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Up-close and Personal with ‘bold colourful’ painter Shiri Achu
A trained architect, Cameroonian born Shiri Achu has been painting for more than 20 years now. She has exhibited her work across the globe from Australia, through London to Washington DC.
She says her arts“…comes from everyday, unsurprising yet unexpectedly vivid moments, times, places and objects. She seeks to capture the spirit of her subjects and make them come alive through form, colour, texture and tone. She draws insight from her travels but in general her inspiration is very broad; from natural moments captured in Africa to still objects, from the human form to the human in action; etc”.
In our continuing commitment to support the work of artists, Citizen Outreach Coalition recently commissioned Shiri Achu to design a new logo for the organization. The end result is aesthetic and embodies the ethos of our organization; Service and leadership
She has been speaking to Vitalis Tanteh. Excerpts.
Q How did your romance with painting begin?
I was 9… I remember so well because it was then my parents took me along with my siblings to live in England. I found some art materials, paints, paint brushes etc and knew what I had to do with it.
When my parents saw I had a passion for drawing and painting, they started buying me the necessary materials, canvases, etc and even got me a teacher who taught me perspectives etc. I was blessed to have such fabulous parents who fed my passion as I grew up.
Q How will you describe the type of painting you do and why did you choose that genre?
Contemporary African Art. Africa because. I’m in love with all things African. Contemporary because I’m a modern girl and try to roll with the times. It’s got to be relatable to people in this day and age.
I also love to paint carnival scenes. I love the colour and joy one experience at a carnival and love producing art to capture it. As such, people can have that joy and the colours in their homes, to uplift them, keep them joyous, etc!!
Do you have some kind of painting muse and how does it inspire you?
The muse is Africa – as a whole… So far I have travelled to the east and west of Africa. Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and of course, Cameroon. I am simply inspired by the everyday life. Wonderful everyday simple life of the African culture. I would love to travel the north and south of Africa, central too, to paint the various distinctive cultures within each African country.
Q You have managed to exhibit your work across the globe from Australia through London to Washington. What drives you on and what does it feel like exhibiting in this various countries?
It’s so exciting travelling and exhibiting my work and showcasing the African culture to other parts of the world!!! I am thrilled when I am asked questions, what’s that meal? What’s the name of that fabric etc what are those people called? What tribe is that?! etc
I love leaving a country knowing that I have educated some of its people about some aspects of the African culture through my art.
Q A trained architect, I understand painting brings in a bigger pay check than architecture. Why aren’t you a full time painter then?
Ehmm who told you painting brings in a bigger pay check?! I’m afraid to say it’s the opposite – for now anyway. Architecture provides the stable income I need to pursue my art and take care of myself and my kids. Hopefully one day soon, my original paintings will be selling for thousands and thousands. Right now, selling limited edition Shiri Achu Art prints is great also. The Smithsonian has placed several orders of Shiri Achu Art Print which have sold out in their shops at The National Museum of African Art. I’m blessed that Shiri Achu Art Prints sells well – but because it’s not consistent, architecture provides the stability I need.
Q Who are your artistic models? What did you learn from them and how do you try to have your own distinctive style?
Artistic models as in other painters? I love Giacometti (sculpturist) and Lucien Fraud. (painter). I love the fleshiness/texture and subject matter in Freud’s work and Giacometti sculptures are just great. I love his proportions. I also like the drama of Turners work etc I am inspired by many artists. I learn from them but keep my own distinctive style, I guess, because I have a distinctive subject matter. There are times when I must give the painting detail, but there are times when that detail is not needed and less is actually more.
Q Describe some of the paintings you do and which are some of your most successful paintings?
Some of my most successful paintings are Maasai Tone, Midnight tradition, Glory bakes,
Nurture, Rose. I love to make my work relatable.
I will tell you the story about the ‘Maasai Tone’ painting. So my good friend invited me to donate a painting for the red light children Champaign in NY a number of years ago. I didn’t have a painting with me at the time, so I needed to do one to take with me. I had wanted to paint the Maasai for some time so I gathered all the pictures I had taken whilst I had visited the Maasai Mara in Kenya and paired the men as I wanted them and painted!! This was from around midnight to around 4am. Then I had to sleep because I had to wake up to catch my bus to NY where I would donate the painting!! I literally spent less than 24 hours with this painting and it appears to be one of the ones people recognise as Shiri Achu Art.
