I have had countless encounters with wonderful people in this city and it is a shame that they are not always shared. Well, this one is to sharing… Anna Kurtycz is a renowned Mexican artist specialising in engraving and woodcut who has been living in Accra for two years. She has held numerous exhibitions with local artists and holds workshops at her studio with local artists as a means to get people more aware of local and regional talent. Last year she held her very first exhibition in Ghana at Studio Kurtycz; titled “A Woman is a Woman” co-exhibiting with well-known and prolific Ghanaian artists Betty Acquah and Amarkine Amarteifio, fellow artist and husband Rudek van der Helm and renowned Ghanaian sculptor Frederick Oko-Matey. She was very indulging with her time, considering she is in the middle of preparing for an exhibition opening next Thursday, 2nd December.
Her enthusiasm for her work is contagious and it’s hard not to want to know more about her work once she starts talking about it. Anna’s forte is engraving, a process that starts from sketches on paper, which are transferred to wood; the desired image is then carved out in the wood and all this culminates in works that can either be in black and white or colour printed on rice paper and taking in excess of months to complete. As much as a print can be completed in less time, if an artist is working solely on one piece, in actuality the process from the inception of an idea; which can change over the course of a period, as inspiration is drawn from a myriad of subjects and ideas, to the printing – which is also a process of re-printing and more carving as the artist tries out different colours and proper shades of the final work, can take up to a year. I am reminded of the old adage…’you don’t rush art’.
Large prints are done through a press, whereas smaller prints are done by hand, using a spoon to transfer the inks from the carved out wood onto the paper, a process that can take close to three hours for a print of approximately 90x90cm. Anna explained to me that, she follows the Japanese form of engaraving called Ukiyo-e, literally meaning “images from the floating world”; which uses water colours and can use up to 20 or more plates for printing one image. She uses this method of printing for her works, although her pieces limit her to fewer plates.
When I ask how someone with a PhD in Communications got into engraving and print-making, a seemingly old-fashioned art form, she explains that she was studying children’s book illustration, because she was and still is interested in writing children’s books – when she attended a workshop on wood carving, and thus her love for this genre of art was born. Yes, she admits, engraving is still seen as a traditional art form, and perhaps rightly so because it was not always seen as such. It was more functional as it was used in books and texts as a way to record history.
I am equally surprised to learn that many artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin and even van Gogh all did some form of engraving at some point in their lives, although they have all come to be known more famously for their painting. She introduced her husband, Rudek, to the same workshop, whose repertoire up until that point had always been painting. He also produces small and large prints, along with his huge paintings on canvas; one of which I caught a glimpse of but which was reserved solely for the forthcoming exhibition. In fact, she tells me, they both fell in love with engraving to the extent where they had a printing press on their wedding-gift registry.
Anna is inspired by the minutiae of everyday scenes that we are all privy to; market day in Elmina on Cape Coast, a day in the park in Paris, a wedding scene – a favourite of hers is a print which depicts her wedding day. It is a far better keepsake than a wedding photo, as it depicts her perspective of the day and not the photographer’s. All very fitting for an artist whose interest is in how memory is constructed and in imagery that ‘portrays particular souvenirs, situations and moods’. For this Communications expert, who has worked as a journalist, but trained as a biologist, art has always been something she wanted to do, and which she did to a limited extent while she was living and working in Paris and the Netherlands – but one she has been earnestly focusing on since moving to Ghana. She is part of the Catalogue of Contemporary Artists of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and has held numerous exhibitions internationally; the last of which was a solo exhibition in October at Rice University in the United States.
On December 2nd, 2010 she will be exhibiting with Olaniyi Akindiya a.k.a. Akirash, Ana Sartori- another fellow engraver, Dorothy Akpene, Jennifer Opare-Ankrah and Rudek van der Helm. The exhibition is themed “Migration – Identity” and opens on Thursday December 2nd at 7pm, with subsequent exhibits on Friday 3rd and Saturday December 4th from 4 – 8pm. It will be a combination of exhibits and installations around the theme.
There will be a demonstration in print making at 5pm on the Saturday.
27 Osu Avenue, Ringway Estates.