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The Color of Purple : Kwesi Botchway / Text Rebecca Anne Proctor

In something we Africans got issue 11
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Rebecca Anne Proctor


“It’s like a blink of an eye. Finding indigenous Ghanaians versus the westernized city dwellers. I am really trying to depict this cross section of cultures and traditions in my work in order to show the various aspects pertaining to contemporary Ghana.”

– Kwesi Botchway 

Kwesi Botchway © the artist

 

The color purple has historically been associated with the idea of royalty, wealth, grandeur, and also mystery, magic, seduction and wisdom. It is the also the predominant hue in the work of Accra-based painter Kwesi Botchway who is in the midst of completing a residency at Gallery 1957 in Accra as well as gearing up for his first solo show with the gallery, entitled Dark Purple is Everything Black. The subjects in Kwesi’s paintings reveal lone figures in a variety of contemplative poses imbued with vibrant colors that immediately come to the fore against their darker, obscure backdrops. The color purple is applied here and there—an almost invisible note that upon closer look ties his work together in unison. The message lies in the name of Kwesi’s current body of work: Dark Purple is Everything Black, exalting the artist’s belief that emotion can be relayed through color. 

      Kwesi is one of Ghana’s most prominent up-and-coming young artists. Born in Accra in 1994, from a young age Kwesi was always drawing. “It all started when I was in primary school,” he recalls. “I used to sketch my teacher while she was teaching.” Upon noticing his talent and love for art, one of his teachers recommended that he enroll in the Ghanatta College of Art and Design. While his father wasn’t initially as supportive of his career as an artist, his mother instead believed in his work and even encouraged him to see local street art in Accra. “Painting is something I was born with—it is within me,” he says. Since graduating from the Ghanatta College of Art and Design in 2011 with a diploma in painting, he founded the Worldfaze Art studio in Nima, a suburb in Accra, as well as has staged several group and solo exhibitions of his work, notably his first solo exhibition in Denmark in 2017 where he showed his Age of No Return series at Hos Oona Gallery in Vejle. 

     Kwesi’s work paints contemporary Ghana in its full glory, from the indigenous, the diaspora, the traditional and the contemporary. His practice focuses on portraiture painting with strong influences from 19th century Impressionism, Realism and self stylizing that he juxtaposes to form his own style of contemporary African Social Realism. Kwesi is also a self-taught photographer and additionally works in graphic design. His visual language involves the layering of brushstrokes and a visual dichotomy that consistently wrestles between light and dark. The panoply of color that he uses assists in contrasting the myriad aspects of his sitter’s characters—the longer we spend looking at them the more they feel alive before us.

Kwesi Botchway, 2020, Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy the artist & Gallery 1957

 

Kwesi Botchway, Green Fluffy Coat, 2020, Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy the artist & Gallery 1957

    In terms of art historical influences, he names Picasso’s Blue Period works and Van Gogh’s intense brushstrokes as principles sources of inspiration. “My work is a mixture of Realism and Impressionism but I have tried to create my own artistic language through my own brushstrokes and application of certain colors.” Each work is made using a mix of acrylic and oil paint. “I combine them but not always mix oil and acrylic,” he explains. “For example, I may paint the background and dress of a woman in oil and then her body in acrylic paint.” 

     He derives great joy from working on a specific series dedicated to a certain theme. In 2018 he created a series entitled Age of No Return dedicated to old age. His model was Sarah Labi, his 90-year-old retired teacher. “I saw younger people not giving older people the respect they deserved when they should be our role models.” His 2019 series Nokofio Heroes portrays various young working-class sellers and vulnerable children in West Africa as they hustle each day in their effort to survive. The series, exuding the artist’s vivid sense of expression through color, offers a compassionate and celebratory look at the daily struggle of Africa’s youth.

      Color is everything for Kwesi. It expresses one’s character, community, culture and even language. In one painting two young girls sit by what appears to be a pool dressed in matching bathing suits colored in pink and light blue—the same hues which are also found on the chair one sits, the towel the other holds and the pale blue water of the pool. In another what appears to be a woman, her hair in carefully made braids, sits in the corner of a room painted in light pastel blue. The most vibrant colors in the work are her orange painted lips and the dusty light brown yellowish hue of the soles of her feet. Numerous other portraits show men wearing florescent pink baseball caps or the poignant faces of women decked in elaborate earrings and necklaces. Color is always there shining a light for all to behold.

 

Kwesi Botchway, 2020, Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy the artist & Gallery 1957

 

Kwesi Botchway, 2020, Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy the artist & Gallery 1957

      The vivacious colors used are also the source of the emotion inherent in each work. The gaze of the sitter and the expressive hues in which they are painted prompt a spellbinding connection between the viewer and the painting. Kwesi’s subjects are also unique in that they marry the dual aspects of Ghana’s contemporary culture: Its indigenous tribes and its westernized citizens. (…) Find the full article in something we Africans got issue 11.

 

 

In something we Africans got issue 11
preview
  Rebecca Anne Proctor