̏My work is basically an introspective exploration of self and environment. The canvass, a play field ,where my desires, dreams, expectation and inquisitive thoughts from various deep recesses of my being , are reduced to shapes, forms and colour. These in turn transform into realms of anonymity or identity, where mysterious forms, shapes and symbols emerge to present a world that is both known and unknown, old and at the same time new. The process of imbuing spaces with all the feelings one experiences, happens to be the core of a complete picture, the process of work. ̋
Wiz Kudowor specialises in painting in acrylics with his style almost abstract. Some describe his work as completely abstract but he thinks otherwise. He started by being very representational. However along the line, his own expression changed because of the way he thought. His thinking became more spiritual and thus tried to develop symbols that would express the ideas he had, much more elaborately. He describes himself as mysterious and complex person and to be able to represent that effectively, he says one cannot use representational forms anymore and the end result is that he drifted into using symbols, shapes, and forms just to be able to have a broad spectrum of techniques to extol the ideas he had.
In this interview, Wiz Kudowor talks to Victor Markin in Accra Ghana, about himself and his works.
VICTOR MARKIN : – How do people view your works, with appreciation or disillusionment?
WIZ KUDOWOR : – Those who knew me so many years back still remember my previous art forms (REPRESENTATIONAL), though it has taken them a while to follow and understand what I am doing. What I am doing now is a personal thing I developed for my own sake, by expressing on canvass things that crowd or occupy my mind on daily basis.
So for me, it is what comes out of my inner self that I am putting on canvass, and along the line, I get like-minded people who appreciate it and that is fine by me.
VICTOR MARKIN : – Is there a common theme that runs through all your works?
WIZ KUDOWOR : – My works cut across broad spectrum of themes and ideas because I dwell a lot more on the process of work than theme. I enjoy the process of painting so I try to explore any technique at all that comes up on my mind. My works are not primarily thematic. I dwell a lot more on the processes, and explore colour combinations. Most of my works are developed along these lines. I go to the canvass directly. I am myself also a material and a tool. I do not go out of my way to hutch a theme or conceptualize and then place that on canvass.
VICTOR MARKIN : – Art forms carry along with them messages. Can we find the same here in your beautiful paintings?
WIZ KUDOWOR : – They may have messages for people who are looking at my paintings but I do not deliberately go out of my way, to put messages there for the audience. What I do sometimes is to allow people to discover. When I was developing my style, I got the impression that people in this part of the world are used to just looking out and quickly identifying things or meanings. So I try to hide things to see if other people can actually discover what they are viewing. I play around and some whimsical. These days my works just develop and if someone finds a message in it, then that is a bonus for the person who is viewing the work.
VICOR MARKIN : – You are a typical African from one of the villages in Ghana, though generally you grew up in the cities. Do we see indigenous Ghana and Africa in your paintings?
WIZ KUDOWOR : – There is no way you can miss the African in my work. I am yet to find an occasion, when someone mistakenly looked at my works, to be that of a European artist. That makes me believe that clearly, the identity is there. I do not deliberately put it there, but I am an African. I started painting from my infancy here in Ghana, Africa, so my works exude that, and it comes naturally. There is no conscious effort to stamp the Africaness on my works.
VICTOR MARKIN : – Are you a born artist or a trained artist? Where do you place yourself?
WIZ KUDOWOR : – I am both. I was born with the skills to become an artist and trained to develop those inbuilt qualities, to be what I am today. So I can say I have my roots in the two functions.
VICTOR MARKIN : – Copyright/ Piracy are the bane of several artists, performers and writers in the country. People steal and plagiarise the works of others and become richer at their expense. How do the activities of such people affect you?
WIZ KUDOWOR : – My concentration is not on what others are doing with my works through plagiarising. Let me explain to you. When they do that i.e., try to copy my work, I believe they are rather making me popular by spreading my works and name. They are putting my name out there some more. So at the end of the day, they are committing professional suicide. My name will be out there but the pirates do not have an identity. There is a typical example where one of my young students now practising as an artist in London, mounted an exhibition. Most of the visitors wanted to find out if the works were his because they looked just like my works. My advice was for him to be able to stamp his identity on his works by being creative. It is suicidal for him to be in my shadow.
VICTOR MARKIN : -Every work or painting has a title. How do you arrive at names like; migration, urban funk, question of the apple and sanctity of the union?
WIZ KUDOWOR :- From the works themselves. When I finish an art work, I look at it and it tells me a story. I get certain feeling out of it and that determines what title I should give to any particular work of mine. The idea, mood, and expression behind the work, will help me come out with a title and that is how it works for me. I do not start with a title but the title comes afterwards, when the work has been completed.
