Kofi Frempong is a life-long, Toronto-based artist who is dedicated to sharing his love for the world through art. Kofi’s bright, warm and vivid paintings are focused on the beauty and love of Black men and women. While Kofi has been practicing art since he was five, it was only later in life that he began to paint. In 2012, he launched an initiative called “Freedom Fridays,” which combined his passion for art and community. This experience helped him overcome his anxiety around painting and launched his painting career focused on authenticity, community, and the beauty of Black culture.
In August 2020, his artwork was featured as a logo for Canada Broadcasting Company (CBC). Currently, in addition to his gallery shows, Kofi has gathered a social media following of over 25K. He is proud to be able to present positive representation of Black culture. During February 2021, Black History Month, Regan Hayward had the pleasure of interviewing Kofi to discuss his art practice, his role as a Black artist, and his sources of inspiration. Be sure to check out his artworks on virtual display as part of “I Know Why”—an art exhibition celebrating black art, culture and artists. This interview is part of a series of “candid conversations” with exhibiting artists in our showcases at Beaux Arts Gallery, Brampton.
Regan: Hello everyone! I’m Regan Hayward, I’m a curating artist and also the Managing Director for Beaux Arts Gallery, Downtown Brampton. We are a not-for-profit artist-run space and we are hosting Candid Conversations with artists that we are currently exhibiting in our show I Know Why virtually, online, and today we have Kofi with us. Welcome Kofi!
Kofi: Thank you.
Regan: Good to have you here. Thank you for your time to have this conversation with me today. Because we’re doing this in a candid context, I thought we would just jump right in and let Kofi share who he is, why he is, and what he’s all about. I thought we would start with you [Kofi] sharing with us, how you got started—how your art practice began.
Kofi: Okay, I’d like to say that I fell in love with art at the age of five. I was totally inspired by my dad. I witnessed him drawing Egyptian characters—I fell in love with everything, the whole process and wanted to adopt it as my own. So, I started tracing, not knowing that I was building muscle memory, but most importantly, I was developing a strong love for creating, and the creative process.
So, from there I just literally everyday kept practicing until right around the age of 23, from there I took about six years off from art because I got into my other passion—I do a lot of work in the community, I became a Community Health Worker. I dedicated a lot of time to that. In between that, I got married, bought a house, you know, the grown-up stuff.
It wasn’t until I started a community program called Freedom Fridays; it was a program designed to have artists celebrate their work with community as well, community supporting them, and often draw crowd of 150 plus. We’ve gotten as high as 1,500 [in attendance]. My job, in addition to putting the event together with some friends, was to outreach to a lot of the artists. One thing that I did to get them to participate was to tell them to “get out of your comfort zone so you can expand your work!”
A lot of them were nervous but they came through and did it. After a while, I realized that I was being a bit hypocritical, for two reasons: one I had given up art for quite a number of years, and second most of my art practice has been drawing and colouring but I had never touched a paint brush. In fact, I had a lot of anxiety around that. In high school I almost failed out of art class, got college academic probation twice, all because I would continuously skip my painting assignments. So, I use Freedom Fridays as a way to get over this fear. My first painting was in front of a crowd of over 500 people. I feel like I tell this story all the time! Haha.
Regan: Well, tell us! Do tell us!
Kofi: Really it was within that first ten minutes that I, one developed my process, and two legitimately got over the fear. Leading up to that I was so scared, I was nervous, there was a lot of self-talk and then it came to a point where everything went dead silent and all I could tell myself was: “Enjoy the process and everything else will fall into place.” So, because I was able to do that, now, about eight, nine years later, I have a full art career.
Kofi: And more importantly, I’ve gotten over my fear of painting.
Regan: Absolutely. So, you have. You make some phenomenal work and it’s definitely “a view for the eyes,” as they say. So, tell us, what does it mean to you, in today’s culture, to be a Black artist?
Kofi: That’s an interesting question. So, a lot of time I don’t even think about being a Black artist, but I’m constantly reminded that I am—not to say that it’s a bad thing at all—the reminder comes from Black folks who tell me what my work means to them. They tell me that they can see themselves in my work, and how impactful it is. When people talk to me about representation and how they enjoy being able to see themselves in art, in an area that we haven’t always been represented in. And just the idea of being able to show different narratives, as it pertains to Black beauty and love. Going into it, that wasn’t what I had in mind, but now this is something I’m very much aware of.
Regan: So, is it something that evolved over time, you think—as far as that consciousness in your work?
Kofi: Absolutely, absolutely.
Regan: Fascinating. So, maybe we can explore a little bit with you. What drives you to create the visual art style that you do? Like, what are your influences, per se? We spoke a bit about the feedback that you get, but what would you say are some of your influences in the work that you create?
Kofi: I’d say my everyday interaction. Everything that I take in, music, conversations, other artists, you name it. Everything that I experience, literally, finds its way on the canvas somehow.
Regan: That is by subject matter, as well as style of painting?
Kofi: Absolutely, yes.
Regan: Okay, very interesting. What does it mean to you to exhibit your work now that you’re nine, ten years later, from passing the mark on your resistance to it/painting, so here you are and now, what does it mean to get it out there and showcase it?
Kofi: It’s a good feeling. I guess my favourite part is to actually connect face-to-face with people who enjoy my art. Also, people who are just being introduced to my art.
Regan: Right now, through COVID, have you been more active online? Has that been somewhat satisfying to get your art out there?
Kofi: I’ve always been really active online, so activity hasn’t been a major issue for me. I must admit, though, I do miss doing live paintings, exhibits, and getting to meet people face-to-face.
Regan: Right. Well, with any luck we’ll get back there sooner rather than later! So, speaking of getting back there, after lockdowns and the COVID restrictions that we’re all coping with, what are you working on for 2021? Do tell us!
Kofi: I’m in transition right now—I’ll been moving—I’ll be in and out of Toronto. I have some partnerships with major brands that I can’t discuss at the moment. I like to get into the habit of discussing these things after everything is confirmed and so on but look forward to it!
Regan: We will! I’ll have to DM (direct message) you for some updates and Beaux Arts will follow up for sure. So, tell our audiences how to find you online.
Kofi: You can find me on Instagram @kofis_art. All across my social media it’s kofis_art. I’m getting set to launch my website soon and I’m also going to be doing a rebranding so I’m going to be adopting my actual name: Kofi Frempong. Once my website launches you can find me at www.kofifrempong.com
Regan: Excellent. Well, Kofi this has been, as I say to the collective, “we want to keep these short, sweet, and sincere” and I think we’ve done that. Thanks a lot for your time, this is awesome. Thanks for exhibiting in our showcase in honour of Black History Month and hopefully we’ll get to work together again soon!
Kofi: Awesome, thank you!
Regan: Thank you, Kofi. Bye for now!