I walked into Ablade Glover’s studio at about 9 am. Timing was about right. He had told me he’d be painting till 10 am and would then have to go to his gallery to attend to some business. I’d always been impressed by his ability to be both prolific artist and the owner of the Ghana’s biggest art gallery.
He welcomed me with a smile. He was wearing a paint-spattered T-shirt and a pair of shorts; looking quite dishevelled in a ‘busy artist’ sort of way, yet remarkably dignified. His studio was littered with empty tubes of paint, like some sort of random installation. The table had packets of unopened paint tubes arranged quite neatly. Under the table there were tubes of paint in different stages of undress. A few were still sealed, most were half-used with bits of paint sticking out cheekily. Beside the table there were several easels with canvases he was currently working – market scenes in different stages of creation.
We chatted for a while.
‘Have a look at what’s in the store as well’, he said. ‘But be careful they are not all dry.’
I got the artworks out and started to look at them while he left to get ready for the gallery.
‘Traffic in Accra is as bad as Lagos’, I remarked as were drove to his gallery. ‘I don’t mind though. I’m not in any hurry’.
‘You know, someone was saying to me about your artworks the other day’, I said gingerly, ‘that they all look the same’.
He smiled. ‘I get that sometimes. That I copy myself’.
‘Years ago, I had an exhibition in Lagos and one brave fellow actually walked up to me to say he couldn’t understand why I chose to copy myself’.
‘The problem is that some people look at just the scene’, he continued. ‘So if I do a market, they say, “You can’t do another market or it’s the same thing”. They’re not looking at the spirit of the work or the idea’.
‘It not about the market. It’s not about the scene. They need to look beyond just a scene and think of the spirit of the artwork. Each one is an exploration’.
‘You know I might be painting one work and then I start to think, I wish I’d done it differently, given it a different feeling. And I can’t wait to go on to a new one to explore this new idea, and it might just be a slight change in direction.’
I nodded. ‘I suppose it’s all about interpretation’, I said. ‘If you think it’s just a market with a certain kind of colour scheme, then any other market with a similar colour scheme and arrangement becomes the same. But if you think it’s an idea, then the constant exploration of that idea even if the changes are slight is understandable.’
‘In any case’, he interrupted, ‘markets have such a variety of moods. You could come to the same market everyday and it would look exactly the same but the mood would be different, day by day, even hour by hour. It could be buoyant, depressed, energetic, lethargic… yet looking almost the same’.
I thought about it as we drove.
Why do people want a particular picture exclusively to themselves anyway? Anything remotely similar seemed to mean that they were sharing, and like petulant lovers sharing certainly wasn’t allowed. They had to own that whole scene.
For me, it was the reverse. There was something about the repetitiveness of his style that enriched each artwork and the totality of his output. While I liked some more than others. I felt the constant repetition of the ideas somehow brought a deeper resonance to his images. The graceful market women could just have been another fleeting image but in its repetition that image had become more significant, more resonant. It had become a constant representation of the idea of simple, African elegance.
I remembered the old prince tune, ‘There is joy in repetition’. Well, I remembered just the title of the song. I couldn’t for the life of me remember the lyrics. But it seemed apt. Each artwork similar, yet different – almost like a new meeting with an old friend.
I’ve always liked the idea behind his artworks – that ability to capture the density and energy of meeting places like markets and mosques in Africa; the energy of the people, the fervour of their interaction and the nobility of the women. I like that you get that from a detached viewpoint – an observer’s perch – free from the chaos of close interaction yet aware of the energy and the beauty of the scene. Each one is, for me, a whole new pleasurable adventure into sensations and colours.
And yes, the colours. I don’t know what it is about his colours but they seduce me, even when I think I have seen all there is to see; I see a new artwork and I’m hooked. There’s something in my brain, I suppose, that responds and surrenders to his colours. I can’t quite tell why. But then it doesn’t really matter does it? I just enjoy the experience over and over again.
It might seem like repetition to some, but I’m definitely going with Prince on this one – There really is beauty and joy in repetition.