VICTOR MARKIN : – Our public and private buildings, sports arenas and other structural edifices in the country, carry a lot of empty space on their walls. Can’t we put some works of art, paintings like yours on these walls? First they beautify the cities, give some jobs to the artist and for others, the beginning of art appreciation.
WIZ KUDOWOR: – In this country there is no policy that says that all new buildings should have a certain percentage of its cost going into art. Nigeria has that and what stops us from doing same? Every public building needs a certain percentage of its revenue, budgeted for art. This naturally integrates the art work into the system. What a beautiful city we would be creating if every turn around a corner, you are welcome by art work on a public or private building. Do you know the kind of influence this will have on people going to work? By the time they get to their destinations they will be light hearted due to the kind of artworks they see around and the kind of inspiration they get from them.
VICTOR MARKIN : – How did your parents approve of you becoming an artist and how much support did they give you?
WIZ KUDOWOR : – Fortunately for me my parents were educationists and they really encouraged me to pursue this vocation. I am one of the few who got total support from our parents in choosing a career that was not rewarding or presentable; because the industry had been infiltrated by school drop outs, never do wells and the like. But my parents pushed me up to follow my heart’s desire. As a young chap, I had no problem with my equipment. Brushes and paints were very expensive but I got them from my parents. I have not regretted sticking to this vocation. My father may have had some second thoughts about my future but it never came up for mention. Together with my mother, they were full of inspiration for me. There was an opportunity to branch and go do something else but my mind was still on art.
I excelled at my Ordinary level examination and got admission to Accra Academy, one of the High Schools in Ghana, to do my A level. However, I had also applied for admission to Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi Ghana, to do a preliminary art course. So when the admission to KNUST arrived, I abandoned the A level course at Accra Academy and left immediately for Kumasi to start my studies in art.
VICTOR MARKIN :- You are acknowledged as one of Ghana’s accomplished artists. What advice do you have for parents who choose careers for their children?
WIZ KUDOWOR :- When we were growing up those who called themselves artists and art teachers, discouraged parents from sending their kids to the University to pursue art as a vocation. They did not and quite unfortunately, present themselves very well. So obviously parents did not want their children to do art.
But these days things are different. There is a big change in the art industry because artists are carrying themselves out better, we earn decent incomes, society gives us the respect and recognition, certain places that were previously no go areas for artists, the doors are now open.
Every now and then I get invitations to meet celebrities from all works of life in and outside Ghana. As an artist you should be happy with whatever that you are doing. As long as you remain focussed on your work the satisfaction will come naturally.
VICTOR MARKIN :- In every sphere of life challenges are bound to be part of the planning tool of the artist. You cannot escape from this.
WIZ KUDOWOR :-As for the challenges they are always there. First let us talk about investing in the art industry.
Awareness and appreciation of art works in Ghana is so low that the Banks/Insurance companies will not invest in that business. People who have loads of money will rather buy expensive cars. They do not see art as a medium of investing their monies .Because of this the market is extremely limited in Ghana. Some of us have had to look outside of Ghana to make a living. Over the years, I have developed a pattern of following, such that my very survival is based on the kind of following I have had over the years. It is difficult to get someone to immediately appreciate art. You could for example, appeal to the persons sense of aesthetics, by not explaining anything to him , and allowing him to use his intellect to determine from which angle he can actually look at the work and see something that he can relate to. Most people do not go to exhibitions, because they think they will be exposed as being ignorant and as such will not turn up at exhibition centres.
But if you are able to attract them to accept, that they do not need a special eye to appreciate or understand what art is about, they will develop the interest and the confidence to visit exhibitions. I have been using this method any time an opportunity presents itself. First there must be an expression of like or love for an art work, e.g., colour, theme, forms, shapes, arrangement, and you can build upon these to the real appreciation that delves deeper than others.
The other challenge has to do with the banks. I am yet to meet a Bank Manager in Ghana who will grant a loan to a painter, sculptor, based just on his work. The banks do not value art, to the extent of using them as collateral. Ghana as a country will be better off, if banks can invest in art works and thus add value to the art industry. Some of the finest pieces of art works that could have stayed in the country are unfortunately being taken away and sold in Europe, America and Asia, because nobody is putting value on them. I tell myself all the time, that what this country needs to do, is to put value on our art works first , and not leave it to others in foreign countries. If we put value on our art works, foreigners will accept our values. It has to start from here and if the banks and the financial institutions start appreciating these works, we will be starting from somewhere. If it becomes critical the banks could be assisted by valuation experts to price our works and give us the loans.
