Sunday, 25 September 2011

Pictorial Batik Paintings by Samuel Ashon

Kokrobite Beach

A Good Day


Starting with the Beach scene called “Kokrobite Beach”; its dominance is in green, natures colour. It is scene that used to be typical on most Ghanaian beaches across the south of the country. Now those beaches are dominated with restaurants, hotels and peoples homes (one cannot blame them).

In the background at the lower part of the painting we see the original use of the beach to those who live near it. There are huts presented in the dark green and a yellow lemon green for the straw that is the roofing of these huts. The huts are where the local fishermen keep their nets tools etcetera, so that when it is time to fish, they do not carry all of their equipment from their true homes. The huts consist of a door which is the light source into the room. Lanterns or battery powered sources of light are the equivalent. In front of the huts is an example of the wooden canoes used by the fishermen to fish. Behind the huts is a tree which helps to form almost a separate scene of huts in the painting and makes the background easy on the eye to digest as a viewer, and also the viewer gets a sense of what is beyond.

There is a bay that leads into the water from the side of the huts at times needed to mount things in and out of the sea, or for human pleasure.

Coconut trees dominate this beach scene again in two shades of green; the leaves are an example of the waxing process Ashon talks of in batik dying. The lighter lime colour has been used to accentuate the leaves in the seeing of the stems and the texture of the leaves themselves. The palm trees frame this painting and Ashon has given them a variation of lengths as well as barks that start from one end of the painting to another, which is typical of some of the coconut trees on the old fishing beaches in Ghana.** Looking at the trees one cannot help but get a sense of paradise(as marketed by all holiday agents/resorts). It is the scene one expects on a tropical beach especially when coming from the west. This leads us to the holiday maker, in his shorts sitting underneath the palm trees relaxing. He is soaking in the scene as well as the quiet sea. In comparison to the local native woman in her batik skirt and plain top in the foreground of the painting who is carrying something on her head; most probably some food to sell, something quick to eat.  Ashon likes to depict women as workers due to his growing up near Mamobi market, a market in Accra, the capital of Ghana. There he saw a range of market women working very hard to provide for their families. The scene at Mamobi market was one of each woman with her small (like the woman in this painting) business to those who have progressed further larger businesses.  Ashon commented that he saw women as part of the backbone of society and that is why he likes to depict women in his paintings as credit to women.

This scene is one you get on some of the beaches still in it’s original format and it includes some of the local women carrying their mini business’s on their heads going round offering those retiring on the beach, if only for a day, a quick snack. The restaurants have not overtaken this type of beach yet, hence the sight of these women is often welcomed.

The beach to some locals in the countryside is seen as place of function. Firstly to attain food, fish, to eat or to sell. And it is also a place where one finds a connected stream to collect water for the home or a place to dump refuse (as still done all over the world by large factories disposing of their chemicals); this scene is now extremely rare in Ghana.  Although the locals do take time out to go swimming and enjoy the peacefulness of the beach.

The trees go in a variation of the directions in the scene and dominate the top half of the batik painting. Their curves and swirls are naturally of nature’s law and as said before frame the whole scene. The palm trees are lined with black to help in the definition of the tree structure. The only thing behind the tops of the trees is the blue sky which Ashon achieves with white and light brushes of blue giving it a sense of calmness and it looks like a clear day.

The shadows of the palm trees are reflected in the sand and again the play of colours is seen with the use of a dark vegetation green to create the shadows. If you keep looking at it you could mistake it for the colour grey shadows one is used to. It plays on the eye, a bit like watching the “Mona Lisa”, making it an interesting scene to look at.

Apart from the lady in the opening scene, there is another canoe on the right hand side  of the painting again emphasizing the use of the sea to few locals.  A typical fishing village would harbor much more boats than those seen in this painting.

At the tips of the sand the water comes to greet us and the salt in the water makes the edges of the water white and this creates a pattern alongside the beach. The sea is presented to the viewer on the left handside. It is blue and not at high tide hence it is calm and simply breathing by pushing a little water forward which in turn naturally goes back into the sea. The sea disappears into the background of the painting and also the left side of the painting, reminding the viewers of its vastness as well as taking him or her into the scene because it is what we see when we go to the beach. This is why Samuel Ashon calls his works pictorial batiks. They are like oil or acrylic paintings and that is the effect/scene he wants to achieve. 

Other examples of Ashon’s work are, ‘A loaded file ‘, the scene of market women with their stock on their heads. ‘A Good Day’ is a scene in which you get to see an example of the detail Ashon puts in his work, the variation of colours to achieve it, and how he manages to make batik works interesting.  The following scene called ‘reflections’ a sunset is one Ashon loves to paint. The simple plain colours in this painting make it refreshing to see. Ashon’s sunsets are usually more of a complication of colours and take on the form of more impressionist abstract styles. Complete abstract is also created by Ashon and it dominantly takes the form of shapes.

Practicality, may have lead Ashon to work as a pictorial batique artist, he at the time thought of becoming a sculpturer or doing ceramics but, the equipment needed and the money for it then did not suit his pocket. But as perhaps fate would have it, it has led him to become the only artist I have seen in Ghana who works like this. His works are unique. And to honour this, his works have been exhibited all around Europe, USA as well as Africa. He is first to say there are others like him around the world but to his standard there are not more than a handful. He is an exception in Ghanaian art and if not for the enjoyment of painting his works must be seen for its rarity.

Currently Samuel Ashon works as the Deputy Director at the Centre for National Culture in Accra, Ghana. If you are lucky to meet the man himself his infectious, bright smile and constant mood of joy would make you warm to him.  Samuel Ashon is an example of true success in Ghana when some think it can only be done by going abroad.

A pattern of holding an exhibition yearly at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Accra, has become Ashon’s other fate for the past six or more years. This year’s exhibition was in June 2007. And featured some of the works you see on the following page. There is always a rotation of works, so more than one visit may be needed during exhibition time. Works at a dominant number of exhibitions in Ghana are sold during the early days and taken away so it is best to get to the exhibitions early!
A Loaded File

Have a look at the next blog for my thoughts on his exhibition:) .

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