Monday, January 30, 2023

A studio visit of Ghanaian artist Indian visual artist Manisha Vedpathak


I was glad to have a second chance to visit Ghana in November 2022. I had been there before Covid and had done a few studio visits of Ghanaian eminent artists and as always intrigued with the workspaces of artists, had planned to do the same this time as well, along with other activities.  November and December were a complete art treat for me as there were many exhibitions taking place in the city of Accra, the capital of Ghana. Met old artist friends and met some new artists as well.

My first visit was to Larry Otoo Sir studio where I asked if he can connect me to some established artist from the younger generation and he recommended artist C-Kle . And thus, I reached C-kle studio where I got to know that his name was Clement Laryea and his signature or artist name was C-kle.

Clement Laryea known as C-kle is a Ghanaian artist born on the 15th June 1982 in Accra. He graduated as a Visual Art student who studied theoretical aspect of art. He then continued by learning fine art and sculpture designing through apprenticeship for five years.  C-kle has a passion for painting, mostly portraits in an abstract style. He works in acrylic, oil and charcoal medium. He says his aim is to let the world know that if it can be done, then we can do it and his aim is to exhibit his modern African art all over the world.

An Art therapist, philosopher and preacher of art, he loves to help the less privileged ones. He creates inspiring contemporary art and portraits of people from Ghana, his home country. His work is sold throughout the City of Accra in tourist hotels, malls and galleries as well as internationally like The Parallax Art Fair in London and The Art Revolution in Taiwan. His work has given him continued exposure and sales throughout the world.

I was greeted warmly by C-kle . this was my first acquaintance with him. He looked very determined artist full of humanity. His studio was a separate room in the premises of his house, very much accessible at any moment. His artworks were very vibrant and as I spoke to him, I felt that his paintings spoke the language of healing

Thank you for your precious time. To start with, we would like to know more about you and your artistic background.

C-kle is my signature. You can call it my brush name. Without this name, you will not be able to reach my website. I am native Ghanaian and I call myself Therapist because I provide a variety of treatments through my paintings. Looking at my paintings people say that if this can be done then I can also do it. I send a message through my paintings. Clement Laryea is my name, C-kle is my signature and what really represents me is Art Therapist.

I completed junior and senior high school from 1995-2001. After a year gap I went into apprenticeship for 5 good years. I learned a lot there, like printing T-shirts, doing panels, doing photo backgrounds, video posters etc. I discovered impressionism after my apprenticeship in 2007. And from 2009 I started selling these works in hotels and galleries in Ghana. For 16 years, till date I have been painting and my works have gone all over the world. I am a family man with 3 kids and trying to build up a 2-storey building for my family which will also host a gallery and my studio.

A small percentage of my painting’s sale goes to the street children, the less privileged ones. I have been doing this for last 3 years. My purpose of painting is to touch lives through them. Humanity needs to be understood. We artists are so blessed that a painting can heal somebody. Once they are healed, they need to be fed and after feeding them I preach them, I teach them Gospel. This is about humanity and not about religion. Every soul is a soul. I want to go back and tell the society that if I can do it, they can also do it.

I normally gather unused clothes and then we move together with clothes and food to bless the needy, every Christmas. In fact, I plan to do this twice a year, one on my birthday in June and another in the later part of the year. But first I want to complete my building so that I do the charity work further with a clear mind. So, this is why I paint, to gather money and touch lives.


Ok, in short, we got to know what C-kle is. Coming to the artworks, how did you develop your style of painting?

Every artist needs to have a goal. I mentioned earlier about preaching the needy ones. I pick a word for e.g.; this piece tells you to be careful of what calls your attention. Think twice and concentrate. When I talk to people, I pay attention and take title from that discussion and I derive my subject matter from it. My original work can be recognized by the embossed marks made during the finishing touches to the painting. 

How do you navigate the artworld?

There are thousands of artists in the field now and thus a huge competition. What I realized was, to some people its not about what they are painting but about who they know. People purchase as they know these artists. But as an Art Therapist I find my way out by doing something new. It doesn’t matter if I know the people or they know me. When you are doing something new, the world will look out for you. I know a quote which says that if you paint what you like, you paint for your soul but if you paint what world likes then money turns you. If you want to hit the international market, you need to be different and have to make sure that your painting carries weight, it has something that will touch the body, the soul and the spirit.

But how do you market your art? I believe you have social media presence.

Yes, I have a website. I normally post my artwork images on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. When people see the works, they come straight to the gallery where they are exhibited or they contact me.  I communicate with a lot of people through social media which has helped me grow my business.

Are there any artists whom you are influenced by?

I do have a lot of influences. A Nigerian art collector based in USA has a great collection of artworks from different artists. Seeing his collection, I am able to develop a lot of ideas but that has not changed my art style. My technique is the same. Though I take ideas from different artists, my painting style, my brush strokes don’t change. I keep learning from the inspiration from around.

