From Nigeria to Detroit, Timothy Orikri Preaches With His Paintbrushes

Timothy Orikri discovered painting in Nigeria and dreamed of moving to America to expand his artistic practice. Decades later, he’s preaching with his paintbrushes by using the colors of his native home while rejecting some of its sexist social structures.

The Artist Next Door illuminates and celebrates Detroit area artists from a variety of cultural backgrounds and disciplines to enhance awareness and understanding of our communities and cultures.


Erik Paul Howard
Erik Paul Howard

“We’ll first go through the basement and I will show you what I do.”

Stepping inside the home of Timothy Orikri is like stepping into his mind.

The 53-year-old mixed media artist originally from Warri, Nigeria has built an artist sanctuary for himself inside his northwest Detroit home, where he lives and creates.

There’s over 600 pieces of original artwork inside his home — and that’s a conservative estimate by Orikri’s count. The basement is packed. The upstairs is bursting with work that pours out into the hallways, where more canvases of all sizes are leaning against one another. 

Each one is its own multimedia project with Orikri using plenty of acrylic and oil paints, but also a ton of found materials that plenty of people wouldn’t think of as art supplies.

“Cigarette butts. Strings. Burlap. Straws. Rope. Mardi Gras beads. Macaroni — if you eat that. Wood. Corrugated paper — just to create this unique texture,” he rattles off. “There’s beauty and creativity in everything.”


Listen: Inside the artist sanctuary of Timothy Orikri.



All of this artwork that he shares space with is for sale. Orikri is a working, living artist. A lot of his work is displayed in hospitals around the state. 

He does keep the first floor relatively uncluttered by his art. It’s probably the only place in his home that doesn’t represent the relentlessly positive and colorful stream of consciousness that Orikri has built his practice around. And it’s in traditional dining room space that he keeps his piano — yet another artistic outlet for him.

“One of the reasons why I like to create things about Detroit is that there’s a lot of run down, burnt down, shoot down, raggedy whatever — I look for beauty in that,” says Orikri. “If we wait for the much more wonderful, convenient, superior, cool … then we’ll lose our creativity because there’s beauty in everything.”

Erik Paul Howard
Erik Paul Howard

Orikri grew up in a large family in the capital city of Nigeria’s Delta State, a tourist hub within the west African country. He’s the ninth and final child born to his mother and father, who worked as a teacher and preacher respectively.

Annie Scaramuzzino
Annie Scaramuzzino

“He said to my mama, ‘how about one more time?’” says Orikri. “She’s like, ‘no! We’ve got eight already!’ And before you know it, there I was.”

Orikri says he discovered his love of painting at 17, selling his early works to tourists. He soon started dreaming of taking his artistic craft to the United States, first migrating to St. Louis in 1995 before landing in Detroit.

While he’s rejected some pressures of representing his cultural identity in his artwork, Orikri’s art is still influenced by the color palette and scenes he remembers from growing up in Nigeria. He has, however, left some things from home country behind. His father always wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become a preacher, not a painter.

“He was very eager because he felt I was a little bit sociable, convincing, oratorical,” says Orikri. “It just takes me back to the promises I made to my papa. I said, ‘don’t worry, I’ll preach with my brushes.’”


Related: Meet WDET’s Artists Next Door


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Author

  • Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host and producer of CultureShift on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.