The veteran Ghanaian artist discusses his kaleidoscopic take on African life
By Daniel Neilson
In an exclusive interview with Ruth-Ellen Davis, septuagenarian artist Ablade Glover discusses art in Ghana, how he creates his marvellous images and his plans for the future
Fondly referred to as the grandfather of contemporary Ghanaian art, Ablade Glover is one of the most celebrated of Ghana’s present-day artists. If not the most. The vivid flecks of acrylic that fill his huge canvasses stir praise across the globe, their vibrant hues combining to form dazzling African scenes – scenes that Glover says are impossible to truly replicate. ‘The scenes I paint – the markets, the crowds – you can never wholly capture them because they are always changing,’ he explains, peering over his spectacles from behind a paper-strewn desk at the Artists Alliance gallery. ‘You can never finish painting them. My aim can only be to capture the tempo.’
And boy, does he. Up close, Glover’s paintings are a seemingly disordered mass of colourful slices and shapes, eye-catching and vibrant. It is only when the viewer steps back they are hit with the energy of a market; the sacred unity of mass prayer; a townscape of roofs illuminated to a vivid red by the beating African sun.
Having wound down a prestigious academic career lecturing at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, the last few years have seen him realise another ambition: the creation of a beautiful space worthy of Ghana’s top artistic talent; a place for great artists to exhibit together and learn from each other.
Artists Alliance gallery is a charming artistic space by anyone’s standards, and when considering it is born from Glover’s personal vision alone, its existence upon the dusty Ghanaian shoreline seems doubly impressive. ‘There is no government support for this kind of thing,’ says Glover. ‘When there are hospitals to build and schools to pay for, the government response is “Art? What is art?!”’
After all this work, it is his own art he’ll concentrate on. As his 70s draw to a close, he is looking forward to focusing more on his painting. ‘Why would I stop? Painting for me is part of a healthy life. I walk thousands of kilometres when I work, moving in and then stepping back. After the first layer dries, perhaps two weeks, there’s a second layer, a third.’
He reaches behind him and raps his pen against a red tree crackling across a large canvass, Glover’s trademark waves of acrylic rolling from the surface. ‘The image emerges and you must be alerted to it – you must see how and be able to capture it. Cracks form and earlier layers and colours come through – that is all part of it.’
He explains, ‘We can all pick tools and use them to express ourselves. People here traditionally worked with the materials around them – such as weaving or with wood. What we are doing now is using alien materials we learned to use at school to express and celebrate our culture.
‘But to do this your tool can be anything – a brush, a camera… language.’
And since Glover’s art teacher in Newcastle introduced him to his chosen tool, the palette knife, he’s never looked back. It was, as he says ‘the perfect fit.’ Few could disagree.