Are you looking at, reading or listening to music to fuel your work?

I am moved by music. I dance while painting as I enjoy what I am doing. When my kids are around while painting, we all dance together, it inspires me. I feel, when I love my painting, it is appealing to the world as well. My wife calls me a dancing artist.

How will you describe the subject matter if your works?

When I talk to people or when I preach, I take a title or a word from the discussion and derive my subject matter from it. I get my concepts from these titles. I keep a record of these titles in a book. For e.g., while you are talking to me, I caught a word “oh I see”. Now I will work around this word and try to build my painting around it. Life is all about a book with pages. You can’t keep reading the same page every day. Its an error. This is where I derive most of my subject matter from, which is something to provoke you, prompt you, push you, to alert you that its time, do it now.

Looking at your portraits, do you paint from a live model or do you have photo references?

I see a picture and I add a few stuffs to it. The color concept is purely out of imagination. Every artist needs to be creative. What makes me unique is adding more life to what I see. I spend most of my time in creating the pictures that I want to paint.

Can you share with us the process of your painting?

For my portraits I use scaling, by ruling lines making sure the portrait is correct. I normally use these lines because it helps me to get exact picture as I am more into portraits. I normally start with the dark portions and then I begin to apply the colors from my chosen color scheme. When I am done, I use palette knife for the final strokes which makes my painting “C-kle” painting.

You use a range of tools, like brush, palette knife, pens etc.

Yes. I want to try charcoal as well. Looking at my painting, I wish people should start thinking what all tools and mediums have been used there. I don’t want to do what others are doing rather would want others to do what I am doing and I would be moving to next step.


Do you work on multiple canvases simultaneously and do you work in series?

When you are trying to paint and you are getting what you want, it doesn’t mean that you should not paint again. You simply put that one down and start another. That is what strikes me to paint more than one canvases. I do like to work in series. I am trying to come up with a new series titled “Mental Picture”. People need to decode the mind of those who are very quiet by nature. Do watch out for this series.

Surely, my best wishes for that. Would like to ask the question which is asked to every artist, when do you know that your painting is finished?

This is a good question. A philosopher in me has a quote that says that the work done passionately does not necessarily need a perfect finishing. When I paint passionately, I feel the edge when I am done. Sometimes I feel this edge in 1 hour while other times I may get this in 3 hours or more based on how satisfied I am.

You are a studio-based artist. What does a physical space mean to you and how much time do you spend in studio?

Big and sufficient space is very important for an artist. Every now and then you need to watch the painting by standing back at a distance. My previous studio was just a quarter of what I have now but very soon I will be having my own gallery with a big studio. So, I think every artist needs a proper space for the studio. Since my studio is closer to my house and my room, I can say that I spend 23 hours in the studio. Studio is my friend and that is where I am based all the time. I also teach students sharing my knowledge to them in the studio.

Have you ever had to deal with rejection or have ever felt like giving up?

Yes, there were my dry moments. Some artists take prints of canvases and sell it digitally at very cheap price. That is the reason why people don’t buy original paintings and that’s the reason I hate prints. It was a dry moment for me when I almost made up my mind to give up painting but then I realized that there are trials and errors in everything you do. What keeps me moving is the reason why I started painting again. I started painting to touch people’s lives and now I can’t give up. That is what my subject matters are, wake up and show up. Now I think there is nothing that can frustrate me about painting. I am a full-time artist now.

Can you tell us where and under which Master did you do your apprenticeship?

I learned from an artist called Daniel Jasper, who does video posters, realistic posters. I studied realistic aspect very closely for 5 years but during the last phase he had to travel to USA where he spent 2 years. When he was away, being a senior apprentice, I got a chance to teach the younger ones and in the process I learned faster. People still come to my studio to get my guidance.

You are now an established artist; you have gained a lot of experience from the challenges you faced in your art journey. What are your thoughts on this generation of artists? Have you achieved what previous generation were not able to achieve?

What I have achieved so far from the older generation is the humanity. I have been privileged to get a lot of help from artists like Larry Otoo, Wiz Kudowor and many great artists because I am humble. You learn only when you listen. I take what they have in addition to mine.

So, the previous generation has been a stepping stone in your art journey. How has this country helped you as an artist?

Ghana has benefitted me right from the beginning. As an artist, who has works at prestigious galleries and selling every month, has been a blessing to me.

Do you think that Ghana has enough infrastructure to support the talent produced here?

I will say no, with an apology. We pay taxes as citizens and there are a few things that we need to benefit. There are so many talented artists but there is not enough space to prove our talent. We have just one National Gallery. Only if the works are mounted on the wall of the gallery, it will reach more people. When one person can do it, the others can do it too. By the time you realize we are building out something wonderful that will touch and heal the world.

