The Way I Work... Joy Labinjo
The acclaimed artist speaks to journalist Marie-Claire Chappet about everything in her working life, from her studio soundtrack to her daily inspirations
London-born, of Nigerian heritage, 28-year-old Joy Labinjo is one of the most celebrated rising stars on the British art scene. Her often-large-scale paintings with abstract influences and use of bold colours overflow with storytelling, frequently using family photographs as source material, foregrounding narratives around Blackness and identity, power, and community. She has exhibited widely, from London to Lagos. Since November 2021, her first ever large-scale public art piece 5 More Minutes – portraying an Afro-Caribbean hair salon – has been on display at Brixton Underground station in London.
She tells Service95 what her working day is made of…
On her routine… I always wake up at 5.45am and go to the gym. That sounds early but I need it to be because I dilly-dally so much! I have a coffee in bed, leave an hour for the workout, have a slow breakfast, and don’t get to my studio in north London until 8am. On a busy day, I tend to leave at 8pm, but I work in ebbs and flows. When I was at university, the artist Dexter Dalwood came to speak to my class and he said, “put the weird hours in”. That’s always stayed with me. The morning and evening are when I am the most productive but if I’m really feeling it, I will stay late for those ‘weird hours’.
On listening habits… I always have something playing when I’m working. I have Confessions by Sudan Archives, Prickly Pear by Portico Quartet and Wildfires and Little Boy by Sault on repeat, which almost feels like meditation. Those ones have stuck over the past few years. I can’t quite describe why… it’s just a feeling. I also sometimes listen to podcasts. My favourite is Gilmore Guys, a hilarious one about Gilmore Girls, which I love. I don’t get a lot of work done when I put that on!
On finding inspiration everywhere… I think creative people are like sponges who get inspired by so much. I’ve found titles for my paintings in the comments section on Instagram. I resolved an issue with an artwork when I saw a clown in an episode of Gilmore Girls… I find stuff in the weirdest places.
On fashion and beauty… I wear loose T-shirts and men’s cargo trousers every day in the studio. I like them because they’ve got lots of pockets to hold my brushes, and as I like to wipe the paint on my legs, with those trousers it doesn’t go through to my skin. When I’m not painting, I like a tailored silhouette; I love Cos, &Other Stories and Ganni. I like how fashion can help you feel like a different person each time you change your look. What I don’t change is my signature scent: Narciso Rodriguez’s For Her.
On travel… I have made a vow to travel more. In 2020, I was lucky enough to be working in Athens for six weeks. I had friends visit and stay with me and we would hop off to the islands. I would paint all day and have dinner with them late at night. It made me realise I want to live like that more. It was such a magical time. Next up, I am going to Mauritius, which I am so excited about, and Paris, where I haven’t been since I was a teenager. I can’t wait to go to all the galleries.
On fellow creatives… I admire any artist who has had a long career, such as Alice Neel, Lubaina Himid and Claudette Johnson. To keep working for over 40 years and still have something to say… I wish for a career like that! I have two Claudette Johnson prints that are my prized possessions. I have never put them up, but I just bought a house and am so excited to finally hang them.
On her fascination with houses… I love @themodernhouse on Instagram and have always been obsessed with houses. If I wasn’t an artist, I would want to be an estate agent. You get to look at people’s houses all day!
Marie-Claire Chappet is a London-based arts and culture journalist and contributing editor at Harper’s Bazaar