William Chechet is a graphic designer, illustrator and muralist he is known for creative designs from rappers MI’s album covers to hardrock cafe graffiti, the MTV base big Friday show designs and more…
Below is an interview conducted by Daily Trust read:
1. Your latest art project is called ‘We Are the North’. What is it about?
It’s a project I embarked on to show my source of inspiration: the places and people I had seen while growing up in Kano and Kaduna. I observed that art from the northern part of Nigeria is not as popular as I would have expected. And it was very surprising to me, considering the almost countless sources of inspiration that I found in northern culture. It is a series I created with the intension of showing the heritage of the northern people and immortalizing renowned Nigerians with pop art culture. I have always wanted to mix the indigenous and foreign art as a signature to my design and art.
2. What triggered it and why did you decide to embark on such a project?
I felt that history could be told in a different, more modern and interesting way especially for the Nigerian youths. So I thought of fusing real images of festivals and of renowned Nigerian icons with pop art, illustrations of the day to day you meet on the road. I believe the northern culture is a vibrant one and hasn’t really been shown by artists. Cultural events like the Dubar show how colorful the heritage of the northern people is.
3. Have you wondered if the application of pop art on works of renowned Nigerians like Tafawa Balewa and others may be offensive to some people?
I have gotten mixed reactions. Banksy said “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”. I had always wondered what people’s perception of the ‘We are the North’ series would be but I am under no illusions. Some people will always find your art offensive. Some won’t.
. I have always felt that the younger generation of Nigerians are not being shown enough of our National heroes. These people who fought hard for our freedom and independence, they are icons. As an artist I feel this is my own way of reintroducing these heroes to the younger generation in a way that appeals to them and immortalizing these icons that helped build the nation.
4. What informed the pop art you chose for each of your works? For instance, the works called ‘Tafawa Balewa’, ‘Sai Mun yi Ko babu Calendar’, ‘Govermint’, and ‘Sauti’.
5. You are a graphics designer, illustrator and muralist all rolled in one. What is your story? (your history as an artist from the very beginning)
I’m from Kaduna state, I studied Industrial design (Graphics) at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. I previously had been studying Building Engineering before I dropped out to study Industrial Design in my 3rd year in school.
I have been creative since I was a kid, my dad always provided my brothers and I with art materials. I started off drawing comics and cartoon characters. I remember my dad had a lot of vinyl records of Fela, James Brown, Micheal Jackson, Bonny M, etc. which I would pick up and start drawing the covers. The Fela album covers done by the famous Lemi Gwariokwu really inspired my early creative years.
I became active in art in my secondary school (Federal Government College Enugu) where I took part in art competitions that I hardly won. But I started making posters with papers and markers for school clubs. I joined the Press club where we would create cartoons of student life in the dormitories.
I started computer-based design when I met my friend Jesi Yakubu in Ahmadu Bello University Zaria 2002. We started designing as a team. Then I had dropped out of Building Engineering to start all a fresh in Industrial Design at the Diploma level. We created a design and merchandise company called GRD (Graphic Research Department) where we made and designed tee-shirts, album covers for musicians and other branding services.
Before I graduated I had done an album cover design for a Washington DC based Nigerian rapper called Kahli Abdu, called ‘The Ministry Of Corruption’. This, I would say, is my favorite cover art I have designed. Kahli Abdu introduced me to MI Abaga. I got a phone call from MI Abaga one day, out of the blue. It was one of the most shocking moments of my life. MI asked me to come to Lagos and work for him. 3 weeks later we met at Abuja airport and flew to Lagos. That was September 2012.
I worked on the graphics for his website at the time miabaga.com while he was recording the second installment of his popular mixtape ‘Illegal music’. I designed the cover for that and also the first ‘illegal music’ mixtape which didn’t have a cover at the time.
I subsequently worked as a Graphics Designer and a Creative Director for the label he owned called ‘Loopy Music’ and also worked on some joint projects with the guys at Chocolate City. After 4years working for him and Loopy music I decided to go into the corporate world to work for a branding company. After that, I decided to be Freelance Graphic designer. I found enough time to focus on my related passions: painting Murals/Graffiti and digital illustrations. I started doing digital illustrations for merchandise companies and branding. After the Hardrock Cafe commission more projects started coming in. Painting the graffiti and walls of Hardrock Cafe Lagos surprisingly is my first big Graffitti project but before then I was just painting my friend’s rooms for fun.
