Alfie Kungu | Spotlight
Alfie Kungu is a painter from Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. His talent was first publicly recognised, whilst completing a degree in Fine Art at the University of Bristol, when he was shortlisted by the New Contemporaries. Alfie’s bold, textured art has since been displayed in exhibitions in the UK and Germany.
How did you get into painting?
Painting was always around at home; my dad’s a painter and my mum is really into art. I never studied art at school, but I loved drawing as a kid. I went to Leeds College of Art after school and had some really good tutors and classmates, so it suddenly clicked into place. Once my tutor taught me a bit more about the practice of painting and I had done a few paintings I liked, I realised that you can have a lot of fun with painting, it doesn’t have to be serious.
When did that start to go well for you?
At the start of third year I realised that I only had a year left and I’d not really done anything that I thought was good yet. Then I made this painting that my tutors were really into, it was a really simple leg painting; figures from the waist down, people meeting up, all in streetwear. I didn’t think it was an amazing piece of work - there was no concept behind it. My tutor pointed out how it was a really political piece because it instantly includes, and excludes, certain demographics.
As a white, 50 year old male, he couldn’t relate to it, but explained how it was a piece that people of my generation could associate with. He taught me to contextualise my work and helped me understand how it communicated who I was. The next day, I made 10 more paintings [in this series]. That was when I started to engage with my work.
When did you decide to pursue art as a career?
My tutor encouraged me to apply to the New Contemporaries and I got an email back saying I’d been shortlisted. I didn’t understand how big a deal that was until they told me. Everyone in every “Art Uni” applies; there’s thousands and thousands of applicants and I got chosen to be part of the show. The shows exhibit 25 of the best emerging artists of that year. Seeing my work in the ICA amongst so many other artists was amazing.
What is it exactly that draws you to art?
It’s natural. I would be doing it if it wasn’t getting me anywhere because I enjoy making the work. If I’ve got a day off, that’s what I want to do. I don’t really have to motivate myself. I don’t put any pressure on my practice - if I don’t feel like making work, I can do whatever else I want. But, most of the time, this is what I end up doing anyway.
Can you talk us through a bit more of your actual work process?
I really love the relationship between the texture of the paint and the surface and colour. So, with the bigger pieces I like to use very heavy, thick paint. First I draw it out really simply, think about what colours will work well together and then the process is more expressive.
What’s the lifestyle of a painter like day-to-day?
It’s difficult. Obviously, you don’t just get up and think it’s time to start being an artist. Sometimes you don’t feel inspired. It’s quite hard to fit everything around my art because I’ve got to work for most of the week, find time to spend with my girlfriend and see my friends. Then a whole week has gone by and I’ve not managed to start this idea that’s been burning away. So it gets to a point where I have to think right, let’s make loads of work.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
Hopefully, I’ll still be doing my artwork, more shows, meeting more new artists and doing some foreign residencies. I’d also like to learn some new skills. I bought a tufting gun which is what they use to make tapestries and carpets, it’s a form of embroidery. You take a large hessian sack, draw your design on the back and then thread the fabric or the wool into it with the tufting gun. Hopefully I’ll get to do some large scale ones of those.