'I am journeying through what I call "Afstract Figurative" ': Damel Carayol on realism and an Afrocentric perspective

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Damel Carayol also known as 'Damel the Artist’ has coined the term ‘Afstract Figurative’ to describe his work. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)

Damel Carayol is a visual artist engaged in portraiture through the media of oil and acrylic paint. Damel was born in the Gambia but his family moved to the UK when he was nine. He seeks to deliver a better understanding of who we are as a 'oneness, encapsulated in historical account and religious doctrine - to extract Black contributions, Black exaltations, essentially from an Afrocentric perspective’. Damel - who also goes by the moniker ‘Damel the Artist’ - has coined the term ‘Afstract Figurative’ to describe his work. Here he talks to Bolanle Tajudeen, founder of educational arts platform Black Blossoms, to discuss his art.

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Bolanle Tajudeen: Where did you grow up?

Damel Carayol: I was born in The Gambia, West Africa, and I spent most of my time outside. At around five years old, I started to express myself, and I remember using the sand in my yard as my canvas. I came to live in the UK in the 70s, when I was nine.

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Damel was born in The Gambia and remembers using sand as a canvas when he was a child. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
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'I received a lot of verbal abuse [when he first went to school in the UK]. However, being good at art helped elevate me'. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)

Bolanle: What was the transition like coming to live in the UK on your artwork?

Damel: There was only one other Black boy in my school, so it was hard to adjust from being the majority to becoming a minority. At first, it wasn't the best experience. I received a lot of verbal abuse. However, being good at art helped elevate me. I became quickly known as the person who could paint and draw well. I was also academically gifted, so when I finished my work in class, I would help my classmates. I experimented with different materials. I was not fond of watercolours that much - I preferred pencil and chalk pastels. During my art A-levels, I was introduced to oil paints. I fell in love with it, and that is what I use now for my paintings.

Bolanle: Tell me more about 'Afstract Figurative' art?

Damel: Figurative art is knowing to draw clearly and directly from objects in the real world, mainly of the human form, and is essentially 'representative'. Abstract art does not seek to portray accurate depictions of visual reality - so it is not representative. With 'Afstract Figurative' I wish to abstract realism from an Afrocentric perspective by drawing on materials, shapes, colours and form that does represent African truism, and so marry the two - figurative and abstract into 'Afstract figurative'.

Bolanle: What is it about oil paints that you like?

Damel: I love the origin of oil paints. Artists have been using it for centuries. In its earliest use in art, they would get a pigment from the earth and mix it with oil to make their paint. Now we can get oil paints in the tube, it is so smooth to work with, and although the smell is intense I enjoy working with it. I like to create a layered effect and the drying time of oil paint is a very long process, so it can take a while for my artwork to be finished.

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Damel loves using oils to make his art. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
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Damel's colour palette is inspired by nature. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)

Bolanle: The texture of your paintings are incredibly eye-catching. I love your colour palette too.

Damel: Thank you. My colour palette is inspired by nature. From a young age I enjoyed going to parks, seeing the green and open spaces, and seeing flowers growing. I like feeding the ducks too; you can see the sheen on their feathers when the sun is shining. I take inspiration from the beauty of nature, and when I get back into the studio my brain starts thinking about what colours would go together and, usually, nature gives me the answer.

Bolanle: Do any personal experiences shape your artwork.

Damel: I want to say something about my life's experience rather than just creating an aesthetic painting for commercial purposes. I'm driven by injustice and wanting to frame that in my work. There is a common conception that people don't have a voice, but they do. It is just that those in power are not listening.

Bolanle: You are not only a painter, but you also do music and fashion. How do all of these creative elements intersect?

Damel: I deliberately go by the name Damel the Artist. The word ‘artist’ is usually associated with paintings. However, as you mentioned, I am a musician, and that is artistry. I combine music with my poetry. I am really into fashion, too, but there are much more aspects to being an artist; it is about the confidence you exude in your creativity.

Read more: 'The DIY haircare tricks I used highlight the painful reality that Black haircare was not a priority in Wales'

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Damel in conversation with Bolanle. As well as painting, he also enjoys making music. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
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'What I like about NFTs is that they are democratic and are taking away the physical barrier for people entering art space and collecting artworks' says Damel. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)

Bolanle: Are you looking forward to creating a non- fungible token (NFT)?

Damel: Although it is a new area for me, I am jumping straight into this new way of interacting and expressing myself. I like to frame my paintings, so they live within a specific space, whereas NFTs are more immersive, which will be interesting. I have been learning a lot on the Yahoo mentorship programme, too. What I like about NFTs is that they are democratic and are taking away the physical barrier for people entering art space and collecting artworks.

Read more: Black & Beautiful in Britain: Four Black women on beauty, business and identity

Bolanle: What is it like to be part of Disrupt Space?

Damel: It is great to have the collective. We are a voice that's unified. There are 11 artists in Disrupt Space, and we have just done a recent exhibition together in Brixton, which was well received. We need these platforms as there is power in numbers. The energy of the other artists is so loving, too. It is excellent to work with people who have so much joy to share, good stories, and beautiful work. When we come together, we bounce off each other as well. We are close like family.

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