In March of 2014, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Cinématek series: New Voices in Black Cinema Film Festival, in conjunction with the fine work of ActNow Foundation. There, I was introduced to the work of a brilliant filmmaker, Gabriel de Urioste, whose film, The Unseen Beauty, forever enhanced the way I think about creativity and expression.
The Unseen Beauty is a stunning documentary allowing us entrance into the studio and creative process of the Ghanaian painter, Samuel Adoquei. His paintings are pure poetry; they succinctly capture the spirit of possibility, of living. The author of How Successful Artists Study and Origins of Inspiration, two texts that transcend genre and ask the questions that so many of us have, Samuel was gracious enough to share with me some of his most current thoughts on the notion of creative power, inspiration, and the necessity of awe.
JJL: What exists in a single brush stroke? What is the potential?
SA: If a stroke is to be thoughtfully used as the masters did, it must be selected wisely, composed well, used efficiently and must help the artist’s message. Think of the great poets, writers and philosophers of the ages: words to these great people are servants of their message, so they made sure nothing distracts from their message. So do masters of the art of brushstrokes. Between the artists, the message and the enthusiast lay strokes. How would you use strokes if strokes were like words? Instead of strokes, as ways and means of solving problems often artists use strokes for expressing themselves. In doing so they sacrifice the importance of their message.
The beauty and elegance of a stroke is its power to capture your attention and imagination, then guide you, hypnotize and lead you to a hunt for treasures the artist has reserved for your imagination and visual pleasure, treasures the artist has hidden for sensitive observers. In many ways a stroke is like a signpost—follow one and you will find yourself discovering many hidden treasures that when put together adds to a greater understanding of the artist’s work.
When language and style take over the artist, the message suffers and if selflessness could give way to ones message, then strokes too must not scream but become the means to help make the message reach its intended target. From what I have learned from the masters of strokes, from my own experience and practice, the nature of the art/message are what influences how, when, where and what strokes I use. It is this that put strokes in three categories: thoughtful strokes, passionate strokes and therapeutic strokes. While the experienced artist can achieve all these on different parts of the same canvas, the inexperienced specializes in one or the other.
JJL: Who are a few creative artists with whom you feel your work is in conversation?
SA: Basically, my path has been guided and strengthened by a diet of nutritious ingredients coming from three sources—ethical, innovative and spirituality fruits—and, because of this, I converse with artists who produce these three ingredients.
The explorative mind and energy supported by the ethics of Michelangelo and the power of his images, and the gutsy “pushing to the front” attitude of Vincent Van Gogh engage me to know all is possible.
Also, the imaginative mind of classical writers as Lucretius, more recent essays of Orwell, Mitchell Montaigne, the imaginary author of the Bhagavad Gita, Rumi, the author of “The Book of Job,” always leave me with so much to look up to. The explorative and innovative views of Picasso and Warhol’s mind, not so much of their artwork, but that kind of “forward ever, backwards never” mentality is that which pushes me.
The spirituality, divine creations and grand overview of order and service of the invisible artist behind the universe: nature, life and humans fascinates me daily to stay in touch and ask for guidance from saints, gods, and the spirits of the invisible world.
JJL: What is your creative practice today, and how has it evolved over the years? What’s next?
SA: Honestly it’s been the same practice for the past twelve years or so: write, teach and paint. At this moment, I am finishing a short essay on why I developed the love for reading and life challenges that forced me to seek for insight into what is western culture. It is an essay about books that helped prepare me for America and Americans. On the easel, I am wrapping up some portraits, and working on landscapes I brought from Europe this past summer. I am also working with Cult Records; we are planning to make available an exclusive free download of some of my unpublished manuscripts: “Secret Habits of Successful Artists.” It should be available soon, courtesy of Cult Records.
JJL: When was the last time that awe left you without image or words?
SA: The mystery of the universe, the beauty of people, and the nature of things still leave me in awe daily.
JJL: Thank you, Samuel. Thank you.
For more information about the work of Samuel Adoquei, please visit his website.