Gideon Appah’s (b. 1987) surrealist art references his upbringing in Accra (Ghana), including experiences of growing up in a large family and in the city’s media and popular cultural milieu. Appah’s practice spans many styles, media, and themes, indicating the breadth and versatility of his creative vision.
His early works centre the theme of family explicitly, using old family photographs, partial memories, posters and prints that relate to his aunts and uncles’ occupations to build archetypal Ghanian domestic interiors from the 1980s and 90s that are both familiar and disorienting at once. These scenes are populated with vases, furniture, windows, and photographs that take on a particular insubstantial quality, symbolising the unstable nature of memory. The collaged posters and prints that he paints over render these works not only a meditation on personal memory and history, but also that of collective cultural life in Ghana. Other works locate unknown figures in dream-like landscapes. Taking a decisively surreal turn, these paintings feature (semi) nude bodies in abstract scenes of nature rendered in ghostly greens and the artist’s signature shade of blue. The eerie, ethereal nature of the rivers and fields is heightened by the mythological symbols that are scattered across them, while spectral horses appear to glide across these tableaus. These otherworldly scenes index longing and desire, and how memory operates through remembering, forgetting, and the trance-like state of dreams. Still other corpora of works take up these similar themes, set in the context of Ghana’s film history. Using posters and newspaper clippings spanning the last half of the twentieth century, Appah produces a film-like montage of movie marquees, cab drivers, and besuited men smoking to comment on the ride and fall of Ghanian cinema, Black cultural production, and how linear time collapses as the past and present fold into themselves. Across all his works Appah interrogates the postmodern condition in Ghana - the ebb and flow of popular culture, the rise of various sexual subcultures, and modernity’s effects upon the human psyche.
While the figurative influence is clearly discernible in his work, Appah’s interest lies in playing with the conventions of form and composition. He considers his work a study of form and landscape first and foremost, treating composition as the subject of representation. Deconstructing architectural features and abstracting natural objects, Appah reworks the central problems of painting - composition, form, colour. In all this he is guided by feeling, both his own as he brings a work into being as well as the emotional response he aims to evoke in his audience. Colour is a key element of Appah’s work, with each hue and placement carefully thought out and applied with a Fauvist sensibility to transition from darkness to light, to obscure and illuminate. He applies acrylics in thick layers to build compositions while scraping away at such layers in instances to reveal markings.
Appah gained his BFA in painting at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana. Since deciding to commit to a full-time career in art, he has had solo exhibitions at multiple galleries across Ghana, South Africa, and USA. His work has been featured in a number of group exhibitions across Africa, Europe, and the United States, and in fairs such as Art Basel, 1-54 New York, and Art Paris. Appah has been awarded several prizes for his artistic talent, such as the Young Ghanaian Artist Award by the Nubuke Foundation (Ghana) and the Merit Award, Barclays L’Atelier Art Competition (South Africa), and as a top ten finalist for the Kuenyehia Art Prize (Ghana). His work resides in several collections, such as in the Absa Museum in South Africa, Royal Ontario Museum of Art in Canada, and the Musée d’Art Contemporain Africain Al Maaden in Morocco.
Blue River, 2020