine place of doing it my way. I don’t put myself under any pressure to be innovative or fit it in. I just do me.
SS: Using only two words, how would you describe your art?
KF: VIBRANT & FREE
SS: What do you do when you’re not painting?
KF: Working as a Community Health Worker, connecting with supporters, spending time with the family, playing basketball, I want to say working out – but that’s not completely consistent. And random things that come up with family and friends.
SS: You’re the creator of some awesome programs including Freedom Fridayz and Dads Doing Hair, what inspired these programs?
KF: I am a huge believer in creating positive spaces that are conducive to love, laughter, learning and endless possibilities. So, the programs that I have developed always include those elements. And a lot of the time it is based on the needs and feedback of the community members that I work with.
SS: The common denominator your programs share is the need to empower youth, what has been your strategy and has it helped with your art?
KF: The same strategy that I use to empower and engage youth is the same strategy that I use to market my work – being genuine and honest with how I express myself.
Check out Kofi’s work on Instagram!