Between a Life and its Dream

An inside look into life in the ghettos of Ghana and a glimpse at the themes that typify these places, is what visitors to the Absa Gallery in Johannesburg can expect from Between a life and its dream (Scrawl paintings) – the gripping solo exhibition of 2015 L’Atelier Merit Award winner, Gideon Appah.

Ghanaian-born Gideon Appah first drew the attention of the international art world when he became the first non-South African artist to qualify for and win the 1st Merit Award at the Barclays L’Atelier in 2015. The award won him a three-month residency at the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios in Joburg. Since his win, he has participated in numerous exhibitions and art fairs around South Africa, including Leonardo Da Vinci Gallery and DF Contemporary Gallery in Cape Town, and in Johannesburg with Gallery2, at Turbine Art Fair and at FNB Joburg Art Fair. ‘Things took off after winning the award, yet, I have a lot to learn and a lot to explore,’ Appah said earlier this year. Since graduating from the College of Art, KNUST, Kumasi in Ghana in 2012, Appah’s career has quickly taken off. ‘I was the first out of my graduate class to have a show immediately after completing our studies,’ he says. The exhibition, which consisted of a selection of Appah’s installation pieces, was held at the Goethe Institut in Accra. ‘It was my first contact as an artist interacting with an art audience.’ In 2014, Appah was a finalist at the inaugural Kuenyehia Art Prize for Contemporary Ghanain artists.

Appah’s work has been described as urban, gritty and chaotic, and ‘draws inspiration from a personal and social experience between myself and Sodom and Gomorrah (which is the biggest slum in Ghana), as well as other settlements in Ghana. Labour, radicalism, anxiety, pleasure and the shanty nature of the habitation make up my works,’ he says. A multi-media artist, Appah works with mostly salvaged materials, melding them with acrylic and oil paints, colour wax, pastels, pieces of rags, torn papers, billboard paper, posters and corroded surfaces. ‘I enjoy creating a galaxy of works with these mediums,’ he says.

‘Before I start, I gather all the materials I need, like print-outs of lottery numbers, carton boxes labels, billboard paper, printed out words, photographs, coloured papers, etc. From there, I just tear them up either horizontally or vertically or anyway I want – it depends on what am looking for. I try to get these materials as dirty as I can by smearing them with a local Ghanaian dye called “Asiduro” and coloured wax. I do this to the canvasses as well. I explore and experiment without inhibition, fear, or conformity: images and words, free flow, splashes and drips of paint, distortion, torn images, discarded and salvaged objects, collage and text.’

The works become palimpsests of imagery, reminiscent of the lottery boards that fascinate him, and appear to have been washed down with time. ‘These boards communicate the stories of many people unknown and unidentifiable as they keep evolving. There is a strong conversation the images, letters, words and marks on these lottery spaces are communicating. I reflect these conversations in my work.’ His work, says Appah, is a commentary on his thoughts on the nature of the deterioration of Accra’s urban landscape. ‘My work has an urban feel to it because it borrows visual-cultural elements mostly from slum settlements in some places in Ghana… my current projects are conceptually born out of the influence of imagery and marks of temporary structures, informal signage and a general deterioration of parts of Accra’s urban landscape.’

This year, Appah will premiere his new series called ‘scrawl paintings’. ‘I chose the word “scrawl” because of the nature of how the works will be made. This word means a lot because of temporary or permanent mark makings which normally appear scrawled on walls and wooden structures. It will be my first series, which will be mostly paintings, sculptures and installations.’ It is a snapshot of these works that visitors can expect to see in Between a life and its dream (Scrawl paintings), which comprises a series of works on paper and works on canvas. The exhibition forms part of Appah’s prize for winning the Merit Award in the 2015 L’Atelier art competition, and is another example of how the competition seeks to further the profile and exposure of the young and emerging artists who participate in this renowned event. Aside from his exhibition at the Absa Gallery, Appah is also preparing for his first show in Europe, in May, as well as a show at the newly opened AGOG Gallery in Maboneng, Johannesburg.

With his unique artworks that are universally appealing, thought-provoking and arresting, Appah has secured a firm spot on our list of young artists to watch in 2017. The exhibition runs from 19 March – 20 April 2017

Absa

Scrawl paintings | Gideon Appah | 2017

Absa

Scrawl paintings | Gideon Appah | 2017

Absa

Scrawl paintings | Gideon Appah | 2017

Absa

Scrawl paintings | Gideon Appah | 2017

Absa

Scrawl paintings | Gideon Appah | 2017

Absa

Scrawl paintings | Gideon Appah | 2017

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