Local artist paints a new take on graffiti

It’s a Tuesday evening, and Wasiu Ojuolape Jr. is splattered in paint from head to toe. He’s quick to apologize for the rainbow of color adorning his clothing. He was feeling particularly inspired this day, and when creativity strikes, he’s quick to capitalize on the burst of energy — clothing be damned. 

But Ojuolape isn’t your typical acrylic or watercolor painter. The artist got his start creating graffiti, and now paints one-of-a-kind pieces juxtaposing fine art with graffiti backgrounds.

His introduction to art was the byproduct of school scheduling. Ojuolape transferred from Moorestown High School to Lenape Regional High School his sophomore year, and when he went to select his classes, the ones of interest to him were already full. So, he found himself in his first art class. 

Ojuolape was shocked by just how much he enjoyed the course. He was involved in sports, but there was something about bringing creations from his imagination to life that sparked a new passion. He transferred back to MHS his junior year, and from then on, art courses were part of his schedule every semester.

Graffiti art was Ojuolape’s first passion. He’d found himself down a YouTube rabbit hole watching videos of graffiti artists going through their blackbooks (a portfolio of sketches that a graffiti artist creates before going out to put their work on a wall or mural). He was completely fascinated with the style and got to work honing his own skills on canvas.

“Graffiti is more free; it’s more expressive,” Ojuolape said. “It’s kind of like doing abstract work, but it still has a form and a meaning.”

Much like any other art form, it took time and practice for Ojuolape to find his style. He learned more about the use of color, bubble letters and wildstyle, a form of graffiti that incorporates complex letters and shapes often not discernible to those unfamiliar with the form. 

From the beginning, the artist has always wanted to fill every inch of the canvas; it just didn’t feel right to leave blank space. So, as his art evolved, Ojuolape created graffiti backgrounds behind the main focal point character or object. One day, the color combination he’d chosen reminded him of birds of paradise, so he painted one in the center of the graffiti background. A series of bird paintings quickly followed.

Upon graduating high school, the Mount Holly resident attended Rowan College at Burlington County for a few years in pursuit of an art degree. At the time, Ojuolape was working, going to school and trying to figure out what made him happy. He decided to forego completing his degree and create full art full time.

His inspiration comes from everyday life, with his pieces usually taking around a day or two to create. He goes through his creative periods. On this particular Tuesday, he took his inspiration from anime, but in the past, it’s been animals or other subjects that have occupied his attention. These days he’s delving more into portraits and anticipates that being a predominant focus for the remainder of the year. 

Ojuolape started posting his work online, and people from high school and around the area started contacting him to purchase it. His brand, Exotick, grew naturally from there. He sells his work at local events, such as Moorestown Day, and travels to Philadelphia and New York as well.

He’s taken his work off canvas as well as having been commissioned to create about six murals to date. Much like anything else, there’s a fair bit of trial and error involved in learning how to paint on brick vs. drywall vs. stone, and over time he’s learned how the paint will drip and hold on different surfaces. 

Graffiti comes down to location, according to Ojuolape. If it’s on a building or street corner where it’s not permitted, that’s vandalism, but if it’s commissioned or on a canvas, it’s fine art. 

For Ojuolape, graffiti’s biggest appeal is its inclusivity. He said there are some types of art where if a viewer is not familiar with the artist or the history behind a piece, he or she  viewer might not understand it. With graffiti, even if the viewer can’t understand what the piece is saying, they can still appreciate the piece in some way.

“The everyday person may not be able to read it, but they can still embrace the colors and get a feel for it, Ojuolape noted. “It allows everybody to be in.”

To learn more about Ojuolape’s work, visit his website at https://www.exotick.store/ or on Instagram @EXOT1CK.