What are your thoughts on the development of art scene in Ghana?

It is far better than before. In older days people were not privileged to go to art school, art opportunities were few. I can now fully depend on art unlike old days. Art has changed in our generation. I believe that if you are able to do something that can touch lives, it can feed you throughout your lifestyle. I keep saying this as an Art Therapist. I don’t chase money, what I look for is people’s challenges, needs, problems. If I make sure that I am able to meet their needs then my services are paid. In short art scene in Ghana right now is good.

Apart from the gallery that you are building, what are your upcoming projects?

I don’t want to look into one bottle with two eyes. The ongoing project has to be completed first and that needs my concentration. My next project will be building a number of houses and renting it out. These paintings do pay all the needs but I believe I must have some properties that can feed my coming generations. I think I will be fulfilled when I am done with this.

Ok, so that is your life plan but coming to your art, will your art be seen elsewhere apart from the gallery that you are building in future?

Yes, I do look at different avenues for exhibition to let people know that these works can be found at my gallery as well.

Are your works into international market?

Yes, I have been exhibiting for last 3 years. In Parallex Art Fair, London and in Taiwan as well. My works are going to Ohio, USA. I have also been featured in different art magazines.

How did you break the international art scene?

Through Face Book. The world is looking for something different. If you are unique in your own way, God shows you a way connecting you to the people.

Have you participated in Art Fairs and Residencies?

I exhibit all over. As long as networking is concerned you need exhibitions, art fairs. I made a lot of contacts through these. I haven’t had a chance of art residency. I have applied a few places for the same and hoping to get into one very soon.

My best wishes for the same. You are now established by overcoming all the challenges in your artistic journey. Based on that, what will be your piece of advice to the emerging ones?

I have very simple advices: first is know God, don’t do bad things. Know your work and it will be paid. Second is keep moving ahead. No matter where you are and what your surrounding is, keep moving through all the challenges. Third is bless the needy ones from whatever you get out of your painting, make sure they benefit from it.

Thank you, C-kle for this friendly talk. I wish you the very best for your ongoing and upcoming projects.

Born on 15th June 1982 in Accra, Ghana, C-kle lives and works in Accra. His works can be viewed on his website:


Friday, January 27, 2023

A studio visit of contemporary Ghanaian artist Seth Indian visual artist Manisha Vedpathak


I was glad to have a second chance to visit Ghana in November 2022. I had been there before Covid and had done a few studio visits of Ghanaian eminent artists and as always intrigued with the workspaces of artists, had planned to do the same this time as well, along with other activities.  November and December were a complete art treat for me as there were many exhibitions taking place in the city of Accra, the capital of Ghana. Met old artist friends and met some new artists as well.

This time in my list was the studio of eminent artist Seth Clottey, a distinguished name on the Ghanaian art-scene.  I never had a chance to meet him personally during my stay in Ghana but had always felt that he has an aura of authority, superiority and positivity related to art. I felt this aura even when I called him to fix an appointment to visit his studio.

 A dynamic Ghanaian artist, Seth Clottey has been prominent in the art world of Ghana for over two decades. He was born in 1960 in Accra where he currently lives and works. He obtained his diploma in arts at the Ghanatta college of Arts in Accra.

His paintings are vibrant and shows his commitment to a wide range of subjects, from market scenes, through beach scenes, city-scapes. As an artist, he has truly made a significant contribution to art, always demonstrating an unwillingness to copy the popularism or settle for the mundane. Seth's strength is in his quiet disposition and beneath his urbane exterior are a passion and commitment which are seldom evident in artists of younger generation.  Seth is charting for himself and his generation, new challenging standards marking him out as a leading catalyst in the current art world. He also has a fondness in sculpture, which he sculpts himself with eagerness just like his paintings.

His son Serge Attuquaye Clottey, a talented artist is making a name for himself at home and abroad. His daughter is also learning art under his own guidance. Seth Clottey has held a number of exhibitions in Ghana as well as outside Ghana and has taken part in a few shows for various charities. His works can be found in private and corporate collections across Ghana, UK, Europe and USA. 

His studio is based in mountains in Nsawam, an hour and a half drive from Accra. A two storey building, studio and family house are situated upstairs whereas he has created space for residency downstairs. Lovely green area with perfect atmosphere for residency, I must say. He also has an outdoor place like a balcony from where one can have a good view of Nsawam though it will be blocked in a few years with the construction happening there.

Seth Sir is a very gentle, refreshingly quiet and has a very deep voice. The studio was full of vibrant paintings though he says most of them are taken away as soon as they are completed. I was also greeted by his lovely daughter Naa Anyemah, who is entering the art field under his guidance. We had such a friendly talk starting from his art journey to the art scene in Ghana.

