Hollywood Icons, Local Demons Ghanaian Popular Paintings by Mark Anthony

Hollywood Icons, Local Demons Ghanaian Popular Paintings by Mark Anthony

Ghanaian master artist Mark Anthony (Gahanaian, born ca.1943) is acclaimed for his signage-inspired paintings which attract audiences to itinerant theatrical performances or “concert parties”, by local musicians and actors.  Curated by Michelle Gilbert, Professor of Religion at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, this provocative exhibit of contemporary African Art features Anthony’s colorful, bold eight foot square paintings on wood.

The exhibition consists of sets of paintings for four different plays:  When a Royal Dies, We Take Him Home; Some Rivalries Are Dangerous; If You Do Not Allow Your Brother to Climb; and The Judgement Day.  During the twentieth century this type of painting became integrated into the arts of the communities with playwrights often basing their plays on well-known stories that explore current issues.  Of particular interest are tales that reflect the social pressures brought about by rapid change and globalization.  Each set portrays key, startling or fantastic scenes from the plays, designed to attract attention and promote discussion as people walk or ride by.  The size and combination of image and writing make the works feel like an exhibition of bizarre roadside billboards.  To make these oversize paintings transportable, the artist constructs them in two sections connected with hinges.  They can then be folded and tossed on and off trucks – and they show the wear from this use and abuse.

The paintings that advertise the concert play are used for at most two years.  At the end of the play’s run, if any of the old paintings remain in reasonable condition they will be recycled and turned into storage boxes for costumes, chop-boxes, screen doors, bathing enclosures or kiosks for the boys in the band and their families.  Occasionally, a new fledgling concert group, or one without money to commission new paintings from Mark Anthony or another artist, will take oddly shaped scraps of old paintings and nail them together in a totally non-narrative fashion.  They know that those who pass on the street will be attracted by the odd and violent images and that they will recognize them as advertisements for an evening performance. This is the ultimate in hybridity, bricolage, and postmodernity.

Mark Anthony, rather than going to a European-run academic art school, apprenticed with his father and holds that his talent is a gift from God.  His early work included murals for bars, sign painting and paintings on the sides of small passenger vans (“mammy trucks”).  However by the time the companion exhibition catalog for Hollywood Icons, Local Demons was written, he was devoting nearly all his time to concert-party paintings.  His works are reputed to increase attendance at the all-night events due to their ability to enchant, as well as attract crowds.

Mark Anthony In This World, If You Do Not Allow Your Brother To Climb, You Will Not Climb, 1996-98
Mixed media on hinged plywood