Having fallen in love with art from a young age, London based Nyanza's work is bright, vibrant, and has caught the eye of many. With her pop-art inspired designs, Nyanza captures the retro-aesthetic beautifully. Featuring women of colour from variety of backgrounds, Nyanza's work is inclusive, and as she calls them, "Contemporary Muses".
Following the success of her "Monchi Cards" on Etsy and her feature in AfroPunk earlier this year, COZY caught up with the artist to learn more about what makes her tick.
COZY MAG: What do you love the most about art?
Nyanza D: There's certain qualities about visual art - the bright colours, patterns, complexity and simplicity - that I've always loved from a young age, they've always caught my eye. Being in London, it's everywhere you go. At school we used to study so many artists like Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, Hussein Chalyan, Henri Mattisse, Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky... the list is endless. I really liked their style and it opened my eyes and knowledge to different artistic movements. We didn't study 20th Century artists of colour enough unfortunately, so I did my own research when I got older.
We did have a lot of black art and other types of art around the house too, which I thought was cool. I always knew that I was gonna pursue an artistic career, because I've always had the talent, an interest and admiration for it. I also come from a pretty creative family myself, so it was definitely 'in the stars' for me to do something creative.
CM: With the culture of London being somewhat of a melting pot, where do you draw visual inspiration from most?
ND: I draw inspiration from different eras of London and other places. I really miss the 2000s, especially the first half of the decade. There were a lot of looks. It was the UK Garage music scene and you saw a lot of women on the street and in music videos with denim or leather mini skirts, block heels, baby blue tracksuits, massive hoop earrings, baby hairs slicked for days... all of that. My piece 'Chantelle' has all of that down to a T, even how they spoke.
There's really something special about some of the things you see, especially when you're younger, that just stick with you for a long time. I admire how diverse London is, it's like there's a community for almost everyone here. It's probably one of the most diverse places. And it's bigger than people think, there's so much I haven't seen.
CM: Your Monchi series is very retro. A few pieces are reminiscent of classic comic book posts. What inspires you to illustrate this nostalgic feel?
ND: I just remember reading a lot of comics like Archie's Betty & Veronica series that my parents had, and I've always wanted to emulate that somehow. It's something about the vintage comics and comic art that I've always been drawn to. The characters, colours, humour, style... it's very distinctive. I'm into experimenting with the idea of old and new, mixing vintage and modern things together. Manga and anime are stuff I love too - Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon are my favourites. You can kinda see the influence that it has on my art, with the flamboyant pastel hair colours and stuff like that.
CM: Many of your pieces visualise eccentric women of all shades of colour while we live in a world that depicts black women to be stereotypically one type. As a black artist, how important is it to you to depict the variations of the woman of colour as a muse?
ND: Honestly, I can't stress enough how important it is! People have to understand that blackness and black womanhood is an entire spectrum. There's not just one way of being black. You can be whoever you want to be just as long as you feel comfortable in your skin. I think that prettiness and beauty is seen to be a measure of how close you are to European standards of beauty - for example, if you have a slim nose, lighter skin and lighter eyes, then you're seen as more superior than those who don't have those features. It's ridiculous.
I want to show people that that's not the only way to be beautiful. I would say it's my responsibility and duty to do that with my art. We as black women have to really reclaim our bodies and control our realities in some way, it's vital.
"We as black women have to really reclaim our bodies and control our realities in some way, it's vital." - Nyanza D
CM: If you had to pick any artist from the past to be your favourite who would it be and why?
ND: Oh, it's so hard to choose just one artist. There are a few people that stand out to me and I think they are incredible. The first person that comes off the top of my head is Jean-Michel Basquiat. I like how he incorporated his political, social and economic stance in his work. He openly questioned why things were through almost child-like drawings. Like a child genius. Frida Kahlo as well, I love the rawness of her art and her uncompromising expressions of self.
As a woman of colour it's a huge deal, it was quite transgressive then and it's still transgressive now considering the patriarchal, white supremacist world we still live in. Andy Warhol is another artist whose work I highly enjoy. My sister actually first introduced me to his work when I was in my early teens, and since then I've thought his work was very striking. When I first started manipulating using Photoshop, I always tried to channel his stuff. The colours meshed so well with the simplicity of his subjects, but it was provocative at the same time.
CM: How do you choose the blossoming, pastel colours for your palette?
ND: Certain pieces have a colour palette that might provoke a nostalgic feeling, for example, with the 'vintage series' I did earlier this year the colour palette was influenced by archival JET magazines from the 1950s and 1960s. Very bright, vivid colours, they were beautiful. It's the same thing with my piece 'Julia', which has a neon colour palette, which would remind people of the 1980s.
Other times I just pick whatever looks best with the rest of the colours. The background is one of the most important features, because it accents the foreground. If that doesn't complement the rest of the piece, it would look washed out and ruins everything. So I'm pretty picky when it comes to colours.
CM: Fashion plays a key role in a few of your pieces. Who are some of your favorite fashion designers or houses?
ND: I actually don't have a favourite fashion designer! Designers are always putting out different clothes with different themes, so it's more like a 'I like it when I see it' kind of thing. My muses though, are somewhat based on my wishful personal style - a mix of girly glamour, futuristic, hippie, witchy, 1990s/2000s fashion. I make collages that feature these looks which really helps me when I create.
CM: We're interested in knowing what is your creation process? Do you vibe out and listen to music? If so, who can we catch on your playlist?
ND: The creation process is really simple. I just sketch, then scan it to my laptop, then edit it on Adobe Photoshop CS6. That's about it! I listen to a lot of Radiohead, Janet Jackson, Dawn Richard, D'Angelo, Kimbra, The Strokes, Lykke Li, Beyoncé, Mazzy Star, Maxwell, A Tribe Called Quest, Miguel, James Vincent McMorrow, M.I.A., Michael Jackson, J. Cole, Janelle Monáe, Jimi Hendrix, Britney Spears... so many people. I love Motown, but I also love a lot of metal and alternative rock.
There's such a colourful palette of musical artists I listen to. For the past few years I've been listening to a lot of electronic and trip hop music. A lot of it has an ethereal quality that makes me want to create. Artists like Massive Attack, Little Dragon, Portishead, Flying Lotus, Phantogram, Jessy Lanza, FKA twigs, J*Davey really do it for me. Visual art and music really do go hand in hand.
CM: Aside from art, what are a few of your favourite hobbies?
ND: I love to knit. My Mum got me into knitting a year and a half ago, and I usually do it when autumn comes around. I'd say I'm quite good at it as well! I've made a few things. I used to play the keyboard well when I was about 8, but I got worse because I didn't practice much after that. I'm currently learning Portuguese, because it's always good to know another language, you know? It's fun. But I'd really love to get into film directing or film editing in the future. I'm so interested in the idea of telling our story to a broader audience. It's something that people would want to hear.
Follow NYANZA on Tumblr to keep up with her work & SHOP MONCHI CARDS on Etsy.
Interview led by Asia Burris (@AsiaEvolv)