Live painting, also known as performance painting, is Isaac Chukwu's signature style. Photo: Isaac Chukwu 

By Pauline Odhiambo

Painting before a live audience is a skill Isaac Chukwu has perfected over time, curving a crucial niche for himself in the art world by painting his subjects ‘upside down’.

Live painting, also known as performance painting, has certainly elevated Chukwu’s artistry – he has broken out of the traditional studio setup to paint within a limited time frame at various events in Ghana.

“Upside down method is basically just painting a subject in reverse, I start by painting the torso then gradually move to the head, “the Ghanaian-Nigerian artist tells TRT Afrika.

“The shortest time I have taken to complete such a portrait is about 2 minutes. That’s the same time frame I painted (Ghanaian rapper) Sarkodie’s album cover during a concert in 2018.”

That painting was shortly afterwards bought by Hollywood actor Idris Elba who had attended the concert in the capital Accra.

Chukwu has since painted several West African musicians including Shatta Wale, Stonebwoy and Nigerian record producer Don Jazzy among other stars.

He once painted up to nine portraits back-to-back during an awards ceremony – the portraits were then presented accordingly to all the winners named at the event.

“I’ve also painted the Vice-President (Mahamadu Bawumia) at a dinner ceremony held in his honour. His portrait was ready for presentation by the end of the meal,” he says.

Childhood hobby

Chukwu credits his knowhow of upside down painting to regularly watching other painters on a popular talent show broadcast worldwide in multiple countries. He also picked up more tips on the skill by watching a fellow Ghanaian painter at work.

The 26-year old has done up to 300 professional paintings according to his estimates, many of them portraits of key celebrants at birthdays and anniversary parties which make a huge chunk of his client base.

As the celebrations go on, Chukwu – whose easel is often positioned center-stage or off to the side where audiences can watch his canvas come alive – paints with seeming ease. His confident brush strokes however belie his many years of training starting from childhood.

“I was never the strongest student academically but my classmates would often beg me to draw in their notebooks some of the diagrams in our science lessons,” he recalls.

“At that point, I thought art was just a childhood hobby. It wasn’t something I took seriously.”

Chukwu’s mother, a teacher at his school, would encourage him to put more effort in his academics but playing volleyball or football and doing other extracurricular activities held more appeal.

It took a medical emergency in 2012 for Chukwu to finally take his art seriously.

“My father had a stroke and that was the wakeup call I needed because it became very real to me how, as the first-born, I had to step into the role of provider for my mum and three siblings.”

Hollywood actor Idris Elba bought a painting by Chukwu in 2018. Photo: Isaac Chukwu


Being a scout cadet and drummer in the school marching band made him contemplate joining the army after high school but the harsh conditions of military training saw him quickly abandon the idea.

His next option was to play sports at a professional level but, with encouragement from his arts teachers, Chukwu decided to give art a real go.

“I put all my effort into art and worked as an apprentice for a long while after high school before finally studying commercial art,” he says. “I actually started doing live painting in church as way of honoring visiting pastors. I’d often match my painting pace to the choir session so that by the time they were done singing, the painting would be ready for presentation.”

Chukwu gradually grew his art business with the help of the congregation who began approaching him to perform at birthdays and anniversaries.

“The church was my comfort zone because I was often give me more time to perfect the paintings after the sermon,” says Chukwu who has been a painting professional for eight years.

“Live painting at other events transformed my art by helping me learn how to perfect my skill and elevate my performance with letter cutout paintings.”

Letter cutout is a form of painting based on words, quotes or initials that are motivational or inspirational. Chukwu tapes these cutouts on canvas then paints over or around them to complete the artwork.

“I sometimes do letter cutouts in studio and record myself painting so that the client can show the whole process at their event,” says the self-taught videographer and content producer who sometimes swaps letter cutouts for numbers or jigsaw slides.

“Most of the video sessions I post on my social media are actually self-recorded using my phone camera.”

Blindfold painting

Chukwu also works as a production manager at an art gallery in Accra – a job he has held for four years and to which he credits his growing level of skill.

“Installing and exhibiting artwork for different artist across Africa has shaped how I view my own art, and that has to some extent influenced my content creation process, he states.”

He has incorporated painting blindfolded into his live performance but says it is a skill he still needs time to perfect.

Chukwu also enjoys collaborations with poets, spoken word artist, saxophonists and other artists – illustrating their art and other concepts of their performance.

“I am currently working with a magician to see what kind of show we can put out to audiences who appreciate both art and magic,” he tells TRT Afrika. “It’s always beautiful seeing how different audiences react to art in its various forms.”

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TRT Afrika