Thank you, Sir, for the precious time. To begin with, I would like to know about your art journey right from the beginning.

 I had just finished the school when my father passed away leaving 7 children behind him. Immediately all the pressure was on me as I had to take care of my siblings. I was good at art so I decided to pursue art and meanwhile started taking jobs to make money. I pursued an 18 months course called OIC Opportunity Industrialisation Centre in Accra. I remember our first lesson was constructing letters which I picked well and started taking Saturday jobs doing signs for people. The course followed job training for 3 months and I decided that I want to go deeper into art. I enrolled into a course of 3 years in Ghanatta Arts School which no longer exists now. After completion of the course, I stayed back for 1 more year to teach the other classes. One of my classmates of Nigerian origin who was also into art invited me to help him with a job. I stayed there for some time but I needed to come back. But he found a job for me to work with Secretary of Business. I did all kinds of jobs apart from Graphics job for a couple of years but I wasn’t satisfied. I had an urge to come back to my art. Some geniuses from the teaching school encouraged me to take this decision and I moved back to my studio. I have been working till date.

I am very curious to know how you developed your style.

Coming back to the art world, I realized that you need to identify yourself with your work. It took some time; I had couple of shows and was trying all possible ways. In the process I realized what people like about my work and I focused on that area. That is where I developed the technique and my style. Since then, I am stuck to it. I remember, in one of my major shows I did a couple of different styles but Prof. Glover of Artist Alliance Gallery advised me to work in one direction which helped me a lot in future. So, I can say that he actually helped me develop my style. I work in impressionism style. I am not interested in realistic.

You mentioned earlier that some teachers influenced you to come back into the art world, are there any other artists who has influenced you in your journey?                                                                    I had a friend, who was also my classmate and an artist, Samuel Adoquei, now based in New York. When we were doing course together, we all used to say that he can do no job better than art. Most of the time I use to watch him doing art. The comfort, the freedom in the work made me stick to him. He has influenced me a lot. We were friends and we used to discuss art most of the time. We started from school and our friendship has grown till this stage.

When you are in a certain form, the references are looked for. Did you ever look for the reference outside the art world?                                                                                                                        There are a lot of references. When growing up, I was very fond of magazines and comics, had a lot of them. The illustrators of these magazines have influenced me to a great extent. Music is a part of my life as an artist. The rhythm actually leads the painting. It fuels my work.

How will you describe the subject matter of your works?                                                                 My subject matter is derived from daily life. Initially, I use to get inspired from the pictures I took  on my camera but growing up I realized that my art is sharper than the camera. So, whenever I move around and find something striking, I record it in my memory and back in my studio I start working from the memory depending on the subject.

Many artists do the sketching on the spot when they are out or they do it before starting a painting. Do you also sketch?                                                                                                                    I work directly with the knife. Over the years I have realized that sketching before restricts your work. I see the knife as my weapon and the canvas as my enemy. Whenever I see my enemy, I want to cut it down with my knife and put up my impressionism style on it. So, everything is recorded in my mind.

Do you always visit places to record the scenes that you want to paint?                                          No, I don’t do that. Over the years I have studied all the markets at different places. If you look at West Africa, the setup of the market is almost the same everywhere. If I am doing a market scene and I know the area, I just capture a little bit of that area and then I add my own interpretation to it. This is the way I work unless I have been given a commission work of a specific area. But even then, I should be allowed to work the way I feel. I don’t like copying, art should be original, it should look similar, not exactly like a photocopy.

We are moving towards your work process. Can you please share it with us?                                    

I would like to give an example. I had a friend over and we were talking about the market; the trouble and challenges in the market. Whilst she was talking, I was reading her mind. I immediately got hold of an empty canvas and created a market scene on it, the movement, the hustle and bustle in the market. I also added my friend to it. It is not complete yet as she had to leave but I promised her whenever she comes back, I would continue with this canvas.

When you start any new canvas, do you underpaint the canvas, may be 2/3 layers or more before you actually start painting.

Yes, I make sure to prepare the backgrounds well. I like painting on the dark background. Then I start painting with a knife. When a wider area of the background is to be covered, a brush is used and then I come back again to the knives.

Do you work on multiple canvases simultaneously and do you work in series?

Yes, I work in series. The first work leads to the second one. When I finish the first work, something strikes me out, I then pick a little portion and develop it into another work. By the time I finish second one, the same thing happens and I develop a 3rd one. So, one leads into another.

Ok, so you build canvases one after another, but you have a big studio. If you get commission work, do you work on multiple canvases at the same time?

