Kojo Marfo of Ghana: Show sold for butcher made painter

Kojo Marfo of Ghana: Show sold for butcher made painter

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Kojo Marfo poses in his studio in front of one of his paintings

Kojo Marfo is a butcher, turned into an artist determined to show the world the importance of cows.

“The cow builds civilizations,” says Marfo. “In Ghana we use them to plow the land and if you have two to three animals, you can get a beautiful woman to marry you. In parts of India they are treated like God.”

His appreciation began as a child in rural Ghana, where he was raised by his mother and grandmother, and she grew up after moving to New York for work where she fell into a short career as a butcher.

“I was really hopeless. I knew very little about meat, I would cheat,” says the 41-year-old.

A figurative painting of a woman and children with a cow, dog, cat and birds

A figurative painting of a woman and children with a cow, dog, cat and birds

“There were anatomical drawings of animals on the wall detailing each cut and I would have to use them as a guide. Even then, my boss would catch me and all I would do was talk to clients.”

He may have once sold their meat, but his beef-inspired canvases now reach three times their asking price. Marfo’s work now adorns a series of handkerchiefs by stylists from London’s Aspinal.

An abstract painting by Kojo Marfo copied on a silk scarf

An abstract painting by Kojo Marfo copied on a silk scarf

Other themes close to the artist’s heart are the power of the woman, the value of single parents and the beauty of vitiligo.

His work at first glance feels vividly African – he grew up in the mountain town of Kwahu, about four hours from Accra – but each piece is a careful piece of land from different continents.

Characteristics of Renaissance collars from Britain, sacred cows from India and fertility dolls from Ghana.

A painting with three figures covered with neck breaks.

A painting with three figures covered with neck breaks.

“We live in a great melting pot – it has a lot of cracks in it,” he says. “But I want to bring people together and everyone to see their culture reflected.”

Marfo recalls spending his formative years at the local library looking at Picasso photographs and seeing Accra craftsmen selling their wares to tourists, but says his artistic ambitions initially took no more than the river bank.

“I felt I had to become a doctor or an accountant, but I would go to the river bank and collect the hard mud or I would take the berries and print them in color.

“I would put Vaseline on paper to create tracing paper to trace from art books or magazines. But only when I left Ghana did my work become serious.”

Eventually he found his way from New York to the UK, where he worked at his aunt’s grocery store in London.

A painting of a figure with vitiligo-like pigmentation and a wreath of flowers

A painting of a pigmented figure like vitiligo and a wreath of flowers

During the 2000s Marfo admits he gave up his art but withdrew again after the inspiration returned.

“I wanted to show how positive a single parent lifestyle could be,” he says.

“In the mountains, women are the hardest working people out there and women raised me. A determined feminist once told me that men were always at the top, that women were always victims. But women are always at the top where I am.”

His work also began to play with beauty ideas – giving all the vitiligo of his character to their faces. The medical condition sees fainter, unpigmented spots on a person’s skin.

A four-figure painting

A four-figure painting

“Faces, which look like collage cuts, I got those ideas from a person who knows he has vitiligo,” Marfo said in a recent interview.

“When I tried it, it worked for me. I always say to myself that I do not want to paint fine art … I just want to paint something that I could use to talk about issues.”

Growing up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he also nurtured his curiosity about religious symbolism.

“An African understanding of art is quite different from Europeans. Europeans can play with art and express themselves, but in Africa, they look at it from a different angle.

“If you paint a beautiful figure, a man or a woman or nature – it is accepted. But the moment you dive into the spiritual and voodoo, everyone says, ‘This guy is dangerous!’ “Even good friends will say, ‘How can you refer to these things, you can not play with these things.’

A painting with three figures

A painting with three figures

Marfo started selling pieces online, then sent his work to an open call for emerging artists, called Isolation Mastered.

Their liveliness and advantage caught the attention of judges – including Sotheby’s art historian David Bellingham and art collector Gavin Rossdale, of the British rock band Bush, who bought one of Marfo ‘s paintings for his personal collection.

Suddenly all of Marfos’ work was being sold.

A painting of a figure with vitiligo-like pigmentation

A painting of a pigmented figure like vitiligo

“I do not know if this was due to the background of Black Life,” says Marfo.

“I hear two things from buyers: They see something different in my work – ‘no one does what they’re doing,'” they say, “and they like the personal stories I attach to them.”

Such stories include Coronation, which features a couple looking intently ahead. You see at second glance that the female figure is wearing a tight boxing glove in a fist. This, Marfo says, is an ode to a woman he knows who discovered that her partner had an affair during the block.

In his first exhibition at the JD Malat Gallery in London, all of his works sold out in the first month. In his second exhibition, The Dream of Identity, all his works were destroyed by the end of the first day.

Inside the Kojo Marfo exhibition at the JD Malat Gallery in London

Inside the Kojo Marfo exhibition at the JD Malat Gallery in London

But Marfo, a boy from the mountains, cares nothing about money. It’s all about the transition.

“In Kwahu the land is not good for growing things, so you learn to do it your own way. In Ghana, if you are from Kwahu, you are considered a money robber, but I have always been made to feel grateful just for what was in my pocket. tim “.

And neither has he fully written his brush change for the butcher knife.

“I’m still fascinated by the work of butchers. I would love to learn the skills and do it properly.”

A figurative painting of people with a cow, dog and bird

A figurative painting of people with a cow, dog and bird

Kojo Marfo’s identity dream is currently on display at the JD Malat Gallery in London

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