From Violent Protests to Colorful Portraits: Koby Martin’s Powerful Digital Art
"The art must reflect the times"
Whether he’s reimagining Animal Farm as a modern civil rights struggle or painting portraits of rappers, Koby Martin’s digital art is definitely something you want to peep. As a visual artist signed to Tinie Tempah’s Disturbing London label, he’s often involved in music projects, including the cover art for Wizkid’s recent single, “Sweet Love.” That interest in music also manifests through portraits of artists like Travis Scott, Chance The Rapper, and more—all created in Photoshop using a graphic tablet. Where his work really stands out, however, is with his personal series, which explore the 28-year-old’s roots in Ghana, as well as the police brutality that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
A Nation of Sheep creates its own iconography full of police-uniform-wearing pigs, docile sheep, and overtly angry bulls. Sparked by the police-related deaths of 28-year-old Sandra Bland and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, the series was launched with the image of a pair of officers dragging off a dead and bloody partner. It continues along that gruesome path, with imagery of sheep butchers chopping up pigs, bulls killing riot police, and police taking selfies with lynched black rams. “It was just like every morning, you went to bed and you woke up and a black person is dead,” Martin tells MASS APPEAL over Skype from his home in London. “So for me, where it drew the line was the Sandra Bland mystery and how she died in jail and everything. I was venting out my frustration through the art.”
“The art must reflect the times,” he adds.
Martin’s series How It Was is much more elated in tone, drawing inspiration from actual experiences at the artist’s home in Ghana. While he now lives in London, he’s only been there a year after moving to the UK ten years ago—his first time flying anywhere. So it was a big deal to go home and visit on the occasion of his father’s death. Some of the paintings recreate actual events, like when he was in a car being chased by children; others are metaphorical, like the boy draped in bullets (which was a reference to Skepta’s lyrics on the “Ojuelegba” remix: “Dad certified the settings and my mum knows / My mind full of more bullets than your gun holds”.)
That connection to music is a constant thread throughout his work. Whether painting portraits of the artists who inspired Martin, or using certain songs as a jumping-off point, music is always present. Sounds motivates him in a literal form too, though synesthesia. Martin says he literally sees colors when he listens.
If you like Martin’s work, why not buy prints from his online store? If the piece you want isn’t posted there, you can contact him and ask for it. Unless it’s already been sold, that is. Then you’re out of luck, because he currently only sells one print of each digital creation.