If eyes really are the window to the soul, Yared Nigussu spends a lot of time staring into the depths of his subjects' very essence.
The Ethiopian-born artist has spent the past two years creating striking portraiture, intimate close-ups of a range of faces that have spoken to him in some way.
As he explains it, he is drawn to the unique anatomy and features of faces, and when he comes across a subject that captures his attention, he often will do a very rough sketch, then work mainly from memory.
"After, I just add my paint and the contrast, after," he said. "It's not really necessary to have a model in front of me."
But more important than the anatomy of the face are the eyes, and the story he glimpses behind them. He recalled one such telling encounter with a man who seemed riddled with sadness - a child soldier - and who ultimately inspired him to start with portraiture.
"Just behind his portrait, it was his eyes," Nigussu reflected. "That's why I was really interested in the portraits of people, finding the history behind the model."
His portraits are meant to be portraits of humanity, meant to convey a sense of history and experience behind each individual.
"It is what I see, always when I meet people, I see their eyes. I can feel it. So that expression (the eyes are the window to the soul) is really for my paintings."
Nigussu's affinity for the arts began when he was in grade school and he decided to enter an art competition. He did well, and soon found himself immersed in the art world, hanging out with other artists, and anxious to learn more. He went on to study a broad range of artistic styles at the Addis Ababa University of Fine Art for four years, focusing on the world of contemporary abstract art for his graduation work. In fact, if you look closely, you can glimpse elements from the contemporary abstract realm in his portraiture today, in his bold brush strokes and colour choices.
Nigussu earned his bachelor's degree before getting a scholarship to study in France. There, he discovered a diverse population, rich in culture and ethnicity, and was struck by the range of faces. Specifically, he was struck by the faces he saw in the crowds. He was inspired to capture them, on canvas.
"The theme of portrait was found in France," he recalled.
"In France, I started really seeing all sorts of human faces."
Nigussu had discovered a subject matter that truly spoke to him, allowing him to feel connected to his work.
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