Creative Lives — Artist NOIAMREISS on celebrating Afro hair, creating fantasy salons and the power of representation
Pretty early on in his career, NOIAMREISS knew that he was captivated by the art of Afro hairdressing. From cornrows to braids, the young artist has centred his body of work around this interest. By exhibiting a multitude of styles, NOIAMREISS’ work explores the vast nature of patterns and shapes, while empowering the Black community that resides within and around it. Back in 2018, NOIAMREISS was given his big break when he was asked to do a residency at The White Pube, for which he created a digital futuristic hair salon catering to Black womxn and non-binary folk. This particular project helped NOIAMREISS find his niche and capture the attention of the creative industry. We speak to him about his journey so far, the power of representation and how to ensure you’re not undervaluing and selling yourself short as an artist.
The White Pube, ASOS, Nike, Tate, Converse, Schuh, Know Wave, Pxssy Palace, Photoworks
Intern, Atomica, Gallery
Bakery Team Member, Wholefoods Market
Retail Assistant, Cass Art
Foundation and BA Illustration, Camberwell College of Arts (2014–2017)
How would you describe what you do?
I am an artist that paints, illustrates and animates. My art tends to be heavily rooted in Black culture. I am most influenced by the relationship between music, hair and fashion. I live by my lightbox – it helps translate my physical drawings into the digital space. I do all of my editing and animations on Photoshop. It really has been a godsend for me, particularly when colouring my work. I recently began re-learning how to use Photoshop along with After Effects to push my ideas and themes. It’s kind of mad that I only just discovered clipping masks [a group of layers to which a mask is applied] this year. I’m a bit rattled that no one told me about them!
In 2018, I did an online residency with The White Pube where I created a futuristic hair salon called Palms Beauty. It was the beginning of something pretty iconic for me. It helped me find my style. For the residency, I did a collection of drawings and animations with anecdotes about getting your hair done, provided by Black womxn and non-binary folk. I even made a soundtrack, which I mixed each week and posted on Soundcloud.
After the residency, I was like: okay, Palms Beauty needs to stay alive. So I produced and hosted a podcast for Know Wave which allowed me to hold space for creatives to talk about their hair. I made it seem like we were all having a small kiki [social gathering] in a salon with the added sound effects like hair snips and people entering the hairdressers. It was such a fun experience and it was great to share it with my friends.
What are the main influences and inspirations for your work?
Afro hairstyles! I like to portray empowerment, intimacy and boldness within my work. When drawing cornrows and braids, I make a conscious effort to highlight the art of protective styles, for instance the level of patience and precision needed to complete a section of hair. Protective hairstyles have been around for centuries; it creates a bond between the two people or even the group of people carrying out the task. This connection is what I explore through my use of patterns and shapes. Since I’ve grown out my hair, my sister has been snatching my scalp with her talent, and has inspired one of my favourite pieces called Braidology, where a congregation is formed in rows just like cornrows.
A game I was fond of as a young child was called Orly’s Draw-A-Story, gifted to me by my mum’s friend. It was about a carefree Black girl who lived in Jamaica and went on adventures with her talking frog. You had to draw characters (using a mouse) and it jumped off the page and became an animated object within the story. It really sparked my imagination and interest in storytelling.
I’m also always inspired by ’90s music videos. They’e still incredibly relevant and you can see some references to them in my work. One of my favourite videos is No Scrubs by TLC directed by Hype Williams. I just love the camera angles and the matching outfits. Music really guides me through my work.
‘Palms Beauty’ for The White Pube (2018)
The last few months have seen incredible change across the globe; would you say this has changed the way you work, or how you see yourself moving forward with your work?
I’m used to working with a minimal amount of resources and in limited spaces. Lockdown has actually made me focus more on creating work, because I’m always at home.
Police brutality and institutional racism is not just an American problem. It is very much alive here in the UK. The injustices faced by Black people is now at the forefront. Waking up and seeing a video of another Black person being killed is incredibly distressing. Industries are now realising that there is a diversity issue within their institutions. We need to see more representation, we need to be paid and credited fairly, and we need to tear down institutional racism, just like that dutty statue in Bristol.
The next step in my career is to stay consistent and keep driving the momentum I have right now. I want to produce more limited prints, and also finish an animated short I’m working on called Braidology. I’ve opened a Patreon for those that would like to support my work.
What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year?
