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The story of Ekundayo’s childhood is one that would only exist in a Hollywood film. His parents’ split led to his constant moving around, the consequences of which often resulted in heartbreak and emotional turmoil. His life changed the day he found his uncle’s graffiti blackbook which, in turn, led to his new world of stability and solace. His work, intricately layered pieces which exude both sadness and beauty, are his reflection on the world around him, as seen through the eyes of someone who has overcome personal tragedy to raise his career – and his life – to lofty heights. We caught up with the LA-based artist to talk about life and all its ups and downs.

You had a bit of a turbulent upbringing, but throughout it, you were always encouraged to follow your creative path. To what extent did childhood events affect the artist you became?

I feel as though we all have struggles and hardships that we go through in life. I was just lucky in the sense that my hard times, rather than breaking me down, made me realise at an early age the importance of life and how easily it can be taken away.

I kept so much of my hardships inside as a kid until I found art, it provided a way to release all the negative, positive and everything else I was holding inside. Making a piece just became a way for me to communicate how I felt without words, but more with raw emotion.

Looking back, would you be following a completely different path had you not experienced what you did when you were younger?

I feel like everything that happens to you is for a reason. The key and the struggle for me, is trying to figure out what that reason is and how to grow from it. My life would have been completely different had I not gone through all those things.

Can you describe to us the moment you realised you wanted to be an artist? What do you think it was that triggered your creativity?

It was an uncle of mine who had a black book full of graff. Once I opened it and saw all those pieces and bugged out characters, I knew that was what I wanted to do. It wasn’t until high school that I started to realise I could make a career out of it.

Your work is inspired by, amongst other things, mythology and legends. Do you find this more fascinating than the real world?

It amazes me how relatable ancient myths and legends can be to our lives today; it makes me want to reinterpret what I heard or saw in my own way.

Many of your pieces have a real dream-like quality to it, full of fantastic characters and settings. Where do your ideas come from?

I really wish I knew! It is always so sporadic; sometimes it will come from something as stupid as watching TV, or the way something is said, that will just spark an idea. I just keep my eyes open and I really love to hear people’s thoughts on life, it just feels like the real life stories people have is enough to make a thousand paintings.

Earlier this year you took part in Pow Wow in your native Hawai’i. How was that?

It was the shit! I was back home visiting and I saw that Pow Wow was going down with some of the sickest artist not only from Hawai’i, but also around the world and I had no idea! It was by that chance that I was back home at that time. They welcomed me with open arms and it was so sick to paint with all those artists whose work I love, and to top it off, it was in my hometown.

I read that you’re LA-based. Is that right? How does it feel to get back to Hawai’i for work?

I can get so caught up in the rush and speed of the L.A. lifestyle, which I love, but it’s nice to come home, chill and just focus of new pieces.

The culture and lifestyle in Hawai’i is quite different to the mainland. What do you embrace the most about Hawai’i and would you move back there to live?

I may come back to live one day, I love the people and how they take care of the land and each other and even strangers. But I still have a whole lot of travelling to do.

You’re described as being a multi-media artist: what’s your favourite medium to work with?

Mostly acrylic spray paint and watercolor, but I just use whatever I have to until I know the piece is done.

Do you have projects that you’ve put on the backburner – something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t gotten around to yet?

I have always wanted to make custom furniture.

You’re currently exhibiting in Street Cred alongside artists like Revok and Jeff Soto. It must be a real thrill to have your work side-by-side with those dudes, yeah?

That is one of my proudest shows to date. It has been an honor and a trip to be in a show with all those legendary artists.

A lot of artists who start off in the streets tend to decrease their work outdoors once they’ve entered the gallery scene. But you seem to do both equally – why is it important to you to keep working outside?

Because I just simply love it! I never started to do things in the streets for fame, I just like to work large and I love that people who may never see the inside of a gallery can enjoy my work as well.

You’ve talked in the past about how important collaborative projects are to you. If there were one person in the world, alive or passed, that you could work with, who would that be?

I wish I were around to collaborate with Gustave Klimt and other Vienna Secession artists.

Ekundayo is currently exhibiting in the Street Cred group show at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. See more of his work at ekundayo.com