Richard Mensah
Richard Mensah, born in Ghana, currently resides in London where he has his full-time studio and represented by Chilli Art Projects. Mensah’s layered, multifaceted compositions weave the contemporary with the past to reflect on the future. Referencing the Harlem Renaissance of the 20s and 30s, Mensah constructs his vision of a contemporary African Renaissance happening some 100 years later - across the arts, music & wider culture. Centred around this optical fabric motif, Mensah reflects on the African notion of meaning tied to fabrics, often in a highly personal manner. Mensah adopts this circular pointillist pattern as his own to reflect on the connectivity of African identity and the idea of the globe being in equilibrium - what happens in one place will effect those in another. Mensah enjoys adopting familiar and unfamiliar motifs whilst rewriting his own meaning for them - in a similar way to those very vendors in Africa who sell these fabrics, each with their own meaning for it. Mensah’s process is one of fluidity, allowing his subconscious to draw on personal memories of the past alongside research undertaken by the artist himself. In many ways, Mensah’s stories are written on the canvasses themselves, through a slow process of reflection and reconsideration - only ever working on one canvas at once. Approaching his paintings both in a formal abstract manner as well as a figurative one, Mensah completes his narratives as the works are in progress, giving the work an instinctive cheekiness reflective of the characters he encountered during his upbringing in Ghana. As well as this, Mensah further pushes the circle by using it as a window into the past - giving us a peek into his upbringing surrounded by plantain leaves, as well as connecting him with the histories of generations past, in a similar way to these traditional fabrics. Another recurring theme of fluidity in Mensah’s work is the swimming pool, used as a symbol to reflect on the wider societal barriers that faced black people in the past, as well as now. The use of the pools gives the works a Hockney-esque feel which reflects on Mensah’s Britishness in combination with his Ghanaian heritage. Hockney once said “I realised that a swimming pool in England would have been a luxury, whereas here they are not”, referring to his experiences in Los Angeles. In a similar manner, Mensah notes how swimming pools were once seen as a luxury for African Americans, but not so much now that barrier has been broken down. Mensah’s figures are also often presented deep in thought or reflection, echoed in the reflective nature of the surface of the water. In making the works, Mensah himself reflects on these barriers that have been torn down for African people, as well as those that have not.

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