In Conversation with Larry Amponsah
Born on November 11, 1989 in Ghana and now living and working in London, Larry Amponsah studied BFA in painting at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, proceeded to Jiangsu University in China to study Chinese traditional painting and calligraphy before his master’s in painting at the Royal College of Art in London.
Amponsah’s practice is mainly about using archival images and materials sampled from various cultures to attempt to solve the unresolved questions of representation in the history of art. To this end, he employs collage as a point of departure for creating compositions of entities in spaces and spaces in entities, to tell fictional stories that deal with issues on a global platform. As a result, the works create and take up positions in our contemporary globalised community. In this interview with Omenka, he talks about his experience with studying art on three continents, the role of his African identity in his work, and his choice of materials.
Having earned a BFA in painting at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, and completed an MFA in Chinese traditional painting and calligraphy, you achieved recognition for your work in collage. Does your present pursuit of a second master’s in painting at the Royal College of Arts in London confirm painting as your preferred medium? Do you find collage inadequate to express your ideas about underrepresentation in art history narratives?
Oh, I’ve completed my MA Painting at the Royal College of Art (RCA hereafter), so I’m no longer a student at the RCA. I have been too busy to update my website. A lot of things have happened, and I have to update it ASAP. Thanks for the reminder.
First of all, my MFA in Chinese traditional painting and calligraphy was partially (not fully) completed, and yes, my educational history in painting confirms painting as my practice, but not as a preferred medium. My approach to painting is far from the traditional one—I tackle painting more by looking at the doing process (action, state, or occurrence) of it rather than focusing on the product—so painting as verbal practice instead of the noun, if you like. I find collage as the most interesting and challenging medium to express my creative ideas. For me, collage is a necessity; it’s adequate enough to help me deeply reflect on the harsh living conditions of certain people in certain spaces and strategically find ways to include their stories (my story) in the history of art. Paint (material), on the other hand, can be quite romantic and too smooth to truly communicate my thoughts and experiences. Not to say I don’t use paint at all in my work. In fact, I have spent a fair amount of time testing and studying the functions of it (paint), and I must say it is infinite in its potential. It’s just that my cultural and economic background don’t permit me to use paint as my sole medium. I can’t afford to use paint to represent the struggle—our struggle and my struggle—for it is not heavy enough, in my opinion.
What effect has studying art on three different continents had on your work?
Studying on three different continents has had tremendous effect culturally on me and my practice. Each continent comes with its own uniqueness and presents you with a new set of challenges. Africa is extremely communal in its setting and is culturally significant (within and beyond the continent) in terms of growth and opportunities in many ways I can only be proud of. Asia is radically fast in technology, which battles somewhat with the people’s cultural history on various levels and creates this fascinating tension between the old and new cultures educationally and politically. Europe, on the other hand, is diverse philosophically but harsh on individuals at the same time, forcing you to recoil in your shell. This is not always bad, because you get to spend quality time to engage in your studio practice more thoughtfully and intimately.
I’m fairly honest with myself now, and I feel very responsible to be more open-minded in my ideas. I’ve grown to be extra sensitive about the need to understand and be a part of the global art dialogue in order to effect change in history on a global scale. And, of course, the totally different responses from the audiences on these continents to my work continue to empower, mould, and considerably magnify my practice. It’s been very exciting and challenging at the same time, and I feel extremely privileged in that sense.
Your work strongly involves the incorporation of found objects. What influences your choice of materials and images?
I am drawn to time and movement, so I try to immortalise the materials I use, but survival really influences my choice of material. I grew up in Accra, where most people live their life on the edge. You want to make this with that, but that isn’t available. So what do you do? You devise various strategies to use what there is to achieve what you want. That’s why the form of my work and my choice of materials change over time.
What role does your African identity and culture play in your work?
My identity as African and my cultural experience play very significant roles in my practice. In fact, my work is driven by my cultural background for the most part. And then, through my creations, I examine the role of Africa in the contemporary global conversation. I like how being well-informed by the phenomenal occurrences in Africa is helping me to create a space for myself, and most importantly, a space for Africa to have a place in the history of painting on the global platform.
“Amponsah’s practice mainly is about the use of archival images and materials sampled from various cultures to create compositions of entities in spaces and spaces in entities.” Please tell us more about this statement and what your creative process is like.
I create grotesque-like yet non-off-putting entities that reflect various living conditions of people in certain spaces (both high and low), and I do this without separating the space from its occupiers and vice versa. I raid into private and public space, and through negotiations, I collect archival images and materials. Then I alter the scale, texture, pixels, colour, and compositions of the sampled images through Photoshop and reprint all the images in various sizes. And then I spend months physically collaging, weaving, scrapping, painting, binding, and concealing in order to reveal what I call “the now here, but nowhere and yet from everywhere.”
Your work Come Close, Look Closer… If You Want Moor of Me examines the role of art and the artist in contemporary times. Please tell us more about this.
Come Close, Look Closer… If You Want Moor of Me is actually a question in itself and to everyone responsible for the making and consumption of art in our time. The work transcends meaning and functions of materials, as it is made from different materials that would normally not tolerate each other. It extends material and cultural boundaries in that sense, challenges our understanding of space and time, and rephrases the meaning of painting as imposed within historical discourses of art. Historically, scholars and practitioners have used painting to represent “things,” so all I was thinking about when I was making the work was possible ways to use “things” to also represent, investigate, and interrogate what a painting is—or, if you like, what it could possibly be. The work can’t be displayed on a wall because it’s double-sided. It’s accompanied by various components (mirror and wooden stairs), but it is not to be seen as an installation; it defies space and drifts suspended in limbo. A work of art overrides its audience or vice versa, but not in the case of Come Close, Look Closer… If You Want Moor of Me, for power in art has been equally divided and shared between the work and its viewers as they take the stage on the stairs (a gesture of assuming power) and/or leave the stairs (a gesture of missing out) in order to read the work. Unlike most artworks in history, this work does not impose ideas on people; rather, it creates avenues for curiosity, for a curious mind is always rewarded with knowledge in abundance.
Is there any upcoming project you would like to share?
There are many exciting projects in the pipeline, but I like to keep things concealed in order to surprise my audience and enthusiasts. So stay close!
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