Award-winning pencil artist Kelvin Okafor has sent a message of ‘Stay Awake!’ to the public during the coronavirus pandemic through his salute to pop-R&B icon Prince

Today marks four years since Prince passed away, and for his latest piece, Tottenham-born Okafor takes an original picture that shows the singer with his eyes closed and adds a fresh pair of eyes to the image to send a message of hope but also one of being alert to what’s going on around us currently.

The portrait took Okafor nearly 600 hours to complete, which was broken down into 300 hours worth of research (browsing through thousands of images and videos of Prince) and almost 300 hours worth of drawing.

Speaking with Complex over email, Okafor said: “I connected so deeply on a spiritually level with Prince that I ended up doing something rather special, something I wasn’t aware I was capable of. With thousands of reference images and video footages studied for hundreds of hours over the past year, I felt it was enough to attempt to open up the eyes of Prince without any photographic reference at hand whilst drawing. During the whole process, there was an intangible presence I felt surrounding me, almost as if Prince was right there with me, guiding me along the way.” 

prince drawing
Image via Kelvin Okafor

He added: “My original intention was to strongly reference the beautiful photograph that the late, legendary photographer Herb Ritts took of Prince with his eyes closed. I was planning on having an exhibition this year where I would have included a drawing of Prince to accompany a few of the drawings from my previous series of portraits entitled ‘Interludes’. I started drawing Prince around this time last year but, for some reason, I struggled and procrastinated for several months. Fortunately, I managed to resume the drawing in February this year but only to discover that the world as we knew it was going through some kind of pandemic. I managed to get through drawing most of Prince’s hair but faced another creative block, which hindered me drawing for a couple of weeks. After a very vivid dream I had about him, I called up my cousin, who’s a managing part of my team, and told him that I was going to open up Prince’s eyes in the piece, to which he strongly encouraged. As a subconscious response to the current events most of us are facing on earth, I felt inspired to open up Prince’s eyes to highlight a state of alert presence; to be in the now, and to be fully aware of our surroundings.”

Other recent work from Okafor includes pieces on top fashion models Winnie Harlow and Naomi Campbell, as well as legendary musician John Lennon and one of Britain’s first black MPs, Bernie Grant—a piece that was commissioned by the House Of Commons, the very first of its kind. 

For more of Kelvin Okafor’s work, head here.