The sensory effects of music on the artistic process have been the subject of convoluted theories for centuries, particularly with regard to the connections between sound and colour. It’s been suggested that colours in paintings affect people the same way tones in music do. Quite a few artists confirm they need music during the creative process: some say it inspires, and helps motivate and coax out ideas that are hiding; while a few say they perceive music in coloured patterns and can depict these in paintings. There are works of art said to have been specifically created in response to the experience of hearing particular pieces of music. Generally, it is accepted that the study and practice of one will benefit the practice of the other.
A likely beneficiary of this interaction is Kofi Agorsor. This Ghanaian artist is a painter and an accomplished Jazz musician. Agorsor does not need to look for music; he has it in his veins. His natural flair for capturing vibration and rhythm reflects in his artworks. He seems to create art by arranging colours, textures and lines on the canvas just as a composer might arrange notes on a musical score. Is Agorsor able to use colour as he uses tunes?
This brings to mind, the arty brand of synesthesia, a condition in which the senses associate in a rare manner. The brain prompts unusual sensory responses to stimuli and the person might see sounds, hear colours or taste shapes. A sufferer may see a song in shades of blue or associate the colour red with love or see a friend’s voice as triangular. Recently, a few contemporary artists claimed they are synesthetes, but synesthesia seemed to have been quite popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Several artists were diagnosed with the then trendy disorder and went on to produce tuneful paintings and colourful songs. The thing is, synesthetic art does not only refer to art created by synesthetes but also refers to art created to evoke such experience in the audience. I never gave this notion much thought until I came across the painting, I Still Have Your Love.
In I Still Have Your Love, Agorsor tells us a love story with his signature daring and voluptuous colours and forms. He uses his sensibility for colour and lines in this depiction of love and intimacy. He captures the couple’s total absorption in each other. And to me, he also captures music in the scene. It’s not a tune full of fiery, impetuous passion; rather it is a deep and calm melody that makes me ponder the elements of true love and true beauty.
On the subject of true beauty, the first time I saw this painting, I instinctively misinterpreted it. I thought it’s meant to portray love against all odds (it’s easy to get caught up in ones society’s trends and expectations). I had to sternly remind myself that beauty comes in all shades, shapes and sizes. In Sudan and Ghana, although the ideals of beauty are changing due to Western influence, the voluptuous figure still denotes attractiveness, good health and prosperity. Likewise, a lot of Mauritanian love songs romanticise the full-bodied woman.
I Still Have Your Love has a soothing, calming effect, notwithstanding the bold colours. Like Jazz, it makes for a relaxed atmosphere. And the quiet confidence of the title, I Still Have Your Love, triggers in me a certain faith in love. At the opening of Agorsor’s show at the Italian Cultural Institute in Accra in 1995, Professor Ablade Glover said, “It seems there is something in this young man that is going to burst open and I am waiting to see it happen”. I am sure the professor will agree with me when I say it’s happening now.