Saturday 1 April 2017

From soft metal, Anatsui ‘Benchmarks’ prints

By Tajudeen Sowole

One of the very rare artists of his generation, whose works challenge the line drawn between modern and contemporary art, El Anatsui, 73, expands the scope of avant-garde into what could be his new period. It's an oeuvre expressed in prints, but also capable of giving additional identity to the revered Anatsui signature.
El Anatsui, from the Eclipse Suite, 2016. Intaglio print with collage and chine collé, 98.5 X 98.5 cm. Photo by Oak Taylor-Smith. Courtesy of October Gallery, London.
In the past one and half decades, Anatsui has been using his Nsukka, Enugu, Southeast Nigeria base to produce massive size works from soft metal of bottle tops, depicting native Ghanaian themes, particularly of textiles, among
others. Currently, he is taking the bottle tops of aluminium materials technique to a new texture of contemporary rendition, but via prints.

 Produced in collaboration with a Madrid, Spain-based Factum Arte Studio, the new body of prints opens as Benchmarks: New Prints from April 6 to May 13, 2017 at October Gallery, London, U.K.

From the artist's strength in observance comes the new materials inspired by the process of creating the alumnium sculptures over the past one decade. The wood surface from which Anatsui’s metal wall sculptures are worked on by his studio assistants, has gradually, unearthed what would later be a new kind of material. The wooden surfaces and off-cuts from bottle-tops as well as cassava graters tool, October Gallery explains, were moved to Factum Studio "to serve as the primary source materials for this new series of prints."

 Some of the prints, viewed via soft copies include two Untitled eclipse series, each in Intaglio print with collage. The process of creation is quite amazing: The work tools such as tabletops and wooden boards scanned at a very high resolution of 3-D, and said to have been "routed onto aluminium plates and then printed through an etching press."  

 Thematically, Benchnarks invites followers of Anatsui's work into the artist's world of dynamic process of creating art. Interestingly, the prints bring  the past into coalesce with today and articulates the future's contemporary texture.

  Excerpts from October Gallery curatorial note:

 "Though globally-renowned for his iconic hangings of aluminium bottle-tops, Anatsui’s artistic practice has always been rooted in the discovery of new media. Having graduated from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, the artist set about ‘forgetting everything (he) had been taught’ in the search for new modes of expression, and the materials needed to convey them. Following the imperative that an artist should work ‘with whatever his environment throws up’, Anatsui created a wide variety of novel sculptural forms with materials that range from tropical hardwoods to cassava graters, driftwood, obituary printing plates and aluminium bottle-tops.

 'His interest is in the physical history of the materials themselves, the stories they contain and the journeys that bring them into his hands. It was just such a remarkable journey that first led the artist to work with bottle-tops when he happened upon several bags of them lying discarded by a local liquor shop and found inscribed within a hidden history of trade in West Africa."

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