Atta Kwami obituary | Portray

Since July, guests to Folkestone harbour have encountered a double archway brightly painted with a geometrical sample in an array of colors. Part of the Kent city’s triennial artwork competition, it’s the work of the Ghanaian-born artist Atta Kwami, who has died aged 65.

Kwami, who lived in each Kumasi, Ghana’s second metropolis, and, from 2009, Loughborough, in Leicestershire, mentioned the sculpture, titled Atsiaƒu ƒe agbo nu (Gateways of the Sea within the Ewe language), represented “motion … individuals leaving due to Brexit, immigrants arriving from different locations”. But a extra mainstay curiosity for the artist was the usage of color within the sculpture, a rainbow assortment meant to spotlight the sudden tones and tints within the structure and concrete cloth of the coastal city.

The artist’s 4 a long time of portray, printmaking, artist books and sculpture superficially recall the early-Twentieth-century suprematist fashion of Piet Mondrian – based mostly on geometric shapes – or the hard-edge abstraction popularised by the likes of the American painter Ellsworth Kelly within the late Fifties, however Kwami drew higher inspiration for his geometric compositions from the vernacular structure, wall work, pottery and kente textiles of west Africa. His grids are much less slick than his western precursors, the artist’s strains freer, the grid much less mathematically composed.

The acrylic-on-canvas portray Kele (2014) is typical: sq. and rectangular parallel blocks of brown, ochre, turquoise and royal blue are divided by slimmer strains of inexperienced, purple and brown paint. At a squint, the impact is very similar to seeing a chaotic city sprawl from above.

Atta Kwami’s archway for the Folkestone Triennial. {Photograph}: David Featherbe/Alamy

His work introduced Kwami respect in his native nation, the place he was credited as breaking the expectations of what Ghanaian artwork must be – conventional, figurative and palatable to western vacationers – and a rising status in Europe. This 12 months he was the recipient of the €50,000 (£42,000) Maria Lassnig prize, organised by the Serpentine galleries in London, and had been requested by David Adjaye to design the stained glass for the Ghanaian-British architect’s deliberate Nationwide Cathedral of Ghana in Accra.

My work is described conventionally as ‘summary’,” the artist wrote in 2011. “Given that there’s a very exact, knowable set of sources in the back of it, I might describe it as schematic: like a map, or slightly a response to or interpretation of a map. It’s about possession, a strategy to discovering myself, the place I’m.”

The title of Kwami’s ebook Kumasi Realism 1951-2007: An African Modernism (2011), which grew out of his PhD from the Open College, foregrounds the time period the artist used for his combined geography of references: western and African, educational and of the road. “Kumasi realism”, Kwami believed, was a creative vocabulary shared by each college-trained artists and the a whole bunch of painters who met the “calls for of promoting, store entrance decor and business portraiture” within the metropolis.

In 2002 Kwami organised Kumasi Junction at Oriel Mostyn gallery in Llandudno, wherein he hung his personal work alongside 11 signpainters whose work he travelled with from Ghana to Wales.

In a collection of kiosk-like sculptures, Kwami made his curiosity in vernacular design much more specific. On the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale he confirmed a inexperienced and yellow hut, a nod to the unexpectedly constructed casual basic shops of Ghana. 4 years later, for his solo exhibition on the Kunsthalle Basel, the artist complemented dozens of diminutive work with an identical kiosk work, titled The Tiger, painted in shades of blue and gray, tones picked out from the wall-works. For a second undertaking for the Folkestone Triennial he put in erratically positioned huts, constructed of discovered wooden, on a grassy verge down one of many city’s important thoroughfares.

Atta Kwami in front of one of his artworks
Atta Kwami’s work was impressed by the ‘calls for of promoting, store entrance decor and business portraiture’ in Kumasi, Ghana. {Photograph}: Serpentine Maria Lassnig Basis/Fashionable Painters, New Decorators

Strolling the streets of Kumasi he would regularly carry a small digicam or sketchbook to doc the ad-hoc creativity he encountered. “Poverty is the one factor that cash can’t purchase,” Kwami mentioned in 2012. “The voice of the poor can at all times be felt in the way in which they’ll rework their environment with dignity via private aesthetics. I word the way in which environments could be reworked with little or no by taking pictures or by drawing: satirically this engagement enriches my inventive life.”

He was born George Atta Kwami in Accra to Grace Kwami (nee Anku), an artist of appreciable word, and Robert Kwami, a music trainer. Each units of grandparents had been Christian preachers.

When he was six months previous, his father, a trainer at Achimota faculty, died; that was the varsity that George went to. Grace used to say that he had began drawing earlier than he may stroll, and on the age of 10 he received a contest to design a poster for Golden Tree Chocolate. As a young person, then at Mawuli faculty, a boarding faculty within the Volta area of Ghana, the place his widowed mom taught, George realized to weave below a Ewe grasp. In 1974 he enrolled at Kumasi College of Science and Expertise to check portray.

On commencement Kwami taught on the Authorities Coaching School in Tamale and, aged 20, had his first solo reveals on the northern metropolis’s cultural centre and on the British Council in Accra. There he raised eyebrows with a piece titled Financial Report, wherein the artist caught a number of used toothpaste tubes on to a board.

“I attempted to discover our current preoccupation with probably the most fundamental materials items,” Kwami instructed an area newspaper on the time, underlining the political subtext of his work that remained all through the years. “We hoard them like gold. After we commerce them, we accomplish that at exorbitant and merciless costs.”

In 1981 the artist moved to Nigeria, tasked with organising an artwork division at a personal faculty in Uyo. 5 years later he returned to the artwork school in Kumasi, this time to show, staying for nearly 20 years.

In 1992 he was included in Out of Africa, an ill-conceived survey present of the continent on the Saatchi Gallery in London, exhibiting a collection of “Tana work”, handmade paper dyed with pigments into the now acquainted grid-like permutations. That 12 months he married Pamela Clarkson, a British artist who had gone to Kumasi to arrange a print studio on the school. The next 12 months the pair shared a present on the Beardsmore gallery, the primary of 4 with the London seller.

In 1999 he produced The African Archways, put in in Jeevanjee Gardens in Nairobi, the place the artist had been endeavor a residency. A precursor to the Folkestone harbour work, it featured three units of double arches coated in panels painted with horizontal and vertical stripes.

Exhibiting often over the next a long time, making work at each his dwelling studio in Kumasi and the Fashionable Painters, New Decorators studio collective in Loughborough, Kwami produced work that may be discovered within the collections of each the nationwide museums of Ghana and Kenya; the V&A and British Museum in London; and the Met and Brooklyn Museum in New York, in addition to the Nationwide Museum of African Artwork in Washington. He was engaged on an architectural set up to be proven on the Serpentine galleries on the time of his dying.

He’s survived by Pamela.

(George) Atta Kwami, artist, born 14 September 1956; died 6 October 2021

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