By Nii B. Andrews.
To talk about/ discuss or simply contemplate the art of Amon Kotei is to open a Pandora’s box or better still to drink deep from a well of sophistication and ideas.
For those interested, it may well need at least a bottle of the good stuff, well rolled and wrapped tobacco and comfortable armchairs in a ventilated room in order to come to grips with the intricacies, subtleties and windings of his art.
His work is intriguing and continues to reward those who explore his portfolio beyond the cliché of the Ghana coat of arms which he devised – even as important a national symbol as it might be.
Whether from an accurate evaluation of the country’s up to date history, the boldly inscribed motto FREEDOM AND JUSTICE, has been more often than not, honored in the breach is another matter altogether; to say that it is a work in progress is to cavort with dishonesty.
Kotei’s paintings consist of watercolors on paper and oils on canvas or board.
The former are mainly landscapes and the latter portraits or group compositions almost exclusively of full figured women executed with the palette knife.
It is in these latter compositions that his color application produces a “waterfall effect” of blues, ochre, gold and sometimes ivory; the colors appear to be applied vertically.
They do not merge into each other; they remain separate and sometimes he applied the tip of the palette knife to accentuate their distinctness and verticality.
His signature on the finished paintings rendered simply as “Kotei” can be quite beguiling all by itself.
He often signed his name at the bottom part of his paintings in a peculiar (that word again!) manner.
He used the sgraffito technique – (Italian: “scratched”).
This is a technique used in either ceramics or sculpture where a layer of clay is applied; when the first layer is dried another layer of a different colour is applied then a sharp edge is used to scrape the second layer so that the preceding layer would appear from the latter.
Some of his earlier works were not signed using this technique.
The portraits and compositions show an interesting interplay of the OBJECTIVE and SUBJECTIVE elements.
In the painting, CONTEMPLATION; the shimmering and fleeting short sleeved blouse with a rounded low neck line gives us a tantalizing glimpse of what lies beneath; and its shiny effect is echoed in the ivory patches within the background – subjective and objective; perhaps real and mischievous or just plainly suggestive on the part of the maestro.
The pensive posture of the subject, with the face in three quarter view – downcast eyes, pursed lips, head (with modestly tied scarf) held ever slightly tilted while supported with the right hand in the temporal region (aka side of the forehead), resonates with the enigmatic look of the Sphinx at Giza.
Most of his models were family members who on close scrutiny by those familiar with them in real life can be recognized – objective.
But Kotei’s rendition of the figure involves the use of a color palette that is SUBJECTIVE and emanates from or appears to converge with the background.
This is what gives his paintings their uniqueness and that is where he found his voice – an almost cinematic rendition of his portraits and compositions….or if you prefer, a fauvist perspective with cascading waterfalls of color.
Why he focused on women, we shall leave for another day.