Art Battle: Yared Nigussu – Artist & Champion

I think I was born to be a painter. I don’t know if I chose it but maybe art chose me. It is above me, beyond what I am. It’s like eating, drinking –  so I need to paint.

From crowded arenas to the solace of his studio, artist and 2-time National Art Battle Champion, Yared Nigussu connects with the world around him through his highly expressive paintings. He engages viewers with his upbeat energy, genuine personality, and fast–paced painting style, which has elevated this rising star throughout the Canadian visual art community.

We joined Yared in his studio to discuss what motivates his art, the rush he experiences when competing in Art Battle, and of course, to capture just how he creates a painting in 20 minutes. The result is a visually stunning portrait and a inspiring look into this creative mind.

Watch Art Battle: Yared Nigussu – Artist & Champion above and read the full exclusive interview to dive deeper into his inspiration, energetic process, and how the contrast between studio work and art-making as performance play out.

Also, don’t miss your chance to see Yared and tons of other amazing Canadian artists compete in this year’s National Art Battle Championship. Tickets and full details can be found at

Yared Nigussu: Artist and Champion

Life as an Artist

Please introduce yourself and the artwork you create.

My name is Yared Nigussu and I am originally from Ethiopia. I grew up in Addis Ababa, where I studied before moving to France, and now Vancouver. I paint huge sized portraits and cityscapes using oil and acrylics. Sometimes I do multimedia stuff; I don’t really limit myself with the medium.

What inspires your artwork and how do you find this inspiration?

Just about everything and anything, but especially portraits. I don’t know why but I really love seeing people and the idea of letting unknown people into my studio, my life and my art.

I usually wake up in the morning, go to the café, and just try to be inspired by something new. It could be random people from a magazine, t.v, or people that are working or just passing by. I sketch whatever it is and bring it to my studio to create a piece of art from. That is my routine, my day – to – day activity.

How did you become a full-time Artist? Were there any contributing factors that helped you continue your art career?

When I first arrived in Canada, I started working in order to understand the way of life here. I had to accept what ever I could find and the only job I found was in retail. This job was draining away all of my inspiration, and at the end of the day I only wanted to go home and be on the couch. Not much energy to paint.

One day I heard about this beautiful place in Yaletown called Raw Canvas, which is a place where you can enjoy your wine and cheese, all while you paint. I decided to go try the wine and I was just sketching when I saw a man organizing the paint pit and filling the jars with paints. His name was Steve and when I saw him doing this all by himself and I decided to give him a hand. I think he was a little bit surprised that I was willing to get dirty with paint. As we talked, he got curious about my work and what I was doing for a living. I told him about my retail job and that I was just waiting for the opportunity to be a full-time artist. A few days later he offered me a part-time job working as an artist in residence for his clients.

I was happy to be an artist in residence to his business. Throughout our conversations and my time there, he knew that I was not happy with my day job. So Steve approached me and said, “Look Yared, I will buy all of these paintings but I can’t pay for it all right now. I’ll take the paintings and you will get $1000 every month from me.” In that instant, he made my dreams come true and his genuine way of helping an artist made me who I am today. I have so much respect for this man!

Do you ever experience creative blocks?

There are days that I feel really blocked and whatever I do is not satisfactory. When that happens I just feel that today I don’t have the inspiration. I don’t want to paint for the sake of doing it and having to push too hard.

Sometimes I go to galleries, watch others artist work, or read a book that that might inspire me. Just make sure that you continue your art and the inspiration will come by itself.

For me, you should not have to push art – creation should just flow. It’s not everyday that you are going to paint; there are days that you will be blocked and you just have to let it go.

Why do you create?

I think I was born to be a painter. I don’t know if I chose it but maybe art chose me. It is above me, beyond what I am. It’s like eating, drinking –  so I need to paint.

Life as Art Battle National Champion

What was it like to paint competitively for the first time?

My first experience at Art Battle was very interesting. I really got scared, I was nervous; I didn’t know if I was going to be able to complete a painting in 20 minutes and what it would look like. But it was a good opportunity for me to feel that feeling because I never had that type of experience before.

How does your process in the studio compare to painting in front of a live audience at Art Battle?

In my studio I need to think a lot and I take my time. I stand at a distance to see what it looks like, because I can already imagine how the piece of art should be. It’s all about digging and digging to find the image of what you have in mind.

But in Art Battle it’s more about being spontaneous. You just give it, you just throw it in and see because it’s all about discovering the piece of art with the audience. I don’t even know what it’s going to look like – every time it’s just different, every time it’s new.

Most of the time the painting turns out pretty good when you are not thinking and just being fluid. I really enjoy having both of these feelings – outside and inside the studio.

What is it like to paint in front of an audience?

I get a lot of energy from the audience, but it can be very challenging because there is a feeling of judgment. In my studio I am the only judge and I can talk to my art and myself.

However, during Art Battle I am aware of the crowd that surrounds me. I just have to keep in mind that I am entertaining them and all the while keep myself concentrated. I don’t really stress out that this needs to look like that. I just try to flow, be spontaneous and in the process.

What was it like to win the National Championship?

The feeling was really great because it’s about loving each other. Since my very first Art Battle in Vancouver, I’ve won every time I’ve competed. I’ve won the National Championship two years now and I’ll be going to the Nationals for a third time this year. Hopefully I can keep that going.

What is it like competing against other artists?

Competing against each other creates some sort of bond. We all become friends and for a while there I didn’t have many artist friends. There are just so many fantastic talents that participate in Art Battle that I try not be in a competitive mindset. Having fun is the core idea of Art Battle and the core feeling of me. This way I am keeping my connection with others and I don’t concern myself with what the artists are doing.

I just stay in the moment, have fun and paint – that’s it.

What does Art Battle do for artists and the visual arts community?

Art Battle creates some really interesting events that cultivate the painting community. It creates a great opportunity to get your name out there and it introduces new artists to the community by giving out the information on the artists who compete. The community then starts learning about who is an artist around them.

There are a lot of joyful moments; I think people should just come for the love of painting and for the love of art. It’s not just a competition, it’s all about being together and having fun. •

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