Celebrating Ablade Glover At 80
by Ladun Ogidan
As celebrated Ghanaian artist, Ablade Glover turns 80 this year, October Gallery holds a retrospective exhibition to sketch a panoramic overview of his life and work that examines a deep commitment to the process of painting in oils.
Omenka got in touch with Professor Glover to ask him how he feels about turning 80, his motivations for establishing the Artists Alliance Gallery, and his projection for African art in the next decade.
How does it feel to turn 80?
It feels good and rather surprising, the days and years have flown by! I’m grateful that I’m on my two feet.
Where have you lived and worked most of your life?
I‘ve worked almost all my life in Ghana, teaching mainly young people. I studied in Ghana, and Britain and the United States, after which, I taught full-time at the College of Art in Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. While I was in Britain, I studied at Central School, London and at The University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Later in the United States, I studied at Kent State University before proceeding to Ohio State University, where I achieved my Doctorate.
How long have you been practising as an artist?
My goodness, more than fifty years – my first solo show was in 1962. I don’t think I originally wanted to be an artist; if you asked me as young teenager, I probably wanted to be a doctor or something like that. However teaching became possible and I focused on Art Education.
Are you still actively involved in your work or do you sometimes work indirectly through apprentices?
Actively involved? Oh, very much so. I get some help for the primary aspect of things, for example, the stretching and priming of the canvas. I still paint alone, without apprentices. I am the one who holds the brush or knife in the studio – I don’t have an assistant for that!
Does any artist or school of thought influence you?
I think a mixture of people, mostly individual practising artists in Ghana. I loved Saka Acquaye, who I think was a wonderful artist and Vincent Kofi, the sculptor, I like his works too. I admired these people as I grew up. Acquaye created these incredible Ghanaian female figures in his sculpture, which I admired. Regarding my studies abroad, there were all these great characters, you know, good teachers – for instance, Gordon Crook at Central in London. I remember his encouragement and positivity. It was these practising artists who were also teachers, and who became my source of inspiration and motivation.
What have been your guiding principles in life?
I’m fortunate. When I get up, I do want I want. You see, when I began teaching at the university, I could paint between my lectures. It was possible to organise my life in this way. I love what I am doing and it is this passion that guides me. Also having a place at October Gallery, London, gave me additional motivation; suddenly different people from all over the world were able to see my work. This infused me with the energy to continue my work.
You are widely exhibited around the world. Which show stands out in your memory for you as special and why?
I would say the exhibition at October Gallery, London, as it was my first solo exhibition outside Ghana in a commercial gallery. The British Council sponsored a show, which was at the Africa Centre in 1980s and Chili Hawes, Director of October Gallery saw this exhibition. She then approached me to exhibit at October Gallery. This, I think was the turning point.
What do you consider to be the high point of your career?
I think the opportunity to exhibit outside of Africa and onto the international stage. I’ve been fortunate because all I’ve had to do is work – but elsewhere in the world, it’s not like that. An artist has to be all and everything. I had support (I hope I’ve given support back) to reach an international level where my works are seen by many different nationalities. This matters to me. Then, there were the writers and the critics who took note. As an artist, I think receiving feedback is important; this way you can pause and reflect upon the direction of your creative energy.
What was your motivation for establishing the Artists Alliance Gallery?
It was less about motivation and more about a challenge: There was no gallery available at that time in Ghana; there wasn’t a platform for artists. I found the experience in London at October Gallery highly motivating. It gave me the idea to create another gallery – this became the Artists Alliance Gallery. The challenge was to find a solution to the problem of the artists’ lack of exposure – so, when we created the Artists Alliance Gallery, it was a relief for the artists and for those who wanted to see art. Finally, there was a permanent space dedicated to art, which is now inundated with applications from artists of all ages from all around the world.
What are your plans for the future?
My plan is to keep painting. I feel liberated now and I have changed completely in my approach to colour – everything has changed in the last few years. The colours are brighter and directly sourced from the paint tubes. It has become creatively very interesting to break all the rules.
What is your projection for African art in the next decade?
I was raised to use ‘alien tools’ to express my culture; brushes, oils, and palette knife. Now I feel free to reject some of the methods that I was originally taught. However, even with ‘alien tools’, one must be able to bring out a culture. Now I observe many young artists using all sorts of techniques and methods to express their culture. I think the attitude has shifted towards African contemporary art and there is a genuine international interest. We still have a long way to go, as in Ghana, there are very few Ghanaians who collect art and the majority of collectors are expatriates. Perhaps there will come a time when the Ghanaian community fully engages and will understand the value of the contemporary artist to their culture and society.
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