Affable, confident and relaxed is how I found Nana Anoff, the artist. He willingly allowed me to spend a morning with him discussing his art, how he came to be an artist and the things that refresh him creatively.
Wanderlust: Who is Nana Anoff; painter or sculptor?
Painting is what he started off doing almost fifteen years ago; merely because he found himself in debt after a business venture gone wrong. He then worked briefly for a car rental company as the artist doing some of their marketing, the receptionist and the driver.
So although painting is where he started – painting with water-colours, he finds himself working with acrylics and doing a lot more sculptures for his portfolio nowadays. He admits that his repertoire was somewhat limited in the early years and he was known for the longest time as the ‘gentleman who painted women on cycles’. He’s not entirely sure what was behind this theme.
Wanderlust: The hobby has now become a career – looking back has the industry changed much for young, burgeoning artists?
Back when he started out, the market was driven by foreign demand; an imbalance of 90% foreign demand to local. Now he’s seeing a huge difference, about 60-40 to the foreign market. Ghanaians are investing in art a lot more. There are a lot more artists coming out of KNUST having majored in art.
KNUST is where at one point thought he’d venture when his attempts of going into Medicine, failed. At the time he was under pressure from his Grandmother to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a physician, but after several failed attempts to get into Medical School his life took a circuitous journey to the place where he now finds himself. He is almost philosophical when reflecting on this…”maybe this was just the way God intended for me to end up”.
His studio, which is also where his gallery is,is a great place to see the diversity of the work the artist produces; there are his scrap metal and wood sculptures – which I noticed for the first time bear a startling resemblance to the paintings, his water colours and acrylic paintings, and all these are framed in wood and glass frames – for which he is also renowned.
The framing business he got into by default – at the time he could not afford to have his paintings professionally framed for sale, so he decided to make his own. He admits that a lot of what makes Nana, the Artist was accidental in many ways. He is self-taught and had always drawn as a hobby; only after his first exhibition in 2000 at the Novotel Hotel (which holds exhibitions every month for young as well as the more established artists); an exhibition that was organised by the then Italian Ambassador to Ghana, did he confidently start calling himself an artist.
Wanderlust: Do you have workshops at your studio in addition to your exhibitions?
Although he’s confident regarding the many aspects of his work, his self-deprecating humour reveals a different, slightly insecure artist. He is a self-taught artist and he admits to not being comfortable to pass on much of the way he paints because he believes he breaks all the rules. Some people do tell him, inadvertently when complimenting his work that he breaks the conventional rules regarding painting – although he did once have one an art professor from KNUST
approach him about teaching a class to some art
students; he admits that this made him feel ‘big-headed’ for some time – that his work was seen as good enough to warrant the attention of art professors.
He’s not only self-taught, he sees his art as unconventional and a reflection of his own rebellion. He admits that perhaps it is a good thing he never went to an art school because he was always a rebel and that may have forced him to conform and not ‘go against the grain’ as he always does in his work.
For an artist who confesses to having started out as a pencil artist and one who was never comfortable with colour, his abundant use of colour in his acrylic and oil paintings is surprising. He calls it ‘trying new things’. Even his sculptures, came about because he wanted to try something new and different. When he realised he could use wood to make his sculptures, he ventured into framing them behind glass and then to welding scrap metal pieces together for his creations and combining them with wood. Scrap metal salvaged from automobiles, as well as plastic is what he uses. His very first piece still stands outside his gallery. Accidental, as has become typical of much of his work, his sculptures and in particular the one that still stands outside his studio, was the reason his portfolio now consists of them. He found himself getting a lot more people coming into his studio to enquire about the sculpture and see more of them, than he did those wanting to see his paintings.
Wanderlust: What refreshes you creatively?
Seeing people smile when they see his work. That always reminds him of why he does what he does.