Gallery 1957 Presents Jeremiah Quarshie
Ghana's rank as a hot spot for contemporary art is proven by its compelling roster of homegrown rising artists, like JEREMIAH QUARSHIE. His first solo exhibition at Accra's Gallery 1957, on view until October 22, is hyper-realistic portraits inspired by Old Master paintings but spiced with Ghanaian flavor: The models are everyday women the artist encounters; the yellow water containers that make up their thrones just as common in the capital city.
The artist spoke to BLANC Modern Africa about his rise onto the contemporary art scene and his show, Yellow is the Color of Water.
BLANC MODERN AFRICA: After graduating from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, how did you navigate the contemporary art scene in Ghana to exhibit with Gallery 1957?
JEREMIAH QUARSHIE: The vibrant scene today is a result of a lot of hard work by various artists, enthusiasts, institutions, art lecturers, etc. I was privileged to be situated at a time I will describe as a “birth pang” stage. There were a lot of happenings. KNUST already had a lot happening and that fueled the current visible vibrant scene. When I came to Accra, the Nubuke Foundation and Foundation for Contemporary Art were also bringing together artists, having art talks and projects. It was one of such research projects which I was privileged to be involved in that led to working with Nubuke Foundation and Stejdelik Museum Bureau Amsterdam (SMBA), and later the Goethe Institut. Despite having graduated from KNUST I was stilled very involved in activities and exhibitions that resulted from my former department (the Department of Painting and Sculpture). Itwas through one of such exhibitions that Gallery 1957 became interested in my work.
Why do Old Master paintings appeal to you more than any other genre in art history?
My interest in Old Masters Paintings became a stronger when I visited the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 2012. The dramatic lighting and apparent glory brought upon or brought out in the subjects positions them in a way that appeals to me. The fact that the subjects, no matter their place in society, are given importance in such a dramatic presentation is very fulfilling. However my influence goes beyond that of the Old Masters. You will find complexities and contradictions in the objects and subjects I choose to present, but also in the genres that influence my work. Very basic and perhaps readily grasped is that of the Old Masters, especially that originating from the Dutch Golden Age. However you will find many references and appropriations if you look closely.
Did you experiment with other methods of painting (or other methods of art creation, like sculpture or performance) before settling with the hyper-realism aesthetic?
Installations, yes. I have and still experiment with portraits painted with text and symbols. Hyper-realism? I wouldn't say I settled for that approach. The way my paintings look, hyper realistic one might say, is a result of my process. I am meticulous and pay attention to a lot of detail. There's the possibility of producing future work that might appropriate other media if that will be more suitable in presenting my work.
When sourcing models for your portraits, what sort of qualities do you look for in those individuals?
I usually think of the subjects before choosing an 'appropriate' model. Since I am usually looking at subjects in particular roles, I think of those I know who are already in those roles in their lived reality. I choose instinctively, maybe.
The curator of Yellow is the Colour of Water, Robin Riskin, said (here), "The exhibition aims to take painting as a political project." Do you consider yourself a 'political artist'?
Every aspect of life admits a certain political approach I suppose. If an artist makes work that relates to public affairs or aspects of everyday life, it will automatically touch something political. However my work is not a critique of a particular government or governments. It revolves around conditions that engulf aspects of everyday public life that highlight expectations, hopes, failures, which it attempts to reimagine. You will find these contradictions abound. It will be surprising for the work not to assume a certain political sense.
Do you agree there is an aspect of environmentalism in your work?
I guess there can be a lot of meanings and leanings that could be read into my work. It would not come as a surprise if environmentalism is one of them.
What is your prediction for the state of contemporary art in Ghana in five years?
I wonder how I am supposed to be an artist and a prophet at the same time. I am not going to try to be one. I am eager to see how it will unfold.
Can you preview your upcoming projects?
Nigeria. I am drawn to the complexities and contradictions that exist. My focus, however, may take a new turn.