Art Success. Adelaide Damoah in Conversation with Wiz Kudowor
Born in 1957 in Takoradi, Ghana, Wiz Kudowor is one of Ghana's most respected visual artists. Kudowor's career as a professional artist spans more than 30 years and he has exhibited in more than 50 group shows and 12 solo shows around the world. Kudowor's unique works are held in public and private collections the world over. Public collections include Ghana's National Museum, China's Ministry of Culture, Japan's Osaka Prefecture Collection, and a public mural at Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park. Kudowor's style is unique and instantly recognisable. His abstracted figures, faces scenes and shapes are created using a roller brush and pallet knife, creating bold paintings reminiscent of traditional Ghanaian themes while simultaneously referencing cubist and futurist styles. Kudowor kindly took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss his work and his thoughts on success in art with me.
Urban Funk 140x150cm
Adelaide Damoah (AD) : I read that you studied art at the Kwame Nkrumah College of Science and Technology. When did you decide that art was in your future?
Wiz Kudowor (WK) :Yes I went to the College of Art of the then UST, Kumasi(now KNUST). I completed my studies in 1981 and specialized in Painting. Art has always been a part of my life. I am one of the few artists from Africa whose story is not based on the system of parents trying to dissuade them from pursuing art as a career. I had been drawing and painting since I was a child and was very much encouraged by my parents to express myself through art. By the end of Secondary School, I knew art was definitely in my stars.
AD: How did you develop your particular technique (roller and pallet knife)? Could you tell me about your process?
WK: At college, I was doing strictly representational work, mostly satisfying the requirements of academic work. The roots of my current technique were however developed after graduation. I was inspired by Sami Bentil’s technique of using dots to create images and actually indulged in it for a while and became well noted for it. Being a restless being and finding the dotting process laborious and a bit too monochromatic, I began to look for new challenges and new ways to do my work with a lot more speed and still achieve the same result. The multicoloured bead-works from East and South Africa began to court my attention. I started to research ways to create the same textures with any tool I could lay hands on. The aim was to achieve the same pointillist feel. In short , the roller brush which came with all sorts of textures became my favourite tool for laying colour areas and the painting knife helped with details and finishing.
AD: What inspires your subject matter?
WK: My subject matter remained quite representational for more than ten years after school. My ideas were sourced from my immediate physical environment. I still source from my immediate surroundings but deal more with the essence rather than the physical .My environment therefore serves as a database for my metaphysical explorations into existence or life. Subject matter is served by my subconscious and experiences. I express ideas derived from what I read, feel, touch and see all mixed up and manifested as art. I Regard myself as a vessel that captures images from the energy fields around me and make it manifest for people to see. I do not reject the promptings that come to me, nor try to understand or explain the results.
Clan Gathering 120 x180 cm
AD: African Encounters refers to you as a "transcultural visionary." Why do you think that is?
WK: I don’t really know what “Transcultural visionary” means in relation to me. I may have to ask Ama De Graft Aikins who came up with that. However,I believe it is due to the fact that I translate, capture or source from any environment or experience I find myself in. I can’t really say!
AD: I read that you have been exhibiting for more than 30 years! Do you remember your very first solo exhibition?
WK: My first solo exhibition was in 1990 at the Centre for National Culture in Accra, nine years after I graduated from school. I was still very much into the “Dots Dynamics” as I called my style then. I had 36 paintings on display and the exhibition was only for three days which was all I could get from the Centre. I curated and financed every aspect myself and it was well worth it.
AD: Did you sell any work?
WK: I sold half of the work exhibited.
AD: What has been your biggest challenge to date as an artist? How did you overcome that?
WK: My biggest challenge artistically is that I am still trying to channel my energies along a defined path and be recognised for that. That is, being able to be selective with the ideas which come to mind to express. I am still stuck in there and enjoying the challenge because it allows me to explore my every whim.
Cultural Confluence 120 by 120 cm
AD: There is a perception that the public has about artists. That of the starving artist. Has this ever been your personal experience? If so, how did you overcome it?
WK: Most artists have had their starving moments especially here in this part of the world where there are limited or non existent resources for artists to access. I have faced moments of stark need , however, this has sometimes been out of choice, because I preferred spending my last resources on materials for work ignoring my own comfort. But, being a creative person, I have found ways of indulging in creative commercial art ventures.
AD: Could you tell me a bit more about these creative commercial art ventures, how they came into being and how they helped you to overcome the "starving artist" situation?
