At first look, it is difficult to think that the images that ArinzeStanley creates are anything but high-resolution pictures.
His preferred tool is not the camera, but a constant glance, the white earphones that stay plugged to his ears, steady hands and the charcoal and graphite pencils that he uses over painstakingly long hours to achieve the level of detail that runs through all his hyper-realistic drawings.
It becomes even more impressive when you consider that he has not enjoyed a single day of training.
23-year-old Arinze works out of the home where he lives with his parents in Lagos. His studio is a makeshift space ‘carved’ out of his office where by day, he helps his father with the family business.
Inside, along the walls, he hangs his easel where unfinished works await his attention and in another corner, four drawings that he calls the most important of his fledgling career.
“I don’t think I will ever sell these drawings”, he tells me as we stand in his studio, eyes poring over each work. “They are very special to me. I hope I never have to sell them”
The most special of these is a drawing of President Muhammadu Buhari that he made in the weeks following his election.
Arinze calls it is the most important drawing he has made yet - the one that launched his career and put his art in the spotlight.
“Many people don’t agree with his methods of leadership” he says of President Buhari. “That drawing put me in that frame of criticism too and it got a lot of people talking about me. Many people were asking why I did it, why I drew it. Basically, it put me out there”
Somehow the drawing continued to inspire conversation in the background, until it found its way to the eyes of iconic music producer and record label executive, Michael Collins Ajere, known to most as Don Jazzy.
“I had very few people that knew about me back then.” he says of that day. “I had about 500 people that followed me on IG. I was in the bathroom when I got a notification on my phone. I checked my phone and I saw a post by Don Jazzy. I figured it was probably a bug. I opened up my IG and saw he reposted my work — he reposted it to a couple of million people”
“I feel like that was where the whole vibe started from because that night alone, I got about 1500 followers”, he adds.
Like the Buhari drawing, all of Arinze’s work is deeply personal. His special collection has a drawing of his kid brother, Charles and another of Henry, Charles’s best friend.
Arinze says he created them because of his respect for the relationship that they shared, and above all, he simply wanted to preserve their chemistry on paper for the rest of time.
The fourth piece speaks to his desires, a drawing of his crush, Ghanaian actress, Juliet Ibrahim, that like all his work, manages to capture the distinct glint in the actress’ eye as well as the facial distinctions that make her one of the most recognizable faces in Nigerian film.
But as far as special women go, there is a 5th piece, an unfinished drawing of what looks like a young woman holding on to her braids, lost in thought.
While on youth service in Kaduna, Arinze chanced upon a meeting with her, a fellow artist called Chisom. In that small time that they spent together, he says he found some chemistry, so he decided to put her on paper, and immortalise that connection for as long as time will allow.
“I know I’ll never see her again”, he tells me when I ask if he’ll show her the drawing when it’s done.
“I’m never going to sell this drawing”.
The hallmark of hyper-realism, as can be seen in the work of Arinze and contemporaries like Kelvin Okafor, is precision; the attention to detail that allows the artiste to convey the most minute element of an object or individual.
Hyperrealism, in itself, is not a strict interpretation of photographs or other visual media.
Instead, it calls on auxiliary, often delicate details to re-create a personal interpretation of the subject’s truth or an illusion that is either the creation of the artist’s mind or a reality that, otherwise, would not be seen by the human eye.
What sets Arinze in his own lane is the emotive essence of his work. Every drawing is an experience that, as he calls it, is him putting his emotions on paper.
Emotive artists like this appreciate getting the visual idea across but it is not the priority. Instead, he prefers to find a connection to his subject that allows him to recreate, in strokes and shades, what he sees of that person for the viewer.
What he hopes to achieve is that those who view the drawings will see what he sees; that they will connect with his interpretation of his muse’s emotions.
There is nothing more cliche that the idea that artistes use their work as an outlet, it is how we explain the many varieties and forms of art and how artistes use their abilities.
For Arinze, the creative process is more, a release of sorts; “I feel like I can escape from this world when I’m drawing”, he tells me, without taking his eyes of the canvas for a second.
Before finding release in his hyper-realistic portraits, Arinze remembers his ‘humble beginnings’ when all his pencils could draw were stick people.
“I was about 6 years old. Back then, we were making stick drawings” he says, as he outlines the basic stick-man shape with his hands. “I remember doing that in primary school, but then I grew into realising that hands were not actually sticks”
“During my schooling days, I used to have a lot of friends that used to motivate me. I used to do assignments for my friends, when we had projects, I’d take mine and do for like 5 of my friends too. I just found it as fun. I didn’t know I was training myself”
The typical Nigerian hunt for a degree took him to Imo State University where he studied Agricultural Engineering. It was while here that he found hyper-realism and began to treat his art as a career.
“I started taking my drawing as a full career in 2012 after I met a couple of artists on social media that really gave me that push to start drawings and take it seriously”, he continues.
