Art and athletics aren’t a typical mix, but for Demit Omphroy, the combination came naturally. The former professional soccer player turned contemporary painter can attribute his success on the field and the canvas to one thing: an unwavering work ethic.
During Omphroy’s time on the soccer field, painting remained a constant passion in his life. His playful style, paired with bold primary colors, stems from his exploration of eternal youth and personal experiences. “We can quickly come to a conclusion about what we view at first glance. But if we take a moment to peel back the layers, one can slowly understand that there’s a much deeper meaning to the work,” he said.
Ten vibrant new paintings by Omphroy are available for immediate purchase in Buy Now: Demit Omphroy on Artnet’s Buy Now platform through July 19. Read on to learn about the artist’s exhibition mood board and creative process.
You’ve had a unique trajectory, from professional soccer player to full-time artist. How, if at all, has your career as an athlete influenced your artistic practice?
When you become a professional in something, you dedicate your life to that craft. Whether it’s soccer or writing, talent is a baseline—then it’s all about work ethic.
There are a lot of talented soccer players, but what differentiates the ones that go on to become successful is their work ethic. When I compare art and soccer, I take the things I learned growing up as a dedicated athlete into how I practice as an artist. While there are differences in medium, whether I’m expressing myself on a soccer field or painting on a canvas, I attack with a similar vigor.
You’ve cited painting as a constant passion across the different stages of your life. When did you realize it was something you wanted to do full-time?
I realized that I truly needed to paint full-time midway through the pandemic. But I would say that I always to be a full-time painter. My mom is a painter, and she’s incredible. But she came from a very traditional, Filipino immigrant perspective that you can’t make money as an artist. I always had this idea that painting for a living wasn’t really possible.
But, when I led with creativity and stopped worrying so much about the money or whether I could make a career of it, I realized that painting is what I wanted to do, and I began focusing on the art of expression.
Can you tell us more about your creative process? How does a painting go from an idea to a finished product?
I have a tough time creating work if I don’t have a connection to it. I make work that’s rooted in me, and moments of love or pain, or experiences that I have gone through. I always try to stay true to the purest form of when I started creating, which was with my hands. It starts with a very raw process of graphite on paper, and I let it grow from there.
What do you do when you’re struggling to connect with a piece? How do you clear your mind and become unstuck?
I think we can all relate to the feeling of not being inspired. There are moments where I want to complete projects just to be done with them. Once an art teacher told me: “Don’t make art that sucks, because it will exist in the world.” At first I thought that was a little harsh! But I realized it was a reminder that stressed the importance of being intentional with the work that I create.
When I feel the most stuck, I usually have something in my head that needs to be dealt with. I try to start my days with writing; just getting thoughts out and emptying the spam folder in my head. I try to pair that with a little bit of exercise. If I’m super blocked, it usually means I am either not getting enough rest, not exercising enough, or I’m not writing.
With every single piece I do, no matter how big or small, there’s usually a big hurdle I have to get through, or a decision to make. Until I have that moment, I don’t know if I’m done with a piece yet.
What role does color play in your artistic process? How do you select colors for each work?
The colors I use are rarely altered. I gravitate toward those specific tones. After I start a piece, I like to let the colors tell me which way to go, and how to populate the piece with different feelings. It’s a conversation I have with the canvas; it’s my own language.
When I started, I only worked in black and white. It was clear to me; there’s a formula to it. Then I introduced color, but I still used black and white outlines. When I stepped away from the black being utilized as a way to contain color, it felt like stepping into a new chapter of life.
My first large canvas, which was 4 by 5 feet, was very daunting for me. I created it because I was so lonely, in a little apartment on the Lower East Side. I needed to fill the room with color. I wanted to feel warmth. Color became this initial facade, representing the first layer when you meet somebody. But when you peeled back the layers of the person, or the painting, it revealed how lonely I felt.
Which artists in the canon of art history have most influenced your own practice?
The first artist that I was inspired by was Jean-Michel Basquiat. I discovered him late in college, when I had come back from playing soccer professionally and started taking art history more seriously. I could replicate his work, but I realized that I couldn’t reference his work without completely copying him.
And my goal was to be able to create without looking at anything. Like, you’re locked in a room and have nothing. You’re by yourself—what can you create? I’ve always been creating single-line drawings. My very first piece was my profile. I was messing around with color and line. I didn’t have books that I was referencing. I just needed to figure out how to turn my line drawings into something. When I created that piece I was so excited. I thought, “I’ve gotta get this out!” And I made 20 different pieces in the same style. Something was happening, and I couldn’t lose it.
I then started to educate myself to understand how to find my voice. I watched a documentary on Picasso and began to gravitate toward artists’ stories. I also became inspired by Matisse. I think he has one of the most brilliant minds in color selection.
If you had to put together a mood board for the 10 works in your Buy Now exhibition, what would be on it?
The work that I’ve been creating for this show is centered on the phases or chapters of love, and the wide range of what love can mean. It’s not just the highs, but also the lows and everything that comes along with it.
The pieces in this sale are rooted in resonant experiences. From the happiest giddy moments, like when you first meet somebody, or the picnic when you fell in love, to the pulling apart of the family after a divorce, or the love lost when someone close passes. It’s the idea that the full spectrum of love cannot exist without pain.
If I were to create a mood board, I would focus on the different experiences of how love happens: How we fall in love, how we stay in love, how we maintain relationships, and how love can fade.