If I get a commission work, I paint 3 or more canvases at the same time. I make sure that first I do what I am asked to do and then interpret in my own way on the next canvas. So, when I do a commission work, I always have an extra canvas painted which has my own interpretation. The more you do, the better it turns out. Most of the time, the client ends up in buying all the pieces.


You are a studio-based artist, how much time do you spend in the studio?

I do like outdoors. When I am out, I quickly do something small and back in the studio I transfer it on a bigger canvas. I feel outdoors challenging with the chaos around, people passing by. But I make sure to get the subject in own interpretation. I can spend the whole day in the studio. Even months without going out. I work in the garden that we have, plant something if I have to, freshen up and work in the studio throughout the day, this is my normal routine. But if have a commission work, I cannot sleep. I am not at peace till the work is done.

People of your generation have worked hard with such dedication. Your son is also in the art field and he is making his name in Ghana as well as abroad. I would like to hear your thoughts on this young generation.

When we started as an artist, there were no places where we can sell our art and survive. In the early days of my career, when I was painting at a friend’s house, the whole house was full of canvases. All I use to do was, wakeup and paint. In spite of him saying there is no place to sell your canvases, I use to paint as I loved painting.                                                                                                                                So, I think that we have created a platform for Ghanaian art. We made the industry vibrant. My worry is that some of the young ones cannot do the original works, they all are doing the same style of work. I don’t know if that is the trend, our history book tells us that art is a trend. If you want to last forever, you need to identify yourself and people will know you. But if you follow the trend, it is just passing by. You follow it for 10-15 years and then it is dead. I hardly understand them, it may help them now but not in future. You have to abandon what you are doing if you can’t survive on that. That is not my idea, if I am no longer there, my work should still be relevant to the society or my collectors. So, the young ones must do the art that long last. 

I feel that many young ones are into installation nowadays. What are your thoughts on that?

Installation had been there for a long time but awareness has been created now. I think it’s a big business, people are getting into that. I don’t get why everybody nowadays paints black with red mouth etc. I think it is the trend of the youth and since they are making money out of it, they are following this trend. Looking at the economy of Ghana, if people are buying this art, then why not? In my case, I want my art to last long even when I am not there. In future, somebody may want to research on my works, try to find how I developed the technique etc. I have read about Michelangelo, Picasso and other great Legends. They were on a mission. That’s why their works are standing tall till date.

Do you think the young ones may be thinking that so much has been done in art till now, what is new to be done?

I think what they are doing, has been done before. The whole thing is like a rotation, it goes and then come back like in the fashion industry. It was done before and now its back again. But I want my paintings to last, to be cherished.

How is the art scene in Ghana right now?

It has been developed but without any support from the government. Whatever is done, is done by the artists themselves. Right now, the art scene is a bit down. Some years ago, it was so good that you show a painting in the gallery and the next day it was sold. But this time is quite challenging.

Do you think its because of the pandemic?

 Pandemic was a huge blow everywhere in the world. Art market went down. I use to work a lot. Clients would come to my studio and take away everything and I had to restart again. But there is less pressure now.

Where is your collective base?

I have works all around in Ghana. One of my clients named Michelle, who is an art dealer and has a gallery in Benin, has exposed my works everywhere. He would collect everything from my studio even before I could display them. He visits my studio every month. In fact, he kept me working for so many years and spread my works all over the world.

What are your thoughts on local buyers’ market?

People get to know me outside first and then in Ghana. Some years ago, Prof. Glover of Artist Alliance Gallery came looking for me when he saw some of my works in one of the galleries and asked me to exhibit in his gallery. It took me 2 years to complete 200 works for that exhibition.

Ok, but this is about one individual, in general how is the local buyer’s market?

I think its good. People do collect my works. They are in the Parliament house, some hotels and banks.

Do you think Ghana has enough infrastructure to support the talent that is produced here?

When we started art, there was no place to show our works. The Ambassador hotel which is now Moven Pick hotel, had an outer space where artists use to sell their works. But now things are changed, there are galleries here and there. Some organisations have come up who curate the shows at various places. We also have social media where artists sell their works.

I read about you being a member of GAVA , Ghana Association of visual Arts. Can you tell us more about it?

I was a member but due to health issues its difficult to go out and meet people. I try to stay away and abide to my doctor.


You mentioned that you have space for residency here. What are your thoughts on Art Residencies?

There is a place I created for the artists to come and stay. There are furnished rooms, an open kitchen. Residency is ready but I am holding back due to my health. I want to get in the textile designers, theatre people and actually people from all types of art genres. They can fill the space, express what they have and bring new ideas into art. I realize that we have so much of raw material in Ghana which we don’t use. I am glad that my son, Serge Clottey, has found one as I always kept telling him that we are painters but we need to look at something we can use and finally he found the gallons which he uses for his installations. I have participated in some of the residencies curated by Kofi Setordji, the founder of Art Haus Residency. Whenever he organized one, he would ask me to be a part of it and I would readily participate.

