The story of finding pastures-new is not alien to the average young Nigerian/African, most of whom make that leap to find new opportunities or, in his case, a new challenge.
Maxwell spent most of his life in Jos, a city in the North-Central Nigerian state called Plateau. To escape what he called mundane, he had to move south to the city of opportunities. A few years after that move, he is now a well-sought-after designer and digital illustrator, making the 3D medium his forte.
In this conversation with Sheyi Owolabi, Maxwell discusses his decision to move from Jos to Lagos and his peculiar reality as a digital artist in the age of Web3 and NFTs.
Agbowo: Can you tell us about yourself?
Maxwell: My name is Maxwell Adewunmi. I’m a Creative designer and Digital artist based in Lagos, Nigeria. I’ve always been an artist at heart, trying and experimenting with different art forms and mediums, ranging from music to poetry and even graffiti. I work mostly with 3d software. I studied Physics at the University of Jos. I love music. Also, I love simple and beautifully designed things. That’s a little about me.
Agbowo: Did you grow up in Jos (Plateau State, Nigeria)?
Maxwell: Yes, I did. I was born and raised in Jos. And I moved here (Lagos) like three years ago.
Agbowo: What prompted your move to Lagos?
Maxwell: At some point, I got tired of the usual mundane and complacent style of life up north. Imagine being in one place for over 20 years. My main motivation was for a change of environment. I didn’t have much of a vision of what I would do in Lagos then. But I just knew that I needed to change my environment quickly. So that was why I moved to Lagos.
Agbowo: How has that move paid off for you?
Maxwell: It’s been great. It’s been great because I feel like it’s one of the best decisions I have made in my life so far. I’ve been learning a lot. Moving from one thing to the other has always been in the positive direction. I’ve gained skills since I came here. Before Lagos, I was a writer, but it became insufficient to express my ideas. But I just didn’t know what else I wanted to do. I was also into music at some point, but I had to stop that too because I didn’t really love my creations. I moved to Lagos, and it’s been up and up since then because I’ve gained skills and confidence in myself. I can pitch myself to anyone. I can talk to anyone.
Agbowo: You mentioned that you are a creative Designer and 3D Artist. Can you take us back to your earliest memory, when you realized or thought to yourself that you wanted to become an artist?
Maxwell: Okay, so I’ll say my art journey started as a kid, and I used to draw. But at some point, I stopped for a reason that I can’t really remember right now. I got busy with life and school, but even then, I tried to go back to drawing, but it was so difficult. I felt like it was a skill that I had lost complete touch with because I stopped for a long time. So I then went into music, but even while I was into music, I was still sketching and doodling. A few ideas here and there.
I used to write poems and rap verses for a music duo that I was part of, but I had to stop music at some point because I wasn’t really impressed at the stuff that I was making. And so, I started graphic design when I came to Lagos. And it’s been a progressive build-up of skills and software from that point. I learned how to make vector illustrations on CorelDraw and Adobe illustrator. Then I leveled up to photo-bashing and digital collages, album cover designs, and posters and finally stumbled on 3D.
Out of my love for music, I gained a deep interest in album cover design, so I started designing album covers for artistes and getting commissions. People started reaching out to me, saying, “We love your designs. Can you help design this album cover?” And so that was when I felt, okay, maybe I have something here. Maybe this could be something that I can get better at. And who knows? This can be something to make money from, and I can wholeheartedly call myself an artist.
So I started learning about 3D. I started learning Cinema 4D, but I then moved to Blender. And then it was when I started using Blender that I started seeing that, wow, I’m quite good at this stuff. And so I just kept making art. But it was for fun. At that time, it wasn’t anything serious, but I was still collecting jobs; I was still doing covers for artists. And then after that was when NFTs came and started learning about it.
Ever since I got into NFTs, my art has improved a thousand times. Because this time, I wasn’t just doing it for fun; I had to make really good images that people would like and would want to buy. So I had to make my art more aesthetically pleasing to people without compromising my voice as an artist. That broadened my mind and my imagination.
When I sold my first artwork, it dawned on me that I could actually make a living from making digital art.
Agbowo: You mentioned selling your first artwork as NFTs. Can you tell us how exactly you got into NFTs?
Maxwell: When I first heard of NFTs, It was from an artist I follow. His name is Beeple. He sold a collage of his work for around 68 Million Dollars. I can never forget that (laughs)
What? One picture? One image? And so I started learning about this. I got curious, like, how can one person sell one image? And it’s not like it was a traditional piece; it wasn’t an acrylic or oil painting from the 50s, it was a digital art piece. And so that got me curious, and I started asking questions. I started meeting and talking to people; they saw my work and testified to how good it was. That was how I began my NFT journey.
Agbowo: How has it been so far? What’s the journey like, so far?