VICTOR MARKIN :-The youth these days visit art exhibitions wherever they are held. Can appreciation alone result in someone developing into a great artist?
WIZ KUDOWOR : – I have personally trained some young men who had the passion for art when I was a teacher at the Akosombo International School in Ghana some several years ago. By merely watching me paint, and helping with some little amount of assistance and guidance, they picked it up and now they are matured, experienced and painting full time. There is this particular student who was reading sociology at the University of Ghana. He visited me with his four paintings, I encouraged him and now he is one of the accomplished painters in the country. So I have seen people develop into fantastic painters without any formal training.
VICTOR MARKIN : – Does this therefore relegate to the background the necessity for basic training.
WIZ KUDOWOR :-I personally believe that basic training is very important. The basic element that you need to apply are so essential as a beginner. If you do not have them, I do not think you can call yourself an artist because you should be able to apply yourself in any area of the industry.
VICTOR MARKIN : – We have so many of such people in the communities, making a living out of such paintings. Are they destroying the industry by lowering standards?
WIZ KUDOWOR :-No. This is a spirited endeavour and in the spirit world, you have various levels of spirituality. They may be doing what they think is their best but they do not matter in the real sense of the art industry.
VICTOR MARKIN : – Is it too late to start from scratch by helping the kids to appreciate art, since they could be the foundation for the next generation of artists.
WIZ KUDOWOR : _When we were growing up in the face of all odds, the unprofessional way some artists carried themselves about, parents did not want their wards to become artists. Art at that time was a big deal in the school system or curriculum. Unfortunately this time around that it should have been integrated into the school system; it has been dropped and replaced by what they call visual art, a broad base subject. Children are not really introduced to art appreciation. Developing to become an artist has to start with appreciation. Go to the West and you have toddlers being helped to express them. They will be playing around on paper, but that is the beginning and that is where appreciation of art starts to develop, with their coordination. I think the re-introduction of proper art training from the very beginning in the basic schools will be fantastic.
VICTOR MARKIN : – The Universities, are they bracing themselves for the challenges of the future?
WIZZZ KUDOWOR : – Well a lot has changed at the College of Art, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. This is due to the ever increasing number of undergraduates and limited facilities. Hence students do not get the opportunity to experience every department at the College as I did in my days. I had a stint with all the departments including, ceramics, textile, sculpture, etc. My mates and I were deeply involved in all the departments so we completed as all round artists. These days fresh students are handicapped or restricted in their choice of departments, so the total all round artist is missing in them. The solution is to do so much after graduation on their own, to master in the other areas if they so wish.
VICTOR MARKIN : – Is this enterprise lucrative? Artists we are informed do not earn regular income so how do you survive?
WIZ KUDOWOR : – This is true. We are not on government pay roll, we do not get monthly pay cheques, but we earn respect and fame. The artist’s upbringing shapes him up to be creative and that brings in the income. If you do a good job you get decent money from a decent collector or buyer and that keeps all artists alive.
VICTOR MARKIN : – What are your expectations as the years roll by. You have been a professional artist for well over 30 years.
WIZ KUDOWOR: – The artists on their own are trying to hold the fort and to keep the light burning. However the future looks hazy and fuzzy due to lack of Governmental support and policy to drive this industry to another level. I am looking at a policy that ensures that some of the best art works are kept in this country. This is one sure way of encouraging people to invest in the industry. A former minister of state in Ghana, Dr Mohammed Abdallah during his period as the Chairman of the National Commission on Culture in the 1980s, started the National Gallery. Art works were acquired by the state and kept there. After all these years, progress has seized with the exit of Dr Abdallah. If this noble objective had been pursued, one could imagine the number of great works the nation would have acquired and its impact on the generality of the population. Such positive policies serve to encourage artists to up their businesses. Now what one sees are individual artists trying to survive on their own by quickly putting something on the canvass and then it’s up for sale.
The next on line is material/equipment. They have to be imported and so face fluctuations in cost anytime foreign currencies become expensive. So the only option left is to go outside, exhibit your works, so you can afford to buy all these gadgets, tools, equipment that are paramount in the work of every artist.
Now having managed an exhibition and come back to Ghana, the next hurdle is the port of entry, the airport. The money you pay out as duty tax is so outrageous and these add- ups make our final art work very expensive. END……….
AUTHOR OF STORY VICTOR MARKIN