First of all Public perception of a starving artist has really never been directed towards me. People always saw me as doing well. I was the only one who knew what I was going through at all times. However, I did try to keep my head above water by identifying commercial ventures like translating some ideas I had at the time into post cards and general greeting cards... I designed textiles with screen prints for sale and also indulged in fashion. I started producing African print shirts and clotheslines for women.
AD: What has been your biggest achievement in your artistic career to date?
WK: My biggest achievement.... I wonder. I am still waiting for the “aha moment...” Seriously though, I think it will be that I have been able to stick with the art practice in this environment even in spite of all the obstacles. I have worked for 30 years as an artist and achieved some amount of recognition for it. That will be my achievement. I do have a few public commissions to my credit which I consider as a matter of course.
AD: I know one of those public commissions is the famous Relief Mural at the Kwame Nkrumah Museum in Accra, Ghana. What other public commissions have you had? How did you get commissioned to work on these public pieces of art?
WK: The Kwame Nkrumah memorial park relief mural was as a result of my first solo exhibition. The Chairman of the Commission of Culture then saw the exhibition and was so impressed that he pushed for this project which at the time was in the pipeline to be offered to me. Others were the Nestle new head office murals which was through a short-listed competition and the Volta hotel. The Akosombo commissions were just direct commissions.
Relief Mural: Kwame Nkrumah Mueum, Accra, Ghana. By Wiz Kudowor, Kofi Setordji, Sudzi Agbeko
AD: There is an almost palpable shift in the consciousness of the art world toward African art today with you and artists like the legendary El Anatsui, Romauld Hazoume and Brother Owusu Ankomah leading the pack. What effect do you think this shift will have on African artists going forward?
WK: I have always believed that Africa needs to put systems in place to appreciate value and accept our own art. The practice of waiting upon the Western Art Establishment to authenticate evaluate and validate our art in my opinion is outmoded. I sincerely believe I am one of those artists whose work is watched by the art establishment from the corners of the eye, like an accident waiting to happen. Not completely in the mainstream and not shut out as well. The new consciousness will open doors I believe for a lot of African Artists to grow yes, but how many will be able to sustain their craft when the tide changes(and it will change) is what I dread. The tendency is for a lot of African artist to crave acceptability in the West by indulging in activities or work that lacks character and identity. It is important for an artist to be himself and challenge his conscience every chance he gets. That is the essence and character of artistic practice.
AD: What effect has it had on your career?
WK: In terms of how this will affect me as an artist, I think I have already established myself as Wiz and just have to be accepted as is.
Migration Patterns. 120 x 180 cm
AD: Many artists of African descent are intimidated by the so called Western Art establishment, fearing that they would not accept them. As an internationally acclaimed artist, have you had any experiences that would substantiate that fear?
WK: The Western Art establishment have a right to stick with what they know and what they define as art. I do not see why artists should be intimidated by the spectre of Western rejection. African artists should also be able to define themselves and develop character and identity intimidating enough for the western establishment to desire like the legendary El Anatsui. Yes, I have offered my IP(INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY) on various platforms for appreciation and validation on a number of occasions. I did not get a definite response and therefore decided very early in my career to stick to what I know best, being WIZ. This is where I am.
AD: How would you define success in the art world?
WK: Success- I don’t know how that really relates. All I know is mine will be significantly different from another person’s success.
AD: Would you consider yourself a success?
WK: Having defined parameters for myself from the beginning in terms of being a professional in full time practice, I believe I have achieved some level of success. I will measure my success by how far I have come in terms of stick-ability, quality of work, general impact and level of recognition I have attained. I also affect the younger generation positively.
Sanctity of the Union. 150 x200cm
AD: What is the biggest and most ambitious dream you have for your work?
WK: My dream is to be able to affect the generality of the world more positively with my work and be the ultimate viable investment option for collectors worldwide in my lifetime. I am on track if you ask me.
Folklore. The Question of the Apple 150 x180 cm. 2011
AD: What advice would you give to young artists wishing to follow in your direction?
WK: For the younger Artists, there is no free lunch. When you want to impact the world,it is important to impact and impress yourself first, then the world will have no choice but to pay attention. Keep working and develop your intimidating character. Hard work,stick-ability and love of your own work. These carry you over any obstacle that will come your way.
AD: Do you have any new shows coming up in Ghana or abroad?
WK: 2012 is more or less a fallow year for me. I don’t have any shows scheduled. I am evaluating what I had at the end of 2011.I do have a few group shows to occupy me till the end of the year.
Folklore. The Tree of Wisdom. 100 x120 cm. 2011