One of the most renowned painters in Ghana today, Larry Otoo likes to refer to himself as a “contemporary traditionalist”. Born in Accra, Ghana in 1956, his subject matter is inspired by the everyday activities of ordinary Ghanaians. His vibrant paintings in oil and in acrylic capture the rhythm and beat of daily life. He paints, he says, “to record and preserve our traditions visually”.
Larry Otoo holds a Master’s degree in African Art and Comparative Literature from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. He has been making art since he was a child, when he used to be scolded for drawing in charcoal on the walls.
Larry Otoo is widely collected and has an international following. He has held exhibitions in Africa (Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria), Europe (The Netherlands, Great-Britain, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Spain), Canada, the USA and Japan. He was chosen Artist of the Year 1987 in Ghana.
His paintings decorate Ghana’s presidential suite and Ghana’s chancery in Washington, D.C. His recent activities include a residency in Segovia, Spain in 2011 with a joint presentation at the Nubuke Foundation in Accra, Ghana.
The vivid flecks of acrylic fill his huge canvasses, their vibrant hues combining to form dazzling African scenes, scenes that Otoo says are impossible to truly replicate. "The scenes I paint, the markets, the crowds, you can never wholly capture them because they are always changing, You can never finish painting them, my aim can only be to capture the tempo" Larry explains. Otoo's paintings are a seemingly disordered mass of colourful slices and shapes, eye-catching and vibrant. It's only when the viewer steps back they are hit with the energy of a market, the sacred unity of a mass prayer, a townscape of roofs illuminated to a vivid red by the beating African sun.
He often bases his palette around three primaries. Some of his paintings consist of only these three colours. Typically he lightens the blue while leaving the red and yellow more or less saturated. The effect of paler blue is to raise the pitch of the colour cord, to combine effect of the three colours and to introduce light into an abstract harmony. His subjects include traditional group drummers, dancers, market crowds… The event interest in music in Otoo’s work is vital. His figures, occasionally almost cartoon-like, break down into abstract rhythms, invoking jazz.
Larry Otoo is one of a number of West African artists who seek in their paintings a language for personal experience. He’s courageous in his experimentations.
He plunders here and there from both African and European sources in a way that has become healthy and normal for any international artist. But he always spirals back in on the African mysteries, rejoicing in it totally, like some improvising musician who spins out from and then return, inevitably, to his theme.