El Anatsui at the Denver Art Museum

“When I Last Wrote to You about Africa” is El Anatsui’s retrospective show, currently at the Denver Art Museum.

It’s funny…I find myself talking about favorite artists and I guess I have a lot of them because he is definitely one of my favorites.

I first began seeing his work about 10 years ago when I was travelling back and forth to London. Since then, I have admired his work in New York, Washington, DC, Paris, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Seattle and here in Denver. I have been enamored with the metal tapestries of bottle caps draped on walls, suspended from the ceiling and seemingly dropped onto the floors. I have tried to grasp the underlying meanings of using recycled found materials, and the obvious consumption and economic engines behind the overwhelming volume of bottle caps, largely from liquor bottles.  I have looked at the patterns and made my assumptions about their connection to distant and unkown (to me) cultures.  Mostly, I have enjoyed the high/low; hard/soft; heavy/weightless; effortless/meticulous nature of the work…they are truly stunning, shimmering works that leave me spellbound.

So with all that in mind, I thought I had some idea of who El is as an artist and what I could expect in seeing the retrospective, pulled together by Lisa Binder, Curator at the Museum for African Art, New York.

I was so wrong – I was in no way prepared for the breadth of experience and depth of his work.  The show brings together the full range of the artist’s work, from wood trays carved with symbols familiar to the Akan people of Ghana; his Broken Pots series (and his unbroken ceramic pots); beautiful paintings rich in color, symbology and landscape; driftwood statues, and even the beloved metal wall-hangings that have taken the art world by storm in recent years. I was thankful to get to hear him talk about his experiences, his development as an artist and as a professor and his mostly just his work.

If you get the chance to see the show, in Denver through the end of the year, and then in Dallas this winter, do…definitely do.  I have a feeling you might just discover one of your favorite artists too!

El Anatsui – Old Cloth Series at Denver Art Museum