“Is that a Borlabie?” is an oft-heard question in some circles in Accra. That is because Ebenezer Borlabie, or simply Borlabie, is a prolific artist with his highly recognisable street scenes and galloping horsemen paintings.
The story behind the horsemen, who are inspired by the Tuareg people of the Niger, is both amusing and serendipitous. When he started painting, he never set out to paint horses or horsemen.
His is a story that affirms that art, or its appreciation, is open to wide and varied interpretations. He sold a painting of a budding red rose to a buyer many years back before he started painting horses – the “red rose” was seen as something else entirely by the buyer because the same buyer later commissioned Borlabie to paint another picture of ‘the horseman’.
The galloping horsemen have in fact become a common motif in much of his work. Because he had never studied the form of horses he had to put in a concerted effort into learning to paint them, studying their form and all their varied movements while in full gallop. Although the inspiration is drawn from the Niger Tuareg, who in their full regalia wear navy, Borlabie puts a twist to his images through the use of a vibrant red, perhaps reminiscent of their original inspiration, when painting these nomadic traders. He travelled to the Niger and even resorted to National Geographic magazines, amongst other sources, to get as much information as possible about the Tuareg.
A graduate of the now defunct ‘Ultimate School of Art’ he now splits his time between the Cape Coast, where he draws inspiration for some of his captivating seascapes and beach scenes, and Accra where in between giving art lessons he spends his time painting. The street scenes for which he is also well known are drawn from everyday images in Accra. Makola Market, which on any given day is riotous in its activity, is a place he often goes to sit and observe, and later reproduce the hive of activity on canvas. This, he admits was not always the case, as he used to get quite stressed out by the endless activity there, before he learnt to see the positive in it.
His biggest challenges are not about inspiration or a lack of motivation once he has started on a piece – they are a lot more simpler than that, and that is, finding quality material, especially canvas to paint on. The quality often available in Ghana can differ, but there are now more places to source it. A far cry from the days when he used to have a contact in Togo that brought it in for him.
Although some of his peers have veered off towards graphic design and other more contemporary uses of their art skills, he has not been drawn in that direction – even though he was trained in some of those areas; textile design, graphic design and printing. He feels that there are too many guidelines with the alternatives. “Painting allows for more free thought” says the man for whom art started out as a hobby.
Borlabie has a studio in Nungua, Accra
026 476 8765