I think it would be the first Braidology Visualiser I did on my Instagram. I wanted to make an IGTV video version of my work. It was made to obtain a higher self. Each row of people appeared out of the darkness to the sound of Himalayan singing bowls. The sound really un-muddles my brain in times of need. I also have to mention a piece called Gossip Calypso which I really enjoyed working on.
‘Braidology 20.20’, personal work (2020)
‘Braidology 20.20’, personal work (2020)
‘Braidology 20.20’, personal work (2020)
How I Got Here
Do you feel going to university was important to your development?
University was the most intense three years of my life. It was full of doubts, self-discovery and all-nighters. I made some lifelong friendships there, as well as out on the streets networking at clubs and galleries. I had to do it all.
It made me resilient, as I had to work as well as study to financially survive. The move from Birmingham to London was a massive culture shock for me. I had to gain inner-confidence and believe in my practice to work on my development as an artist.
“The move from Birmingham to London was a massive culture shock for me. I had to gain inner-confidence and believe in my practice to work on my development as an artist.”
What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
It was trial and error – mostly errors! I was fresh out of university, and because of this, some people took advantage of that. There was immense pressure to have everything ready and set up the minute I graduated. Since then I’ve learned that everyone is still just figuring things out, so I’ve tried not to worry as much. I’ve faced a lot of closed doors, and still do. My mum says when one door closes another one opens – and she’s right.
Gradually, I learned to not say yes to everything – because burnout is very much real. Initially, when I left university, there was no real steady stream of work and it wasn’t until Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad from The White Pube, who I adore, gave me their platform to showcase Palms Beauty that I began garnering some interest. One of my friends and fellow artist, Joy Yamusangie, saw this project and from then on included me in many collaborations. I think it is definitely good to surround yourself with people who want to see you do your best and succeed.
Do you feel your upbringing had an influence on your choice in career?
I was born into a creative household – my family comes from the Caribbean, so music and art has always played a big part in my life. My dad had pirate radio stations on in his car, and my mum had such a rich collection of albums and cassettes. My family have always supported me in doing whatever brings me joy, and art has always made me feel good. I drew at every opportunity, in various sketchbooks and on Microsoft paint. I created portraits of my family and drew cartoons whilst crafting handmade comics on shows like Totally Spies and Teen Titans.
I love gaming as well. The Sims and Tomb Raider have always been my favourites. I’ve always dreamed of making my own game. I was really into games where you could create your own world.
Are there any resources or platforms you’ve found particularly useful to your work or career?
In regards to anything Adobe, YouTube is a great resource that helps me when my brain is just not working. Instagram is a really good place where I can save images in groups, with the save tab feature. I usually convert all the images I find into Adobe Bridge and create PDFs of the images with its source attached. Spotify playlists also feed into the work I make. I’ve been reading i-D Rihannazine over and over again. It’s really set the tone for the year. The cover alone has been a source of inspiration.
‘Green Sea’, personal work (2020)
‘They Pull The Strings’, personal work (2020)
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
I am the artist, but I also have to take on other roles to support my art. It’s not just about creating the work and boom it’s done. There’s so much more I have to consider when making things; like how long it will take, the time I need to upload a post, editing multiple versions of work and how I will present them. In theory, you turn into a press officer, a social media manager, an accountant, a website designer and so much more. It’s a lot, but it gets done.
How important have you found social media and self-promotion in your work?
Starting out, it can be very daunting to share your work. Either everyone will see it and have an opinion on it, or it will literally be crickets and you don’t get the engagement you were hoping for. I’ve been sharing my art online since I was a child. I’m used to the ups and downs of posting work that is either a hit or miss. You have to value your work before anyone else can. It’s a big plus if there are people out there that look forward to seeing my work.
‘Zebra Awaken’, personal work (2020)
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
As a self-employed artist, my pay is not consistent. I’m learning it’s important to have multiple sources of income. If you are approached to do work, always ask for their budget before you offer a price. It’s important you don’t undervalue your worth and sell yourself short.
Words of Wisdom
At such a time of global change, do you have any thoughts on how creatives can work together to create impact?
Firstly, at a time like this, it is important to champion and amplify QTBIPOC creatives. Support them. This can literally be buying a print or sticker that they may have recently released. Finally, listen, learn and share resources that will educate people on issues disproportionately affecting marginalised communities.
Lastly, what advice would you give your younger self when you were just starting out?
You’ve got it, you’ve always had it.