Born in 1915, he is a funny man and an assured one too. He once told me I looked like his grandmother ...that was an honour. This piece I wrote for the Daily Graphic newspaper (Ghana) to comemorate Ghana's independece, fifty years later:
“Face to Face” – Amon Kotei . Oil on Canvas, 20” x 35”. 1975
At the countdown from 50 to 50, I decided to write about a painting by the man who designed the Ghana coat of arms, Amon Kotei.
It is a painting called “Face to Face”. It is a composition of two perhaps Ga women meeting face to face.
The two women fill up the painting and taking over the fore and middle grounds of the painting. As if they are almost giants; taking up the space on the left side of the painting and the other positioned on the right. In the middle of the composition is the space that divides the two women but that space carries the tension and weight of this meeting. The sky complements this brewing. In that space we get to find out what it is they are discussing and hopefully where a solution will amount.
At their backs with heavy oil brushstrokes of mainly yellow , the viewer is reminded of the blazing sun these two women are sitting in. Oranges are also used to complement the sunshine, while light shades of blue in the background represents the sky behind them. The greens in strokes are a reminder of the trees and vegetation behind the two women.
The woman on the left is dressed similarly to the woman on the right, in a head scarf and a sleeveless casual\market woman like top with her overcloth covering her from the waist below. Although she is almost certainly wearing a skirt underneath it too. Her headscarf is dominated by blue making her seem peaceful. The colour blue also dominates the left side of her body. The red colour visible on her back seems to be more like a reflection of the sun and a colour in top, rather than a representation of her temper. Kotei also uses the tone of red as a base for her dark skin because it is normally so.
The overcloth of the woman on the left is seen as blue on the right appears as green on the left; again making her appear calmer than the other woman sitting opposite her. Her posture also reflects this; her shoulders are relaxed and both hands are resting on her thighs with the right one hanging down loosely in the air. The look on her face compliments her posture because although she seems to be a little heated up, she appears friendlier and there is a willingness to listen.
Both women are large in size but in Ghanaian culture it should be expected for their age , between their forties and fifties. Kotei uses rounded brushstrokes and a slight variation of colours to draw, define and give tone to the anatomy of the two women; an example being the arm of the lady on the left. The roundness\thickness of the strokes of colour show the viewer the texture of the woman’s skin. It is slightly worn and a little loose but it still has the elasticity expected of black skin. Also their forearms are of toned tough skin; developed through days of spending more time in the sun than usual. A bit like an old fisherman’s skin but not as tough. Their hands are large and useful. They appear as hardworking women and their strong anatomy helps them perform their everyday roles well. The faces of the women especially the one on the right, has the sheen and smoothness of black skin. Perhaps of Ga origin she harbours signs of a fair skinned Ga woman. Both women’s faces show brilliant bone structures and a natural beauty that is still visible at their age; common Ghana not always so in non-African cultures.
In this face to face meeting the right placed woman looks like she has something to bare off her chest. Her posture is one we can associate with people of African origin all around the world, this includes her nose up in the air, her hands are on her hips and all over although she is in a yellow top, there are tones of red reflected all over her body. On her overcloth, Kotei uses lines of colour including browns, greens, dark blues and yellow to define the folds in her cloth which crawls up her lower back. The woman is angry about something. This leaves the viewer to wonder what this “Face to Face” meeting is about. Is it a family feud that needs to be resolved?, is it because the other lady thinks is not good enough for hers?, is it because one has taken the others market space or one borrowed money from the other and it has not being paid back? The stage has been set for us to decide but whatever these two women have met about they look ready to resolve their problem.
This painting can be criticised for not being simple enough for the eye because of the great variation of colours everywhere and also the background could have been more realistic like that of a classic landscape. A few Ghanaian artists lately have taken on this style of background but made it lazy by placing any colour in the background almost to make it disappear and at times leaves their subject in thin air, which does not compliment the painting. Kotei on the other hand, his background is a little more detailed than that. And his dominant space as said before is taken up by tension.As we are in the countdown from 50 to 50 let Kotei remind us to face our problems, conquer them, move on to make ourselves and nation better and also greater. We can do so verbally with peaceful action, just like the two women who with effort met face to face to solve their problem.
There is more to come on Amon Kotei.