‘I spent lockdown with my brother in Hoxton because my mother who turned 70 this year was at risk from Covid’ says King Owusu the model, poet and illustrator. Owusu, who is in the final year of a degree in graphic design at Central Saint Martins, drew inspiration from his mother and the Greek legend of Persephone to create a ceramic sculpture and poem for the Jo Malone London Spring Artist Series. ‘When I was away, I thought about her a lot, and it inspired me to write a poem and create art about the idea of growing up,’ he says.
In Greek mythology, Persephone is the spring goddess and queen of the underworld, who like nature shoots forth in the spring and withdraws into the earth after harvest. ‘It’s about how we move in between seasons,’ explains Owusu. ‘And understanding that the nature of the world is that I grow up and find my own way, but at the same time I’m cherishing these moments that I still have with my mum.’
In the recording of the poem, the sound of pouring rain, birdsong and a simple piano motif serve as the backdrop, as Owusu recites lines such as, ‘You are the beginning, a gift to me. The call from nature to shake off winter’s freeze,’ which speaks to the idea of change and new life blooming. The sounds of nature were recorded during spring walks with his mother when the pair reunited. ‘My mum and I would walk up the hill to Alexandra Palace and take in all the sounds,’ says Owusu. ‘I think the rain is such an important characteristic of spring. It represents growth, hope and opportunity.’
For the portrait, Owusu supplied an illustration which he took to a friend with a ceramics studio who helped him transform the picture into a sculpture, which depicts spring as a flower blossoming from the mouth of Persephone, covering her eye. ‘It’s my way of visualising the transition from spring to summer,’ he says. ‘So on one side, the eye is open, and on the other side it’s closed. It’s like the figure is awakening.’
Owusu, who is about to graduate, has been thinking a lot about his own future and wants to remain deeply connected to his roots in Wood Green. ‘How do I find my place in my own community after being at university?’ asks Owusu. ‘Because I guess uni can be seen as a bubble and somewhat detached from the real world.’ He often returns to teach drawing classes at his local community centre and secondary school. ‘It’s just me trying to find my old foundations,’ he says.
Modelling has given Owusu an early insight into how to make a living from creativity, an opportunity that he is determined to make the most of: ‘In secondary school I never really understood how to be able to survive off of my work. But the fashion and art industries really give people the opportunity to make a living from expressing yourself and the chance to create your own world.’