Yes, I do admire his works though I never got a chance to meet him. I would like to visit his studio in my next visit.

He is using unused gallons for his installations giving life to it and people are admiring it. We have so much around us. I realize that we, our generation,  happen to commute ourselves in paint. I still want to go with paints as they are readily available. But there is more new material around and this is helping those who want to use them. There is so much material but you need to identify and make sure you work with it effectively. 

Apart from your residency, what upcoming projects you have in your hands?

Right now, I have abandoned most of the projects I had planned due to my health issue. I want to live long so I need to give little time to look after myself. When I am ok, I will continue. I only come to the studio to work daily as an art practice. I don’t have any ongoing or upcoming exhibitions.

May God give you more of good and healthy years ahead. Now that your son is already into the art field and one of your daughters is also learning art under your guidance. What will be your advice to the young ones?

I would say, if you choose to be an artist, you need to question yourself if you really want to be in art and how long and how tall you want your art to take you. Art is dedication. Do not copy what you see, but be in your studio for long hours and you will do something great naturally. When you are in the studio, the canvas is talking to you and you have to use them to your advantage. And then the sky is the limit.

Thank you so much for your kind words, Seth Sir. And thanks for the precious time. 

                                 From left to right, Artist daughter Naa Anyemah,  Naa Botor , Seth Clottey

We then had photographs with his daughters and his daughter showed me the works she did. I think that she has a promising career.

Seth Clottey lives and works in Accra, Ghana.


Thursday, January 26, 2023

Pics from Indian artist Manisha Vedpathak


Art Residency curated by Raju Sutar sponsored by Kirloskar Ferrous  Industries Ltd.

Art installation in the exhibition titled " Out of the box" at The Box, Pune

A studio visit of Ghanaian contemporary artist Larry Otoo Indian visual artist Manisha Vedpathak

I was glad to have a second chance to visit Ghana in November 2022. I had been there before Covid and had done a few studio visits of Ghanaian eminent artists and as always intrigued with the workspaces of artists, had planned to do the same this time as well, along with other activities.  November and December were a complete art treat for me as there were many exhibitions taking place in the city of Accra, the capital of Ghana. Met old artist friends and met some new artists as well. One exhibition I attended was of contemporary artist Larry Otoo. During my last visit to Ghana, I didn’t get time to visit his studio so I got a confirmation of studio visit when I met him at the exhibition.

Part of the elite group of renowned artists in Ghana today, Larry Otoo likes to refer to himself as a “contemporary traditionalist”. His subject matter is inspired by the everyday activities of ordinary Ghanaians. His vibrant paintings in oil and acrylic capture the rhythm and beat of daily life. Otoo has a unique passion for jazz music, a theme prolifically expressed in his works.

Otoo holds a Master’s Degree in African Art and Comparative Literature from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. He has been making art since he was a child, when he used to be scolded for drawing in charcoal on the walls. Otoo has held exhibitions in Africa, Europe, and the USA. He is widely collected and has an international following. He has held exhibitions in Africa (Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria), Europe (The Netherlands, Great-Britain, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Spain), Canada, the USA and Japan. His paintings decorate Ghana’s presidential suite and Ghana’s chancery in Washington, D.C.


It was a real pleasure to meet a warm personality like Larry Sir. His studio was an extended room of his house. I was caught by the colorful and textured canvases in the room. The room was filled with canvases, books, music and I was very amused with his passion for shoes. The informal chat with Larry Sir was very interesting and inspiring for me as an artist.

Thank you for giving me time to visit your studio. To start with, we would like to know about you and your artistic background.

I grew up in the coastal area of Ghana. My childhood was amidst the area which were once British colonies like James Town and part of Korle Bu area. I came from a family of an artistic background, my grandfather was a goldsmith, my grandmother a priestess and mom a seamstress. I stayed in the community area where we all shared things as a family. The first experience of my artistic abilities was when I used to draw on the white walls with charcoal. My grandfather sometimes put me in the storage barrels as punishment for ‘dirtying’ his white painted fence walls with doodling in charcoals as a child. They say I was very inquisitive thinking that I may become a lawyer in future.

When in school, I was very interested in the people who could draw and would try to learn from them.  Since my father was a civil servant, we kept moving from one place to another and in the process, I got exposed to different forms of culture and ethnic groups. I grew to love Jazz when my father bought me a musical air piece which was mostly Jazz, but never got the opportunity to learn this music as my father could not afford the musical lessons. So, I ended up rather painting and drawing musical instruments. That’s how I was influenced by music. My other influences were the fashion magazines as my mother being a seamstress used to have them a lot. In High School, with my art teacher’s guidance I applied to the art school and that’s how I ended up in Kwame Nkrumah University.


