Where in London do you live and work?
I live in west London, I’ve been here for about seven years, and my studio is in Acton. I’ve worked there for about three years now. I was originally in Hackney Central but it got a bit pricey so I moved over west. I was born and raised in north London on the Essex Road in Islington, and spent most of my childhood and teens in north London.
What’s your earliest memory of London?
Probably playing around my estate with friends, riding my bike, playing football in the park. Those are my earliest memories of growing up in London and they’ve stayed with me for a long time.
What makes London special to you?
The diverse range of cultures and people. This is such a great city and you always find yourself rediscovering things and finding yourself in pockets that you haven’t explored before. There are always new places to discover in London and that’s what I find special. The energy of people is very infectious too. You’ve got people from Britain, from Africa and Asia – it’s such a great mix.
How would you describe London in three words?
Unapologetic, expressive, true.
What’s your usual morning ritual?
My morning routine has changed, actually, especially during lockdown, I spent time in the morning going for a walk or run, going for a coffee – that, for me, is how I meditate and kind of start my day and prepare myself. I took up Bikram Yoga during Covid too. It helps my mind, soul and body, and it also helps when I have creative block or I can’t think about an idea or a project. Running, walking, yoga or going to the gym before I start work is good for that. I’ve also started seeing a personal trainer, so sometimes I’ll do a 7am workout for an hour before going to the studio. It helps put you in the right frame of mind for the rest of the day. When you’re in the office you have your schedule, you come in at the same time and have meetings. So having your routine completely shaken up, it gave me a new kind of focus and a perspective of life and how I want to approach things.
What do you do to keep a good work-life balance?
It’s something that I’m still working on but I have a better work-life balance now than I did pre-Covid. Sometimes I find myself obsessed with the work I do and in a cave of projects and meetings and travelling and that kind of thing. During Covid things were very slow and the pace for me was a lot more controllable and I was in control of my time and balance of work, but when things started to open up again, I found myself going back into my old routine of being stressed and running around and not focusing on my health. When I found myself going back into those patterns, I had to remind myself of the benefits of me working slower. The work I create is a lot stronger and more thought out. The things that work for me are going to see friends and family, spending time with loved ones or going to the gym or going for walks. During lockdown, I spent a lot of time in green spaces and going to Kew Gardens and Chiswick Park, which I’d never been to before. Green spaces and plants and trees make me feel calm and the sounds of water are fantastic for my mind and wellbeing.
Are there any other activities or habits you have found help you to maintain good mental health through challenging times?
I’ve got God kids and a niece, so spending time with them has been great. They allow me to be silly and a kid and play with Lego or a Barbie doll or go to the park and be fun and silly. I try to do that on the weekends, especially Sundays. I’ve also listened to and discovered new music during lockdown, which is something I’ve really enjoyed. I also like going for drives while playing loud music.
Are there any resources that you use, and would recommend, to help keep a positive state of mind?
I like books from different creatives and I listen to podcasts. There’s one I listen to called Diary of a CEO with Steven Bartlett, they have incredible creative and business people come on and talk about what it’s like to run a business and things that I can relate to. I listen to podcasts to switch off but sometimes they’re good for advice and words of wisdom.
Sometimes I’ll do a 7am workout for an hour before going to the studio. It helps put you in the right frame of mind for the rest of the day
What do you like to do to relax?
I watch movies or Netflix and I’m better at not using my phone and being on Instagram all the time. I’m trying to be more present. Also meeting people in person, going for dinner and talking to people is a nice way to switch off. I like having in real life conversations.
What are you currently reading?
A Dictionary of Colour Combinations by Sanzo Wada. I’m a visual person so I like design books.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I was working on the till in M&S Moorgate about 11 years ago and Tracey Emin walked in. At the time I was still trying to establish myself and have my own studio. I remember serving her on the till and then realising it was her and chasing her afterwards to say ‘Hi, love your work, I’m a fan” and asking for her advice on getting started in the industry. She said to me, “You should take your time, I had my first show really late so take your time to perfect your style and craft. It doesn’t matter when you have your first show, just be patient.’ That, to me, was incredible advice that has really stuck with me and is something that I have to remind myself of.
What thought always puts you in a good mood?
The thought of maybe one day soon relaxing and having a family and children and sharing that with them, that’s something I look forward to. It’s not exactly retiring but I don’t want to wait until I’m 60 to chill. I want to pass things on and share them with my kids. I don’t know when that will be but it’s something that excites me.
Yinka Ilori is a London-based multidisciplinary artist of British-Nigerian heritage. Bringing Nigerian verbal tradition into playful conversation with contemporary design, Yinka’s work touches on various global themes that resonate with different audiences all over the world. He has created large-scale public commissions for Harrow Council, Selfridges and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, among others. In 2021, he launched his own homeware brand and was awarded an MBE. This September, Yinka will be leading a major new streetscape commission called Asphalt Art. The initiative is in partnership with London Design Festival and Bloomberg Philanthropies and will see Ilori collaborate with students from UAL to introduce joy-evoking art installations in public spaces in central London and the City; yinkailori.com
The Royal Exchange is partnering with Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest to encourage conversations about mental health, wellbeing and community spirit. For further information on Mind in the City, its support services – a range of innovative and collaborative services to support people’s mental and physical wellbeing, resilience and recovery – and how you can get involved with campaigning, fundraising or volunteering, please visit: mindchwf.org.uk
Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest is part of the national Mind network, which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing difficulties, visit mind.org.uk to access information about a broad range of topics and services, designed to help you overcome the challenges of this difficult time.