Temi Coker takes his art from Adobe Creative Residency to Academy Awards

Temi Coker, an artist whose wide-ranging work and visual style are rapidly becoming iconic, is reimaging a worldwide icon — the Academy Awards Oscar statuette.

By Julia Tian

Posted on 03-25-2021

2018 Adobe Creative Resident and multidisciplinary artist. Book jacket designer for a New York Times bestseller. Creator of portraits of LeBron James, H.E.R., and other Black Future Makers for a nationwide AT&T campaign. Temi Coker is an artist whose wide-ranging work and visual style are rapidly becoming iconic, so it’s only fitting that he was recently asked to reimagine a worldwide icon — the Academy Awards Oscar statuette.

Adobe is proud to have played a part in Temi’s artistic journey, and we are excited that he has found such tremendous success bringing his visions to life. Read on to learn about his path from the Adobe Creative Residency to his current achievements, and check out examples of his incredible work.

Exploring and experimenting as an Adobe Creative Resident

Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, and later a resident of Dallas, Texas, Temi joined the Adobe Creative Residency in 2018. The program gives talented creators access to the best creative tools and resources, guidance from advisors, and a compensation package for a whole year. In return, Residents share their processes and inspirations with the community as they proactively pursue their own creative projects.

Temi spent his Residency year exploring the possibilities when merging his two favorite media — photography and graphic design — and he honed a signature style that evokes emotion through vibrant color, patterns, textures, and storytelling. Temi also got comfortable using his unique voice to influence thousands of us, as he took on big projects. He designed the 2018 Adobe MAX hoodie in partnership with Adidas, and was highlighted in the MAX event keynote by Shantanu Narayen, Adobe CEO. Temi collaborated with Adobe’s brand marketing team on a Golden State Warriors (NBA basketball team) campaign, he advocated on behalf of Adobe — talking about his creative journey in press interviews, and he hosted the creative activation for Adobe at the 2018 Cannes Lions Festival in France.

Helping brands deliver important social messages

Since completing his Residency, Temi has found himself in high demand by a variety of major brands. He’s gravitated toward doing commercial work that aligns with his Christian values, his passion for social justice, and his love of the Black community.

Temi designed inspiring art featuring young coders for Black Girls Code ads and posters. He created art exploring character dynamics in Season 4 of the Issa Rae HBO series, Insecure. And for HarperCollins, he designed the book jacket for Punching the Air, a young adult novel from bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five. The story, about a wrongfully incarcerated teenage boy who finds refuge in words and art, spoke to Temi.

“I wanted to make the main character look heroic,” he says. “I added a butterfly to symbolize growth, evolving, and the character being a beautiful piece of art despite the cocoon he was in.”

Temi also lent his talents to help Adobe honor heroes in 2020. As part of a campaign paying tribute to essential workers, he created a portrait of his friend, a preschool teacher named Shalyn. “She was taking care of kids in daycare because their parents were essential workers as well,” he says. “The only people who were getting noticed were doctors and nurses, and I liked that Adobe was open to finding someone different, so I took a picture of her and turned it into art.”

He says that when Shalyn saw the ad campaign on TV, she was overwhelmed. “She’s Black,” he says, “and again it felt great bringing the community together and making that person feel even more important.”

When AT&T wanted to pay homage to Black leaders for this year’s Black History Month, the company reached out to Temi. He describes the project, called Dream in Black, as a dream come true. “The idea for the campaign was to give these people flowers for the amazing things they’re doing in the community. And they inducted me into it as well.”

“I had wanted to do something like this before COVID-19, where I was going to turn people into a poster and print it right then and there for them to take home,” he says. “With the AT&T campaign, now people are able to do it in their houses—we created a tool on the website where you upload your picture to create a custom portrait.”

Temi says that projects like these have given him confidence — and not just in his artistic abilities. “I’ve realized that I have a voice,” he says. “I have an opportunity right now to lift the Black community, and I want to create artwork that’s timeless.”

Reimagining a coveted award to speak to representation

Recently, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences invited seven international artists to answer the question “What do movies mean to you?” This year’s campaign tagline, “Bring Your Movie Love,” is about our personal connections to movies. The campaign features an expanded color palette, and the artists were asked to reimagine the Oscars statuette in new, colorful, and bold ways — bringing their personal inspirations and interpretations to the work.

Temi Coker was one of those artists.

“When they sent me the picture I was almost scared to say, ‘Can I make this Black?’” he says. “We had a meeting where they asked me what movies mean to me, and I said, ‘Movies mean representation.’ I like when stories are told from our perspective. Not Black films by white people, but Black films made by Black men and Black women.”

He felt inspired by Hattie McDaniel, the first Black woman to win an Academy Award. “She paved the way,” Temi says. “A lot of Black artists were awarded later because of what she did, her bravery. Because she did, we can.”

The Academy reps loved his idea. “So I made it Black,” he says. “I literally wrote ‘Black’ on the statuette. I added color, vibrancy—things that would just call attention to Black voices.”

Using Adobe apps to create his vision

To design the statuette art, Temi says, “I used Adobe Photoshop and my new best friend, Adobe Fresco. I cut out the parts I needed in Photoshop using the Pen and Lasso tools, saved them in the cloud, then brought them into Fresco and started drawing on top of them.”

He’s enthusiastic about the possibilities of drawing and painting anywhere in Adobe Fresco. “I love it,” he says. “The idea of vector and raster brushes in the same app, saving to the cloud, and being able to access the art on my desktop to tweak and change colors — that was a game changer.”

Designing a promising future

Temi continues to be an advocate for Adobe by showcasing our products in unique ways. In fact, he just designed his first NFT piece as an Adobe Aero file that sold for $7,000.

He’s a phenomenal talent, a socially conscious artist, and a great example of how programs like the Adobe Creative Residency can support and showcase a broader range of voices in a way that benefits everyone.

So what would Temi Coker like to accomplish next? “I’d like to create something called Coker University,” he says, “where we teach kids design and then hire them or help them find jobs.”

It’s not surprising that this goal aligns with one of the artist’s favorite sayings, “Lift as you climb.”

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