Saturday 5 July 2014

At 80, Glover, master of crowd-effect traces style to growing up in the slum

By Tajudeen Sowole
Ghanaian painter, Ablade Glover is one of the few masters in Africa whose signatures transcend the indigenous art space.

Although Glover is based in Accra, his work, for example is well known in Nigeria as much as that of many Nigerian masters. From art galleries to private collections and secondary art market, Glover keeps expanding his themes of environment behavioural patterns via figural and architectural images, from native Ghanaian perspective. 
Ablade Glover

As he clocks 80 on August 1 - about 54 years post-training career - Glover's impact on the modern and contemporary African art periods, home and the Diaspora resonates in his style of multiplism and crowd-effect.

While the artist's oeuvre opened two days ago at October Gallery, London. U.K., and continues till August to mark his 80th birthday, a brief revisit of Glover's career reveals an artist who keyed, quietly though, into the ebullience of his generation of creative individuals. From literary to visual and performing arts, Africa’s golden era berths in Glover's generation such as writers Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka,  Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiog’o; musical icons, Mariam Makeba, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Salif Keita; and artists Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya, El Anatsui among others

About ten years into his post-training practice, in the late 1960s, Glover, a modernist saw today by setting up a forum for artists, which is now known as Artists Alliance Gallery. With an imposing edifice in Accra, Ghana, the space is reputed to have given quite an army of artists a lift. Currently, Glover's Artists’ Alliance Gallery is said to be a rallying point for the country's artists, across generations.

And Glover's giving back to the art transcends Ghana. For example in 2006, two young Nigerian artists, Titus Agbara and Tayo Olayode were on residency with the master in the former Gold Coast, courtesy of Ford Foundation-Terra Kulture project themed Celebration of Talents.

Also, the loudness of Glover’s art on the Nigerian art landscape could not be ignored during the country’s golden jubilee celebration in 2010. He showed in a group art exhibition titled An Evening with the Masters, a gathering of Nigeria’s top masters such as surrealist, Abayomi Barber; printmaker, Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya; and realism, prolific painter, Kolade Oshinowo.

Apart from the artist's marks on the African space and constantly featuring at auctions in the U.K, his masterly strokes was felt on the global stage during the 2013 edition of the yearly Art Dubai International Fair. At the Marker section of Art Dubai - dedicated to African art - Glover's works were the first set of pieces to attract the red tags. In fact, the Nubuke Foundation stand, which represented the artist at the fair attracted more visitors who swarmed around Glover's canvases.

As an artist who is just few weeks to the Octogenarian age, it gets better. During a chat via email exchanges, few days ago, he says to me how good and great he feels.  "I feel good and great". And over the decades, he seemed to have been engulfed in the art of painting so much he missed the years as they ticked. "Indeed it surprises me that soon I have clocked 80." But more importantly, "I am still on my two feet, and doing what I do best, - painting!”

Being masterly with the palette and canvas comes with quite a lot of experimental periods for some artists.  With over five decades of practice and at  80, is there any past situation Glover now wishes  should have been better done? "No, not at all." He recalls that tt was almost a perfect career path in those decades.  "I guess my career path has been carved out for me, and it has been door opening all along." Perhaps some unseen forces helped him as well " Looking back it seems it is all a miracle, from the slums of Atukpai in Accra to the University in Kumasi, I have been carried, as it were, on tides of good fortune to where I stand now, on a pedestal of some success; no, I cannot complain, I can only be grateful."

Growing up in the slums of Atukpai would later be an asset in the artist's re-creation of the environment on canvas, so suggests his multiplication of image themes. At what point in his career did the multiplism theme surfaced? “Crowds and crowd movement have fascinated me for a long time, I cannot remember from when, and I have pursued the study of this crowd movement in my work; for me it is all an endless study of the tempo, the dynamics of the crowd."

Across professions, some Nigerians and their Ghanaian counterparts have blurred the borderlines. For the visual arts, Glover is the face of Ghana in Nigeria; his, is a well-known signature, just like other masters here. How did the Nigerian connection to his career  start? He notes that Nigeria and Ghana are not too far apart. And in the past, he used the opportunity to promote his work via exhibitions "in the 1960s through 70s.". With such relationship between two countries that do not even share physical borders, Glover would not argue if anyone says  "Ghana and Nigeria exist as one country, well almost." And having exhibited in Nigeria "for well over 50 years will certainly cross the border, I think."

 One o Glover’s works, City Demo, 2008. Oil on canvas, 122 x 153cm showing at October Gallery, U.K
The creative sector of Africa cannot afford to be shut out of the current drive of the continent's search for a diversified source of wealth creation.  How prepared is Ghanaian art market? Glover recalls that the local art scene "was particularly vibrant about a decade ago.” But surprisingly, despite discovery of oil there seemed to be slide in the growth of the local art market.  "Currently it has slowed somewhat. You will think with oil discovery we would have done better." Hope is not lost anyway.   "I believe that the Art Market will boom sooner than later."

He however faults governments’ lack of supports for the development of art in most countries across the continent. “African Government must accelerate the process by resourcing the process (in the form of Museums and / or Galleries).” Ghanaian government in particular, he states, is a disappointment in this context. “I personally am disappointed at my own national contribution to the development of Art.”

African art appears slow in making impact at the world market How long more will African art has to wait to take a deserved bite in the growing global market? Chinese art are there already.

Glover argues that “African contemporary Art is already making waves, great waves on the world Art Scene.” He must have based his argument on the performance of African art at auctions, particularly abroad. "With African Contemporary Art reaching the Rubicon of a million dollars at auctions, one can positively predict the future as extremely promising."

In Africa, artist -gallery relationship is still a big issue as artists are hardly represented in the real sense. Glover notes that contemporary African artists don't apply the businessman skill in dealing with the galleries, yet "art is big business. ". He explains: "Certain contracts, I mean exclusivity contracts, plus 50% or more commissions charged by Euro/American galleries do scare away the artist. In time, though, I believe these obstacles will be overcome."

Increasingly, more young artists are expressing themselves via non-traditional medium, strengthening the contemporary space. In fact, contemporary contents appear to be challenging modernism, the age or period, which Glover's art derives its strength. Can African modernism hold on against the tide of contemporary contents in the future? Glover sees many of the emerging contemporary artists' imploring of materials in 'new medium' as inviting strangers for self-expression. He argues that such medium of creating art "implies taking alien tools for the expression of oneself, your culture." He warns that it's a "trap," and there should be no pollutants in cultural contents.  "Artist must be firmly rooted in the culture." He stresses:  "Modernism must of necessity be African Modernism, not some alienism!"

Born in 1934, Accra, Ghana, Glover holds NDD, ATD, Med, PhD and FRSA. He had his education in Ghana, Britain and the U.S.

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