Kwesi Botchway is the founder of Worldfaze art studio. He was born in Accra-Ghana and studied art at the Ghanatta College of Art and Design. His paintings create an intriguing dialogue between the subject’s message and the viewer. Botchway’s work compels the viewer to become physically and emotionally invested in the subject’s story. He aims to capture the spirit, essence and heritage of his subjects and use this as an opportunity to create a window onto the lives and struggles of people whose stories are yet to be fully told. These paintings are meant to trigger emotions of pride, shame, honor and disgust, as well as and sometimes even humor. Botchway’s work is based around the story of his subjects; narratives that are often impossible to elucidate through words alone. He spoke to us – from a partially locked-down Accra in Ghana – about his practice and his submission to our upcoming online exhibition Drawn Together.
UL Could you start by telling us a little bit about your practice?
KB I am an impressionist and a portrait artist. I’m more focused on the human face, I believe that is where our souls display their emotions and I think I’m the kind of artist who wants people, or my viewers, to have a feel of my subjects, get a sense of their stories. Even though I don’t have to tell them, they have to feel it by having a dialogue with the works. That’s one of my focuses.
My exhibition [Dark Purple Is Everything Black at Gallery 1957 in Accra, Ghana] went well, even though the coronavirus pandemic situation made it difficult, the attention I’m having is more positive and for me I think it’s my most successful exhibition. It’s also my first solo exhibition in Ghana, I’ve only done group exhibitions before.
UL When you say this exhibition is more positive, do you mean in terms of how it has been received?
KB Yeah well collector wise, how collectors are reacting to it and collecting the works is very positive. Most of the works were sold, we kept some personal ones that we didn’t want to sell. I had African collectors, US and UK as well, and Spanish.
UL Your work is concerned with eyes and conveying the story of the subject, do you know everyone you paint?
KB Well, not everyone. I’m the kind of artist who loves to challenge himself, so sometimes I sketch from imagination but mostly I like to work with pictures. But sometimes I get in the mood where I want to paint from my imagination.
UL And when you paint from imagination are you creating a story for that character in your mind?
KB Yeah, when it comes to stories, I have a lot of friends and I kind of investigate in life, so I enthuse myself with a lot of stories about people. So when I paint from my imagination I just have to attach the story to the work.
Bald Head King (David Nii Otoo Lartey), 2020,79 x 79 cm
UL Do you see the work changing in the near future? Or have you settled into this style?
KB I love my new body of work because of how resilient it is and how flexible it is. In terms of working with the colour purple instead of black is very interesting and more challenging you know, so working with it is more interesting to me. But I’m looking at addressing certain issues with the same bodies of work.
UL Why do you choose to work in purple?
KB Well you know purple is an ancient colour which has been linked to royalty. The Queen of England, in the past, had to ban people from wearing purple. It was mainly used by people with power or authority. I took that inspiration. Instead of painting black people with purple clothes or putting crowns on them I would rather depict it through their skin.
UL So it’s a way of expressing or redefining black power, transposing the idea onto the figure itself. Have you been following the developments of the Black Lives Matter movement around the world?
KB Yeah most definitely, because I’m black and I’ve been to the States so I know what is happening and as a black artist I need to also engage myself in that, because we are looking to elevate our own people and make sure we give them the kind of courage they have to have, because in this time it’s not easy.
UL Do you find the debate differs much in Ghana to somewhere like America?
KB It’s all the same, racism is everywhere. You know I don’t see myself and think I’m in Ghana and I’m not in the States, maybe what is happening in the States is not happening in Ghana, but as far as I’m a black artist I need to be involved. It’s not about Ghana it’s about black people.
UL Could you finish by talking a little about Wary Black Youth – the piece you have submitted to Unit London’s show?
KB That piece is an imaginative piece. We are in very difficult times and it was inspired by the current issues that are happening in the States, I’m worried because I believe that as a black youth you have to be very cautious because of the situation we are in right now. So we have to be very very cautious because people are being killed, I think it’s very dangerous. It is painted with purple skin and orange eyes, I love intensity and white eyes for me are a bit plain, there isn’t as much of a story behind them. I wanted my viewers and art lovers to invest their time, you know, to get a feel of the work, so the orange eyes create an intensity in the work. It’s kind of like you’re looking at someone who is staring at you intensely, posing their stories to you. The hot orange eyes signify a kind of superiority, I want to put black people in this state, to see themselves as not normal human beings but something more powerful, because you know for me I feel like black is the presence of everything.
Wary Black Youth, 2020, Acrylic on paper, 30 x 42 cm