Maxwell: It’s interesting because since I started, as I said, my work has improved. I’ve met a lot of people, and I’ve talked to lots of people. I have friends now. Before this, I didn’t really have friends, but now I have many people I can reach out to. So I can say it has positively impacted me and my work. It has its ups and downs. There are times when you make sales, there are times when you do not make sales, and sometimes imposter syndrome kicks in, and then you have to overcome it again. But overall, it’s been a positive experience.
Agbowo: Do you see any future potential with NFTs in disrupting the African art space?
Maxwell: Yes, of course. I see. In fact, it’s already happening. Before now, nobody knew that such great art would come out of Africa. The boundaries of what African art should look like have been pushed significantly. So we’re definitely changing a lot of things out here. People are coming out of their holes. I didn’t know many digital artists or creatives in general before NFTs, but now you can see many of them emerging out of the shells they have been hiding and hoarding their art. Creatives are getting known for their different expressions and styles.
The perception of African art is changing because more creatives are drifting away from the conventional or predictable look of African art. We are beginning to see that Africa has more potential than what it’s usually known for. And also, a very strong memory for me was during the 2021 Art X Fair, where they featured a couple of digital artists and their work. They had spaces and big screens for digital arts. A lot of things are changing. People are beginning to accept digital arts as a thing and the value it brings.
Agbowo: What do you think about the NFTs space in Nigeria, Africa in general? What are your impressions?
Maxwell: It’s great. I can say it’s great because, for the first time, people are now banding together and creating communities. We now know ourselves! And like I said, people are coming out of their shells to showcase their eccentric art styles. Before now, I didn’t know many digital artists. I knew maybe one or two, maybe like Niyi Okeowo or HubrisKing. I did not know many of them, but now I know a lot of them. I know lots of photographers, and I know lots of 3D and digital artists. So it’s a positive experience for most Nigerians because we now have people around us. We now have a community of artists, and we can finally have conversations about the works of creatives.
Agbowo: Your work can be very colorful. They can also be dramatic and cinematic in terms of their composition. What inspires your work?
Maxwell: I am inspired by beautiful things. I watch a lot of movies, so I get to see a lot of shots from movies, and I gain inspiration from them too. I also love simplicity. I said this before, I love when things are simple, but you get the message. Not simple in the sense that it’s easy. No, it’s not easy, but it looks simple and striking.
And in terms of who inspires me, do I have any specific artist that inspires me? I would say I am inspired by the clean aesthetic of like 3d artists Catelloo and Rory Bjorkman.
At some point, I was obsessed with the idea of making my art look African. I thought that was a marketable idea. But at some point, I realized that maybe that is my biggest strength. The fact that my art doesn’t exactly look African. So I forgot about the whole idea and focused more on what inspires me, which are things that don’t look like they are from this world. Things that look unreal but at the same time they are beautiful to look at.
Agbowo: What’s your creative process like?
Maxwell: Generally, I’ll say my creative process starts with an idea sometimes. And other times, it may not start with an idea. And what I mean by that is, for some pieces, I may have a clear idea of what I want to do. And sometimes it comes out well; sometimes it does not come out well. Other times my process is mostly intuitive and spontaneous, and I just follow the voices in my head, and most of the time, they lead me to a very good place. I mostly enjoy the intuitive moments because I am able to surprise myself.
But yeah, I just sit down at the computer, and maybe I go through Pinterest, I look through a few of my boards. If I find any image fascinating, I try to see how I can express that idea with my own voice, with my own style, with my own colors, and stuff like that. Because I don’t want to exactly copy anybody. I hate the idea of copying anybody at all. So whenever I see something I like, I then try to make my very-personalized version of that image.
I look at my old work, too; when I’m trying to make new pieces, I look at other things that I can add from old pieces and bring to new pieces so that I can stay consistent because certain textures and colors are consistent in my work. So I try to bring some of my old stuff to the new pieces so that it doesn’t look too different from the old ones.
Agbowo: Finally, going back to the conversation about NFTs, do you see the NFT surge as a way for African art to reemerge into the global art space?
Maxwell: Oh, yes, it’s already happening. It’s already happening. We already have like a bunch of high-profile artists who have sold pieces for remarkable amounts.
We have artists that have been through Christie’s, black artists, not necessarily Nigerians, but we’ve had Anthony and some other people. So, as somebody said, this is a new creative economy for us as creators is an opportunity for Africans to change the narrative that has been associated with Africa or Nigeria specifically. We’re changing things, man, because before now, there’s a regular expectation of what a Nigerian is, probably a fraudster or something. But we are coming out here with all this creative energy, all this creative work, and we’re changing the African story, the Nigerian story. This is new, and we’re still learning the tricks of the trade. But this is definitely an opportunity that Africans did not miss out on because we came in early, just as the world came into it, too. And yes, we will grow bigger and bigger in space.
Agbowo: Thank you very much for this conversation, Maxwell.
Maxwell: Thank you too.