How did you develop your style of painting?

While growing up, my family moved through different agricultural stations. I got fascinated by  women, the way they carry their child on their back, the way they carry the basket on their head. At the same time, I was learning in the books about Masai women with long necks. This influenced me to draw women with long necks and large eyes. I got attracted to the colorful market when I used   to follow my mom in the market. Attracted to those colors, I began to experiment with crayons. Now when I sit back and reflect, I feel it was divine guidance. In art school we are taught to paint in a certain way.  Certain colors when put together they clash. But I decided on not mixing the colors and keeping it raw to keep the vibrancy in my paintings.

In these art schools you are taught to paint in a specific way and some artists do create the works in that way, the works that sell. Is that a determining factor in your creativity?

To some extent I will say yes. I come from a well-to-do family, had a good education but my father was a disciplined man who believed that after a certain age you need to take care of your finances. So, in my quest to be able to take care of myself, I developed a habit of doing good artworks that will sell well, though it was quite difficult in those days. I visited many places to see the art like The Loom gallery and the National Museum. In those days, Ambassador hotel now Movenpick allowed us to exhibit on their compound. I tried to sell my works there and earn pocket money for myself. At that time, I had just started the textural work. I developed this style and showed it for the first time at Ambassador Hotel and all my works got sold and that was a lot of money. That’s when I told myself that this is what I want to continue doing but my dad wanted me to pursue economics. For a long period, we were not cordial with each other as he wasn't aware when I applied to art school. But I was determined and knew that art was my future and it paid well. My passion was to create things and I was glad that I could paint.

Then I started reading about Van Gogh, Picasso and others and they influenced me to a great extent. I started adopting them in an African setting.

So that’s how you navigated through the art world?

Yes. I would show my works at places and also to some people individually. Sometimes people would ask for me at the exhibitions to see more of my new works. This encouraged me to create more.

You call yourself a contemporary traditionalist, may I ask the reason behind this title?

I didn’t give myself this title. Each time I was interviewed they would say I paint contemporary themes but in traditional settings like festivals, musical events etc., so I thought it’s a good way to put myself forth and it is true to my way of painting. I am an artist who normally paints traditional things in modern settings unlike some artists who paint in a very naïve traditional way, not looking at the influence of modern adaptations in society. I look at everything in a contemporary setting. Who is going to record it as it is now? That’s my approach. Somebody did it in the past and somebody will do it in future, I am recording now.  The contemporary is relative to the situation I live in now. I am painting the culture as it erodes.

Are you looking at, reading or listening to music to fuel your work?

I used to read a lot of books but now I don’t get time due to commissions, functions to attend and travel. If I can't read, I watch documentaries and fashion shows. As far as possible, I try to get myself updated with what is happening around me. Our society is very vibrant with colorful activities, events, colorful settings and experiences that people go through. All the activities happening around are registered in my mind. While painting I get influenced by a whole lot of things that take place in society. Whatever I see gets recorded in my mind.


Do you sketch whenever you visit the places and see the activities happening there? How will you describe the subject matter?

As I said everything is recorded in my mind. Sometimes I take photos for my reference. We were taught to do sketching when in school, but I got bored at some point. I have a mind that records, so when I come back from places, I start painting. I like to create that immediate feeling. Sketching is done in the mind. When I stand back and look at the initial brush strokes, I see colors, forms in a geometric way, in a calculated mathematical setting. On my canvas through the colorful brushstrokes, now I see the wooden stool in the market, the human figures etc., all in either vertical or horizontal form. That’s how my mind works. You see as the eyes tell you and the mind registers. This is how I work. Every artist has a way of looking at things and that’s why art and music should not be a competition. Everybody has a way of telling his/her story. I tell in my contemporary traditional way. Contemporary will tell you that I am not living in the books and I am flexible. My formula for painting is to keep observing. When I apply brush strokes, some naïve person will first see it as color strokes but my mind is coding these strokes.

Now we are coming to the process of your painting. Kindly continue. It's very interesting.

Yes, you start with the colors and start looking at it in positive and negative forms. Colors are rampantly placed and then I start seeing images from it. What I want to see, I make it happen. 

I read that you limit your color palette with only 3 primary colors, do you still do that?

I decided to move away from too much yellow and use a subdued palette, a pastel approach. I am not always predictable in terms of using primary colors in limited forms. I shift between the primary and secondary palette. I don’t want my paintings to be boring and predictable.

In how many days do you finish a painting?

Sometimes painting can take 4 months until it's finally done. The large ones can sometimes take 5 years to complete. My mind keeps coding the color strokes on that canvas every now and then but the smaller ones I can finish in 48 hours.

When do you think that a painting is finished?

