From the Court to the Canvas: Interview with painter, Filipp Jenikäe.

Having just moved apartments our eyes were open to fresh artists and designers to help decorate our new home. We were happy then to stumble across the vibrant expressions of painter Filipp Jenikäe and were eager to learn more about him. We thought our Stories series would be a fitting excuse to do so and Filipp was kind enough to oblige and to share with us the stories of why he first picked up the brush, his development as an artist, and his enduring affinity for basketball.

We talked first of his style.

“It’s always kind of evolving. I started with a lot of huge, abstract canvas paintings, and now I’m getting a bit smaller and more realistic and figurative… I actually paint from photographs and then make my own version out of it. When I was starting, it was more freestyle. I called it sampling. I took elements from paintings of different artists that I liked. It was quite effective.”

“The first album cover I painted was from Mos Def. It was from 1998 when I was 11 years old. I was a big fan of this album... And then I was just trying to find more covers I could paint, and I came across Tyler, the Creator, and then a friend of mine asked me if I could do Frank Ocean’s album cover for him, so I did that. And then Skepta and Stevie Wonder recently.”

I was interested to learn how Filipp had fallen into this life as an artist but was then surprised to hear that he’d only seriously picked up painting in the past few years.

“I wanted to buy a David Hockney print for my living room. The motif was trees, but I wanted something a little bigger. And it was like 500 euros and I was like, man, that’s too much money. So I bought canvas and brushes and started to paint myself and I really enjoyed it.”

“At the time I was playing a lot of basketball. A lot of street ball, so not so much organized basketball. And I guess that was my creative output for a long time — because it is quite creative. But I was playing a lot so I always had injuries, and so it was this kind of moment in sports you have where you feel that you’re getting slower and worse and less athletic, and I was like what am I going to do? So then I was like, painting’s cool. So I just started doing it a lot, and it was a lot of fun for me."

Are you still playing basketball? I asked.

“Yes. Actually yesterday, I did for the first time in a long time and it felt good. I didn’t have so much pain. So yeah — I’m gonna do it again soon.”

I wondered if there were any figures in the basketball world who had particular significance to him.

“Good question… When I was younger, like in 1997, it was Allen Iverson — rookie of the year. Just because he wasn’t that big — only like 183. And he was very quick and a very good ball handler. And he also brought this kind of fashion culture to the NBA. Normally, people who were drafted in the NBA were told to wear a suit and act properly, but he didn’t. He just stayed himself, with his cornrows, and just wore the clothes he liked.”

We went on to talk about how he’s navigated the professional side of his artistic life, and how people found his work.

“Selling with a gallery opens the gates to other customer sections — but you don’t necessarily need a gallery. You can just go out and show [the work] to people on Instagram. I’m selling prints through Instagram and it’s nice to have that direct connection. It’s amazing. Like this interview, for example, is because of Instagram. And I had this collaboration with Adidas where I did basketball paintings for a charity fostering women’s basketball in Germany — and this was also because of Instagram.”

“Then on another level, you get immediate feedback. Say if you’re insecure if something’s good, then it’s nice sometimes that people can comment and cheer you up or show you they like a piece of work you felt insecure about.”

I asked Filipp about how he managed to stay inspired amidst the throes of the various lockdowns.

“It was more like I got inspiration from books and the internet. Not so much galleries. It was just different. Galleries are a different experience. You get to see the size, the fold, the dimensions, the composition… A photo of a painting just looks different from the original painting. But during the pandemic, it was more that you just got inspiration from these photos”

I was curious about the development of Filipp’s practice.

“In the beginning, it was just trial and error. But now it’s getting a bit smarter. I’ve painted a lot now, so I know what’s not gonna work. I’m more experienced and so I guess less experimental. But in a positive way. I’m not wasting so much time, and I’m happier about the results. It’s a little more planned and a little smarter — but still intuitive.”

“You always have these ideas of paintings. Ideas of what you could paint. It’s interesting to find out what you’ll be able to paint in the future. Like you start a painting and you don’t know really how it’s gonna end and if it’s going to be the result you expected. That’s always really interesting.”

Thank you to Filipp. You can find him on Instagram.