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The artist Rihanna says she 'needs in her life'

PORTRAIT: Vogue cover shoot of Rihanna (left) was the inspiration behind Jason Dunkley’s painting of the singer

IT IS fair to say that Rihanna is one of the most influential people in pop - if not the world.

With over 26 million friends, the singer is the fourth most followed person on Twitter.

The award-winning Barbadian music artist has outsold Queen Bee Beyonce, is the youngest person to have more than 11 number one singles on the American Billboard charts and holds the record for the highest number of digital sales, ever.

When she tweets, the army of fans she affectionately calls ‘Rihanna Navy’, listens.

So when a smouldering portrait inspired by a Vogue photoshoot was brought to the 24-year-old’s attention, Rihanna put out a three-word war cry: “Who painted this?”

Hundreds of miles away in the West Midlands, artist Jason Dunkley, better known as FunnyTummy, was watching television with his brother when his mobile phone went beserk.

“It was going crazy; practically vibrating for minutes on end. In one minute, I had 82 tweets from people saying Rihanna is trying to get in contact with you,” the 27-year-old said.

Well, obviously, that’s what he did. FunnyTummy introduced himself via the social networking site, and Rihanna replied: “I need this in my life.”

The following day he hand delivered the original acrylic work to the We Found Love singer’s hotel suite in London, much to Rihanna’s delight.

What she paid is a mystery, but her support has seen FunnyTummy’s brand skyrocket. Views to his blog more than quadrupled, and the commissions have started rolling in.

He said: “Rihanna was heading to Paris or somewhere the next day, so she was on a tight schedule. At first, I told her it was short notice and I was kind of busy but then I caught myself – am I crazy? This is Rihanna! I can’t talk about what we talked about, but she has been incredibly supportive of my work and promoting me like crazy. It has been amazing. She’s pretty much as big as it gets. I’m very appreciative.”

FunnyTummy – a play on the slang word ‘sick’ which means cool ­­– has already enjoyed some success and counts Ed Sheeran, rapper G FrSH and Tinie Tempah as clients since giving up a career in social care two years ago to focus on his art. Tinie even bought a special piece for his new flat.

“I’ve been doing album artwork for some time now and have slowly progressed into painting,” said the self-taught artist who favours acrylic paint and chalk pastels.

STAR APPROVAL: The album cover FunnyTummy designed for the chart topping star

“If I had to describe my style I’d say I’m more abstract. I like to take a picture and interpret it in my own way. There’s no point doing an exact replica – it might as well be a photocopy,” he said.

As FunnyTummy explained: “I never really had the chance to study it properly at school, because I got kicked off my GCSE course. I only went back to sit the exam which I did pass. In college, I was kicked off again. My classmates used to say that I should be teaching the class because I was better than the teachers and I don’t think they liked that. So any little thing I did was a problem.”

There might, however, be something in the genes. FunnyTummy, who has Jamaican heritage, comes from a family of artists including his brother, mother, grandmother and cousin.

He is now looking at a long career ahead, thanks to his celebrity fans and could be brought to a whole new audience, if his talks to be the first artist to appear on SBTV, founded by young entrepreneur Jamal Edwards prove successful.

There is also a plan underway for a solo exhibition that could attract the who’s who of the music scene.

But he wants to make a few things clear: “My whole ethos is not to push myself on anyone."

“On Twitter there are some creative people who bombard you with links. I don’t advertise, and I prefer it that way. Then I know that anyone who approaches me is coming because they like the work.”

And one more thing: “I am not an urban artist - I don’t do graffiti and I live in the suburbs which is a whole world away from the inner city,” laughs FunnyTummy.

He added: “I’d love to do something for Jay-Z or Kanye [West] though. It will have to be from memory because I tend to work in short bursts between episodes of Eastenders or Coronation Street. I don’t know how they’d feel about me leaving them while I catch up on my soaps.”

DOUBLE TROUBLE: (left) Jason aka FunnyTummy posing with Tinie Tempah (right)

Free time to be a couch potato might soon be a luxury this in-demand talent will have to learn to appreciate.

After all, what other artist can say they found Rihanna’s love in a social place?

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