At times people come to buy a painting which is still in its initial state. It is appealing to them as there is harmony in the painting. It will look complete when framed but for me the idea of composition is not yet complete. Because I find in my colors some shapes that will give meaning to the painting. But people like to buy it due to the abstract form of it.                                               One cannot say it is complete until it's signed. I have made a mistake of overworking during a commissioned work and my work was rejected by the client as they didn’t like it. So, if sometimes people like to buy the painting as it is, I do not touch the painting again. 

Do you work on multiple canvases at the same time? Do you work in series?

I am quite busy with deadlines, commissions and travels.  So, in order to not waste much time, I work on multiple canvases. Depending on my mood I can work at different times of the day.              Yes, I do work in series. 


You are a studio-based artist, what does a physical space mean for your process and how much time do you spend in the studio?

I work inside the studio as well as outside. When in the studio I am protected from natural things like mosquitoes, rain, sun etc.  I can also listen to the music when I am indoors, so it depends whether I paint inside or outside the studio.

Have you ever had to deal with rejection or have you ever given up? And how do you tackle it?

I still face rejection. During commissions, for reasons like budget, or the client didn’t like it or the painting is not fitting in the environment. There was a time when nobody came to my exhibition except my family. There are so many experiences I have gone through but every step I learn and move on. I overcame the challenges. I am humble enough to say that I make mistakes and I cannot always have my own way. I work in an environment where there is healthy competition. So you have to find your space and have to live in a situation where you love your passion and at the same time you admire other people. For me, every challenge is always a learning process.

Artists of your generation worked very hard, with dedication unlike some young artists. What do you say about it?

The upcoming generation is into that type of painting like American painter Kehinde who is best known for portraits in the traditional settings of Old Master painting. They have adopted this style because it sells in several thousands. Collectors are looking at that type of art and so the younger generation is copying this style and making money. But you cannot blame them as the economy in  Ghana is very challenging. They want short cuts for success and this trend is reflecting on lack of patience, eagerness to make it quickly. Life has become very fast paced and they don’t have patience to establish themselves.  


Images from Larry Sir’s  recent exhibition “Facades”

What are your thoughts on the developing art scene in Ghana?

In the post-colonial period, visual art wasn’t the official way of projecting ourselves in the outside world, it was mainly through performing arts. Now the collection has become sophisticated. Country is spearheading the trend of the new face of art. There is dynamism. Artists like Ibrahim Mahama and some young artists are into more of visual dialogues through their installations, questioning society and the studio type of painting. People are asking what’s new and they will provide what’s new. It's more of a dialogue between work and society. It’s happening, people are noticing art.

(There was a pile of shoes of Larry Sir. He mentioned that he has a passion for collecting a variety of shoes and he says that is also a type of installation).

When people see this pile, they start questioning and that’s how the dialogue starts. Now they have forgotten the canvas, and are thinking of form, space and the arrangement. That's the new form of   art. Art is more into the design part of work.

Do you think that Ghana has enough infrastructure to support the talent produced here?

My answer is no. We have always mourned this fact and have tried in our own ways and on   different platforms, to bring this issue up for the powers to listen. Because of our economic situation, when it comes to art, the level of thinking is not sophisticated. We haven’t come to the realization that art can be a place to study aesthetics and can be an appreciation of who we are in terms of identity. Our research shows us that there is not enough infrastructure to confine our treasures to showcase what we as people have endeavored. We need a space where tourists can see the things made in Ghana. Ghana is the largest country to produce cocoa but we don’t even have a cocoa museum. We have enough versatile production of products like Kente and Stools, to create enough money to run the country. We haven't realized how much potential Africa has in art but all we think is about comfort and greed.

Have you ever thought of doing art practice outside Ghana?

I did have an opportunity but the longest I can stay is 4-6 months. I have a growing family and I have to be here with them so my stay is limited.

What do you think of Art Fairs and Residencies? Have you participated in any of these?

Yes, I love Art Fairs. Fairs have a lot of variety under one umbrella showcasing intelligent works. I have participated in a few Fairs. Residencies help to bring out a different aspect of you and your work.  You are free to think only about art and your work. I did a residency in Vermont, got an opportunity in Jamaica and in Italy. 

With Larry Sir at his exhibition titled “Facades”, at Artist Alliance Gallery, Accra, Ghana


What are upcoming projects?

I have upcoming exhibitions in Spain, Morocco and if everything goes well in the USA as well. Sometimes I go for the openings while sometimes I send the works.

What will be your piece of advice for the upcoming artists in Ghana?

I would like to give 3 advices to the younger generation:

They have to be disciplined.

They have to love what they are doing.

They have to work consistently.

Thank you for your precious time, Larry Sir.

Born in Accra, Ghana in 1956, Larry Otoo lives and works in Accra, Ghana.