El Anatsui: inspiration and exhibition in Denver

El-anatsui-detailI've been inspired by El Anatsui since I first glimpsed his huge recycled tapestry-like work at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2008... I even wrote a blog post about it way back then!

So I've been looking forward to his retrospective show at the Denver Art Museum, "When I Last Wrote to You about Africa."

He gave a talk, more like an interview, in advance of the opening last week, as part of the Logan Lecture series. I was particularly interested in his discussion of using humble elements, brought together in a monumental way, to create a meaningful work of art. Beauty, he feels, is just a by-product of his work. (Detail of one of the works on view in Denver at left)

He said working with what your environment produces has always been a guiding thought in his artistic practice. As a collagist, I could totally relate to his sensibilities. 

In working with found objects, he acknowledges that the media comes with its own history/meaning. He believes that because the objects have been touched by a person, there is a "psychic charge" within the artwork that ultimately helps other people relate to the piece.

He also spoke about the flexibility of the hanging pieces and the importance of involving other people in his work to determine how they should be hung/placed -- so it is different in every installation. He said art is like a reflection of life, always in a state of flux, and he embraces that philosophy throughout his practice.

El-anatsui-janice-mcdonaldWhen I arrived at the exhibition on Saturday, I was surprised that he was in the galleries responding to questions about the work. It was great to meet him and be able to tell him how much I've enjoyed his work. What a creative spirit and what a wonderful exhibition.

It runs through December 30th, 2012. Be sure to visit if you are in the area. I know I'll be going back a few times in an attempt to take it all in! (Even the shadows the works cast on the walls are gorgeous.) 

Here's some video that gives you the sense of being in the same space with these wall hangings. It is not from the Denver show but was the best footage I could find to show the details of his work, from a recent show at the Akron Art Museum. Enjoy!