Most of Adewale's friends wanted to become doctors. So did he, for a while, until he went on a journey of exploration and found himself struggling to make art. He speaks to Ola Kalejaye about his early days, evolving from a "wack" artist into someone who sells, and why NFTs came at just the right time for him.
There’s a common narrative shared by countless artists who have made their way into the NFT art space so far. Artists’ lifelong dreams of creative endeavor, too often held back by the harsh realities of web2 creative industries, given a chance to be reborn as part of a techno-enable art revolution.
Like those artists, Adewale Mayowa is empowered by today’s blockchain-driven art renaissance. However, Adewale didn’t have lifelong dreams of being an artist. No sketchbooks filled with childhood doodles. As he approached his final year of medical school in Nigeria, Adewale had no plans or interests in being an artist all.
To immediately pivot into an art career fresh out of medical school would be a left turn for anyone, let alone someone who had only ever held a passing interest in art at most. As it turns out, it wasn’t so much about chasing a specific dream as it was about moving away from something he could no longer see himself in. “I didn't have trouble with school, but I had trouble imagining a life outside of school. Being a doctor and having that be the rest of my life,” he explains.
Unable to picture life as a doctor, Adewale spent time reflecting on what he truly valued in life. “I already imagined that I wasn't going to be fulfilled and I knew I needed to find something that felt more true to myself. So I went on a journey of self-exploration. That’s how I eventually found myself in the art world.”
Adewale’s first attempts at art didn’t go so well, he recalls. He would try recreating drawings from his favorite comic books, but the results didn’t encourage him to take his art hobby any further. “I wasn't so good. And I gave up very quickly – it was just a very fleeting interest. Even with my science drawings back then from biology, my drawings were wack. So I didn’t even know that drawing was something that I could be good at, at all.”
It wasn’t until his final year in medical school that this fleeting interest presented itself once again. A classmate of Adewale’s was also an artist, whose work he found interesting. “Then I looked at his history, saw his early drawings, and I saw that this guy was actually wack when he started. So I thought that there was hope for me. If I practised and practised, at some point, I can also become good at this.”
Showing Adewale how much he could improve wasn’t the only service paid to him by his friend. He also offered practical help in the beginning, advice on how to approach commercial art, and persuaded him to switch from pen to graphite in order to make drawings more quickly.
An encounter with the book Mastery, by Robert Greene, proved to be a foundational impact on his artistic explorations. It was through that book that Adewale was encouraged to experiment with various artforms, finding the ones that aligned best with his sense of expression.
This exploration went beyond just trying different artistic styles. In those early days, Adewale experimented with modeling, dance, acting, poetry, photography, and digital painting, amongst other mediums. “I was doing everything. I’d try things for a few days, see which ones really called to me, which didn’t, drop those, and move on to something else. That was basically how the progression happened.”
It goes without saying, but taking on a self-led crash course in multiple mediums whilst beginning a career as a physician was hardly sustainable. Besides, Adewale knew that his artistic endeavors would eventually replace medicine as his main priority. He also knew how his family would react to such a drastic shift.
“You know how African parents are,” he jokes. “Before they even knew about it, I already knew that it was going to be a problem for them. And my dad is a practical man, so I knew that if I had something concrete, maybe competent artworks or a definite path with an income stream, that might help sway them.”
Unfortunately, Adewale would come to find this easier said than done. Eventually things were so stagnant that he had to move back in with his parents. “That made it even worse because now they could see me actively not pursuing being a doctor. All this time, they knew all my mates were either trying to go abroad to continue their studies, or do their masters, or trying to enter residencies. But here I was drawing and taking pictures up and down. It wasn't a smooth journey at all.”
“I did not understand how that was going to work; there was no framework for that kind of system.”
— Adewale Mayowa
Juggling careers in medicine and art clearly wasn’t going to get Adewale where he wanted to go, but serendipity was to find him in the most dire of circumstances. It was early 2020 when Adewale was let go from the hospital he was working at, as it strained to adjust to the stress caused by the pandemic. But in finally giving him the time to focus on his artistic pursuits, including a new found passion in photography, the pandemic presented Adewale with a silver lining.
Given the opportunity to focus fully on his art, Adewale notes that period as a major shift in his journey. “It was that period I started shifting from being a commercial artist/content creator into being a proper artist. That was when the vision started getting clearer,” he explains.
Before hearing about NFTs, Adewale had a strong sense of what he wanted his career to look like, even if some of the details were in some need of being worked out. “While I was doing all of this exploration and getting better at what I was doing, I knew I did not want to have to work commercially, I did not want to have to be commissioned to work. I wanted to be free to create my own stories, pour my own ideas into the world. And somehow, that was going to lead to me getting paid.”
“I did not understand how that was going to work; there was no framework for that kind of system.” What might have previously seemed like an unrealistic expectation for a new artist now looked like an attainable path thanks to the technology Adewale was just about to hear about. The world over, blockchain has enabled artists to go directly to communities who love the stories that they are trying to tell.
Adewale's introduction was initially less positive. “Mostly when there's a dip in the market and everywhere is red and people are panicking - you get to hear about crypto then. I just knew that there was some form of internet money that people were dabbling into.”
Things really changed for him when he joined Twitter and began sharing his art and connecting with other artists. “They share their art and once in a while I'll see them complain about gas prices. I'm like, ‘What the heck is gas?’”
“I saw that this guy was actually wack when he started. So I thought that there was hope for me. If I practised and practised, at some point, I can also become good at this.”
— Adewale Mayowa
It didn’t take Adewale long to catch on. He notes Shay The Surrealist as the first artist he actually saw make a sale. After that there was no going back. “I started doing a lot of research around June, July 2021. I started finding more and more artists who were into this NFT thing. At the time, I had resumed work, but my work was supposed to end in August. I was like, after work ends, I'm going to pour everything into this.”
“It's hard finding your footing in here, especially when you're not thinking long term.”
— Adewale Mayowa
“When I heard about NFTs, it seemed like this was finally a way for me to be myself, create my art, and just get paid for that.” Digital artists forming community and getting paid, receiving royalties for secondary sales: NFTs were a dream come true for Adewale. And the dream couldn’t have presented itself at a better time.
“If there were no NFTs, I was ready to be poor for the next five years while developing my craft. I was so lucky that NFTs came at this particular time because I was so close to almost absolutes penury. I was still living with my parents, and the pressure was getting ever greater for me to find something concrete to do with my life. The stars aligned and things just fell into place this way.”
That’s not to say that things have been perfect. The bear market has sucked the unbridled enthusiasm (and a lot of money) out of the space. Artists are seeing old web2 habits creep in among both collectors and other artists. But for someone who was willing to literally be a starving artist, the short term turbulence of the space is only an obstacle, not a deal-breaker.
“It's hard finding your footing in here, especially when you're not thinking long term. If you're here just to make quick money, it's very easy for it to shake you and easily throw you overboard. But for me, it's just been this emotional roller coaster. There were periods where like I was making sales, and then periods where I wasn't making sales for months on end. So it's been crazy, hard to put into words.”
One thing’s for sure: no matter how much of a rollercoaster the life of an NFT artist should be, Adewale won’t be getting off the ride any time soon. Asked if he would ever return to the medical field, he doesn’t need too long to formulate an answer.
“Once in a while, I look back at it, especially because I have friends who are still like, deep, into medicine. Some are not doing well, some are doing well. So I don't feel like I'm really missing out on anything. With the current momentum that I have, and the plans that I have for the future, I know I'm going to be here for a long, long time.”
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