6. Which of these three influences your work the most and why?
I would say the one that influences my work the most is Graphic Design. The love for graphic design started way before graffiti. Graphic Design was my major in school when I studied Industrial Design, It’s also a skill I taught myself. I was so passionate and curious about Animation and Graphic Design that I learnt how to use the professional design software before i applied to study it. The skill developed more with the theory and practicals I got from school.
7. What was your very first work like?
My first Graphic Design project was a mixtape cover I did for J-town rapper called Juze ‘the AfrophunkMan.’
8. What’s your opinion about an artist’s skill being either in-born or developed?
Talent is a God given, and inborn and needs to be found at an early stage as a child Practice perfects it. I believe everyone of us is born with a special gift or ability but they need time and effort to develop. A Developed Skilled is an ability or knowledge acquired through systematic learning and frequent practice. It usually requires much more handwork of continuous efforts for improvements and to gain proficiency. Developed skilled artist tends to work more than the talented artist.
The tendency is for talented artist to be a bit more lazier than artists who had to develop their skill.
9. You are the brain behind the graffiti at the Hard Rock Café in Lagos. What usually comes to mind before you put up your work anywhere?
Firstly I think of the impact my artwork would cause when a person works into the space. I try to tell a short story anyone can understand by merely looking at the mural/graffiti art. When I was commissioned to do the graffiti at Hardrock café, I did some research first on the brand. Then I worked with the Architects/Engineers handling the project. We discussed what kind of colors to avoid based on the design they had decided for the interior. They wanted graffiti of Popular musicians and music legends but still gave me creative freedom.
Also what people don’t known is that the murals in the café were hand-painted by myself, with some assistance from my friend Andy Abu.
10. Do you choose a place you feel you will like to beautify with your art work or do you get asked?
I would love to place my art at some certain places but most of the murals/graffiti I have done are commissioned projects from Hardrock café Lagos, Chocolate City (Music video) Cointreau Cognac, MTV Base Africa (Bigger Friday Show), The Traffic Bar Abuja etc. I also have a Fela art hanging on the stage of The Fela Shrine in Lagos. Street art isn’t popular in this part of the world yet but it is gradually beginning to grow. So the demand for it as part of interior design for restaurants, schools, bars, clubs and residential homes is emerging fast in Nigeria.
11. For quite a while you have been responsible for rapper MI’s album covers. What do you consider before putting forward a work like that?
Most times it’s his fans and critics I consider when I embark on a design for him. MI is a perfectionist and very creative so he likes to suggest ideas for the design. Working with him requires a level of perfection and patience. He would play the song or songs for me to listen to in the studio so that I could understand what the message of the song was. After that, the design process starts. I have made a lot of designs that he has turned down. When that happens, we either adjust or just start all over. He is always concerned about each image/design of him that goes out there which I think is a good quality for a musician or performer to have.
You know fans in Nigeria usually judge the music based on the artwork.
12. Can you elaborate on your experience working on any such album cover?
The experience working on album art for his latest album The Chairman, was fantastic. We would have the whole workstation moved his house with additional designers and A&Rs all brainstorming for ideas to achieve a great design for the project.
Working on his ‘King James’ single was quite an interesting one as well. The idea was to make him look like a 3D sculpture, so we had to paint his face white with body paint during a photo shoot and completed the design in post production. I would usually create a mood board first to show the creative direction for the project.
13. What do you spend time doing if you aren’t holding a brush or any other such tool?
I spend time listening to good music, surfing the internet for new inspirations on my phone- I’m really attached to my phone- watching great movies and hanging out playing video games with friends.
14. What was the last good book you read and why?
I honestly am not a book reading type but The last good book I read was ‘Understanding your Potential’ by Miles Monroe. It was given to me by my aunty when I was going through some trying times back in school. I’m currently reading one ‘A purpose driven Life’ by Rick Warren. It was just a gift from a friend. But its taking a long time for me to finish it. Lazy reader, I know.