Courtesy of Oso Ifesinachukwu

This weekend, Oso Ifesinachukwu ‘23 is taking the field at the Yale-Harvard football game as a defensive end. When not playing on the football field, Ifesinachukwu is an artist. With the warmth of a big brother and charcoal as his medium, he aims to inspire people to “talk about things that are uncomfortable.”

As a senior in high school, Ifesinachukwu was inspired to take up drawing. He learned to draw almost entirely on his own. He has shared his artwork on the Instagram page @doodleswithoso. His initial drawings were portraits of his favorite figures, but he soon began using his art to think through what bothers and what matters to him — his pieces range in focus from poverty in the Nigerian Civil War to confrontations of race in modern-day America to abstractions of Biblical figures. Ifesinachukwu primarily creates black and white sketches. He said it “make things a lot more dramatic when the brain only has to process darkness and light, not different colors and shades.” 

On the team, Ifesinachukwu is “a leader who young and older guys look to,” “a bright spot,” and “loving on and off the field,” according to his friend and teammate Melvin Rouse ’22. Still, his art impresses on a different level.

“His art amazes me because he himself is a fun guy, but his art speaks to his [and others’] pain and emotions,” Rouse said. “It’s special how he can channel all those feelings through a pen and paper.” 

One week before the Yale-Harvard game, Ifesinachukwu sat down with me to discuss his artistic practice and its connection to football.

Q: Could you tell me about your background?

A: I’m first-generation and my parents were born in Nigeria. I was born in Lubbock, Texas, and then moved to Austin when I was nine or so. I spent pretty much my whole life in Austin. 

Q: What is your creative process like? 

A: Unfortunately because of football and school, I don’t have a lot of time to draw during the school year. Usually in winter and summer breaks, I have time to draw. Between [the breaks] I usually write down notes of what I think of drawing. I have very brief notes trying to describe what I’m seeing in my head, and usually I’ll come up with an idea that’s bothering me or an emotion I’m feeling and then try to represent that as an image. Thinking of an idea and then turning it into an image helps me be more clear with what emotion is in my head instead of going for an image and then thinking of how an idea or feeling can work with it.

Q: How do you decide your objects and themes?

A: I think it’s just observing — a lot of the [works] that aren’t personally about me come from observing my environment. Especially the one that is about a Black woman — seeing things happening to my mom, my sister or people that I really care about compels me to do something about it. I feel like drawing is just a way to express what I feel is important or express what I [myself] am feeling. Then the ones that are more personal — it’s usually just any mental health stuff that I’m going through that I feel more comfortable drawing. I feel like drawing is going to become a source of therapy for me.

“Erasure” by Oso Ifesinachukwu, graphite and charcoal.

On @doodleswithoso, the caption reads: “In light of so many issues to which I was previously ignorant, I wanted to make a piece for black women. I know that I can never fully understand what issues any demographic apart from my own faces, but I can offer my empathy and support. … Blackness, and especially for black women, is only seen as acceptable when it conforms. Black women’s hair is only seen as professional when it is straightened or cut short. Black women’s voices are only heard when they talk how people want them to talk. Stay yourself. You are beautiful”

Q: What message do you want to convey to an audience through your art?

A: I want people to feel comfortable talking about things that are uncomfortable. [For example], mental health is a very sensitive topic — it’s something that a lot of people want to hide inside themselves and not talk to anybody about. I want my art to serve as [something that] somebody can see and take comfort in, knowing that somebody else is going through the same thing and they don’t have to feel alone in whatever they’re going through.

Q: Can you choose your favorite piece and talk about it in detail?

A: My second-to-last drawing. That was the first drawing I used the least amount of reference for, so it was a big step creatively for me. It was about depression and mental health — I looked to the Bible and thought about the story of David and Goliath. I always felt that the Bible is to be taken metaphorically rather than literally. When I think about the story of David and Goliath, I think about somebody conquering a task that seems greater than themselves. I find that the figure of David is so interesting because he’s made out to be an incredible figure with incredible strength, but I look at it through the lens of a personal battle. It’s more like David overcoming a mental health struggle — something personal rather than external. That’s what I try to represent by the eye inside of the statue: feeling that they have to show that they are okay on the outside or show that they are some perfect figure like David was, while in reality they are struggling on the inside.

“David and Goliath” by Oso Ifesinachukwu, Graphite and Charcoal, 11×14

Q: Could you tell me what your art means to you? 

A: Whenever I have something on my mind, something that’s letting me down, knowing that I can just sit by myself for however many hours it takes, I just work on something. Then I have a bit of the manifestation of whatever I was going through, and have something positive come out of that. That’s what I eventually want to get out of it — [art is] important to me because it becomes so therapeutic. Eventually [art can help] other people when they’re going through similar things or different things.

Q: Does your art have any connections to football? 

A: Surprisingly, there is: art, especially the type of drawings that I make, takes a very long time. I start from the corner and then slowly work my way up. The last drawing that I did was three feet by four feet. It took around 300 hours — I started it this May and finished this August. The hardest thing to do in anything is taking the first step. Drawing something where that first step is extremely small, seeing how much work it takes and the fact it will get completed helps my mentality in football. I work all year-round for 10 games a year, and knowing that the little bit of work I put in after the season will pay off however many months later is directly the same as drawing. My work is going to pay off in the long run, so hoping to see the big picture draws a line to football.

Q: What are you going to do in the future with art?

A: I have a list on my phone of what I want to draw, but it’s painful that I don’t have enough time to draw them all. I have to pick and choose which ones I can draw. I always want to keep [art] a hobby because it’s been a source of peace and comfort; I don’t want to make it my main job. I seriously want to sell my work for charity so [my art can] be a source of absolute peace for me — but also a source of good in the aspect of somebody having a positive reaction or emotional catharsis from it, while also being monetarily helpful to other people. 

This interview was lightly edited for clarity and flow.

TAMAKI KUNO