“I have always had the urge to learn how to make drawings that look relaistic. Sometimes when my friends drew round heads, I found myself adding hair to it", he remembers.
"Over the years, I did not know that it was possible that looked real until I discovered hyper-realism as a movement of art. I decided to dive into it, I got all the things I needed, I followed a lot of footsteps, I practised a lot of new techniques - I’m still learning”
The influence of his mentors is clear in his work, but what inspires his urge to create these hyper-real drawings is something more personal, it is his connection to a world where he is completely free, unhindered and in total control.
The building blocks of that world are all Arinze's but what smoothens the edges are the emotions that give each drawing a unique personality, and that is what he wants his viewers to see.
“I feel like whenever I touch my pencils and my paper, I just snap out of this planet and go into it.” he says when I ask why he draws. “When I snap, I find myself saying things and being a person I can’t be with my normal self. I feel like that’s best way to express myself, lose touch of reality and build that world for myself in my little space”.
In the real world, Arinze splits his time between two roles. During the day, he works with his dad, and when night falls, he becomes the artist.
It is tasking work, so much that on week days, he only manages to make time for a few hours for sleep.
“My average day is not like the regular person’s day. We wake up by 5 in the morning and say our prayers till around 7. I get ready for work and resume by 8 in the morning”, he tells me midway into our interview.
From 8 in the morning, his daily activity involves managing the family-owned firm that produces and sells envelopes, alongside his father. The factory is in the same compound as the family home, so for Arinze, work is never really far away.
“I work till 5, 6 in the evening. Then I go to my second office, that’s my studio”, he chuckles, “I start working till about 3 in the morning. I sleep, and wake up at 5. Apart from Saturdays and Sundays, that’s how every day goes for me”
Finding balance with such a routine can feel like juggling dumbbells, especially where your chosen endeavour requires emphasis on detail, technical prowess that can take years to build, and time, a lot of time.
Arinze spends between 300–500 hours on a single drawing. For context, if he was an artist-employee at a firm or gallery, that would be about two months of work by the standard of regular work hours.
For every true creative, writer, musician, dancer or painter, heaven is the place where all they have to do is create art in their preferred medium.
They hope, in the most precious parts of their ambitious minds, for that day when they no longer have to worry about extraneous obligations.
And Arinze is entitled to those dreams.
But for now, he understands his reality, draws inspiration from it and finds his balance between responsibility and his art by sheer will and effort — and it works for him, as it has for years.
His mother, Mrs Ifeoma Lucy Egbe, has watched him grow over the years, from stick figures to portraits of former dictators.
She believes that her son’s gift is God-given and it is that grace, along with his own tenacity, that has helped to find success at both ends of the spectrum.
“Drawing is inborn in him. He started it as something he had a passion for but I didn’t know it would generate this level that he’s at now”, she tells me outside the family’s factory. “It’s just been by having set goals and knowing where’s headed, and I believe by being focused, trusting in God, the sky is his limit”
It helps that Arinze sees his work ethic as a major driving force behind the quality of his drawings. For someone who is mostly self-taught, it makes sense that he appreciates the long hours.
But that hunger can so easily be lost when the accolades come in and work-in-progress begins to resemble the finshed article.
So he keeps himself grounded by looking to the future.
His dreams are big, for himself and for other Nigerian artists, hyper-real and otherwise.
It is a function of the attention and success he has gathered in the last few months, coupled with the understanding that his art is universal and the emotions that he depicts in these vivid drawings speak no distinct language.
“Being a young artist in Nigeria is actually challenging because you naturally find yourself trying to find balance between making money and making your art… and you have to choose”, he says.
“Many people go into art then realise they’re not making money so they say, I probably have to get out of it for a while and come back later. All this without focusing on building themselves”
“I feel like you need to grow to appreciate as an artiste. Its something that requires patience, practice and persistence. I’ve been working with these rules so I just remove distractions, I’m still learning. I’m always learning. If young artistes can focus on that, we’ll all grow”, he adds.
When that growth comes, he’s sure that the shores of this country will cease to be limitations.
“In a couple of years, I see myself going out of the country” he tells me with a big laugh that makes you feel like he’s left already. “I’ll be exhibiting in France, in London, the United States, in many prestigious places. By the grace of God, we go global”, he continues.
Considering that Arinze has such a clear idea of the future, he appears almost precise to the extent of being infallible.
There are no half-done or abandoned drawings in his studio. But like us mortals, the errors exist; he has things he wishes he could change or do better at least.
When our conversation was all said and done, I asked him what he would say if he met a younger version of himself, the person he was just before he began to find hyperrealism.
“I’d tell him to not stop what he’s doing. You’re going to face so many things in the future. There are times where you won’t sleep. But don’t stop. Keep going”, he says to this imaginary 15-year old person.
Simple words but a very clear message.
For a man who has come this far over time to recreate the most complex details of reality on paper, it’s very good advice.