Have a seat in the lobby alcove of Viacom’s Times Square headquarters, and you may get the feeling you’re being watched. There, arrayed along the high east and west walls, sit a series of painted faces rendered in striking metallic palettes. They seem to nudge through the canvas, as though a serene and curious person were trying to push through the wall. You can sit and look at them a good long while, absorbing the detailed reflections in the metallic sheen, the gentle wisdom in the quiet eyes, the immense depth etched with shading precise and detailed. The effect is something at once surreal and magnificently lifelike, so that you wouldn’t be terribly surprised if one of the faces struck up a conversation.
The oil paintings are the work of Kip Omolade, the final product of an artistic process he has dubbed “Diovadiova Chrome,” a Greco-Italian combination of “god” and “goddess.” He begins with a plaster imprint of a subject’s face, which he finishes with the various hues of paint. Working off this three-dimensional original, Omolade recreates the face in painted form, sometimes many times across many canvases, each flushed with different colors and shading. When he arranges these variations alongside one another, as he has done with a self-portrait along the east wall of 1515 Broadway, the result is an arresting tryptic that underscores how wildly a viewer’s understanding can swing according to an artist’s interpretation of a work.
This video stamps out the Diovadiova Chrome creative process, which can take months:
Omalade’s work is the latest in a multi-year Art at Viacom project, which has included work by geometric wunderkind Tahiti Pehrson, a cartoon-set-come-to-life encampment constructed by Australian duo Dabs Myla, a mammoth swirling sculpture erupting from our lobby walls by Crystal Wagner, a synthetic variegated meadow of yarn funneling above our elevator banks by street-art legend HOTTEA, and a massive ceiling-dangling floral display from artist Rebecca Louise Law.
The artist and his wife traveled into the city from New Jersey on a recent Thursday evening to discuss the installation with employees. I sat down with them in the Refresh Café an hour before the event. As day tilted toward evening and the volume of the music steadily increased around us, we talked a bit about the creation of this exhibit, what Omolade may be doing next, and how New York inspires him.
Stuart Winchester: There are a lot of people represented in these paintings. Who are they?
Kip Omolade: So it’s my wife, Diana; Joyce, my sister-in-law; Michelle, who’s a friend of ours; DJ Kitty Cash; and Karen, who was one of our first pieces that I did that gained a lot of attention. There’s something about her face that people connected with. Fantasia’s The Definition Of… album cover is actually a version of that piece. It was Photoshopped to look more like Fantasia. I focused first on people that I loved, either my wife, or my sister-in-law, or friends that I know, and from then, people like Kitty Cash reached out, and I guess saw the process online, and we just went from there.