From Kumasi to Kensington

Emmanuel ‘Papa’ Essel
24 October 2000 to 25 November 2000

“Painting to me is a form of dialogue. It entails more than mere image-making for decoration. It involves the artist interrogating his environment and the general taken-for-granted attitudes of society. For me, it touches everything – political to spiritual, personal to social.”

Ghanaian artist Papa Essel showed image and text-based paintings that have been made over the last six years, both in Ghana and in London where he now lives. Some of the works have travelled extensively abroad but have only now been exhibited in the UK.

The artist also has travelled, and this has affected the content of his work. Essel explores a complex network of themes centering around Africa’s relationship with the West, and issues in the lives of African people living in a variety of situations. Having previously considered these themes from an African perspective, his time in London has given him a wider outlook with which to examine his subject matter.

Essel paints with oils, watercolour and acrylics on various supports. He uses both figurative images and text in his carefully balanced compositions. This integration is a significant element in his work. ‘It seems to me that word and image are two vital components in the presentation and dissemination of information, ideas and aesthetics. The written word becomes a text representing an image of the spoken word. […] Once painted these words/texts become images in themselves’. The paintings that are thus created display a rich sense of colour and texture, as well as drawing attention to the issues he finds in modern society.

The artist acknowledges many influences from his native culture. Some examples he gives are ‘wall paintings by the people of Northern Ghana, the Asafa flags of the Fantes and the Adrinkra symbolism of the Asantes.’