It’s important to add here that the men in this painting are faceless!! Why, i felt their robes, their stance was enough to capture their essence and it wasn’t about whether it was John or someone who looked like Thomas etc. It was about their essence. That is what I love to capture in my paintings.
I love capturing every day moments, activities in Africa. I love the tenderness of motherhood also, and as I said before I love colour, movement, joy!!!!
Q What level do you want to get to in painting?
In some years, once I have created new pieces, I would love to exhibit the originals all over the World. From Cameroon to Paris, then New York etc showcasing the best of Shiri Achu Art. Showcasing beautiful Africa. I would love for them to sell for thousands and thousands of dollars.
I know I must keep painting!!
I would love for people, all over the world, all class or status to seek to buy Shiri Achu Art. Whilst I hope people buy for their aesthetics I also hope they buy for the messages I hope I portray in each painting.
I want to inspire many young Cameroonians to pursue their dreams!!! It’s easy for me to do what I do because I love Africa and I’m so inspired to paint… and I have ideas for new collections all the time – and no, I’m not sharing until they are done! J
Q Any advice for aspiring artists from Africa and what they can learn from you?
Keep your passion. Unfortunately not all African parents are as unconventional as mine, who encouraged me to keep my passion and keep at it, but my one advice is to keep your passion. Do what you do naturally. Have faith!! Keep the faith and keep working on your God given talent. That said, it’s important to keep at school and study hard!!!
It’s not so easy to make money being an artist… it would be years of hard work to build a collection of works etc plan exhibitions etc so it would be good to have other skills and areas you can work in whilst honing your skills and creating your art. If it’s a natural passion – you’ll find a way to keep it up regardless of everything else you have going on.
Q You have just designed a brand new logo for Citizen Outreach Coalition. Can you explain what that design stands for?
It was an honour to have been invited to design the new logo for Citizen Outreach Coalition (COC). The organisation’s ethos speaks to my soul so it was an honour to have been given the opportunity to create the logo which would represent it.
So it took me a little while to decide on the route to take. Then I got it! I looked at the West African Andinkra symbols and went through them.
Having previously created art using the Andinkra symbol I knew this was perfect. I went through them paying attention to the meaning of each one. The chosen symbol is called ‘Nea Ope Se Obedi Hene’ and it’s the Adinkra symbol of ‘he who wants to be king’. The Symbol of service and leadership.
The symbol/logo is strong and impactful and memorable. West African inspired, fitting and aligns with the Citizen Outreach Coalition ethos of service and leadership. It is versatile, and can be used with colour or without colour. I painted the symbol to look raw, painterly and with character! edgy/modern even. LOL. We must keep to the times and I felt it important to produce a logo which people would be proud to associate with, wear etc I hope this will be the case and this will be achieved. I know I want a colourful COC mug already and a B/W t-shirt!!! 🙂
CONTACT SHIRI ACHU:
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Facebook: SHIRI ACHU ART
Instagram: Shiri Achu Art
SHIRI ACHU. Biography
Shiri Achu was born in Cameroon, West Africa. She and her family immigrated to London, where she lived for many years. Today, she has studios in Cameroon, the UK and the USA, where she is currently based.
After obtaining an A* & A at GCSE and A level Art, she went on to study Architecture in Cardiff University. Since qualifying as an Architect, Shiri continued to long for her paint brush and dares to advance the passion she has pursued throughout her life; Painting.
She picked up her first paint brush at a tender age of 9, experimenting with several mediums including oils, acrylics, water colour, mix media etc. Today, her chosen preferred mediums are acrylics and oils.
Shiri Achu’s art comes from everyday, unsurprising yet unexpectedly vivid moments, times, places and objects. She seeks to capture the spirit of her subjects and make them come alive through form, colour, texture and tone. She draws insight from her travels but in general her inspiration is very broad; from natural moments captured in Africa to still objects, from the human form to the human in action; etc
The eternal optimist, Shiri sees beauty in almost anything and everything. She finds beauty where there is normalcy, and she sees colour through shades of grey. She therefore draws from this distinctively beautiful World of hers and aims to evoke an emotion which translates into images of delight or surprise, with the sole objective of capturing the soul of the subject.
There is also a contrasting and contradictory side to Shiri’s ‘Beautiful’ World. Paintings of animal hearts have only led to her being called morbid, dark, and even confused?! And her love for painting raw meat and the naked human flesh is one to be interrogated.
Composition and subject matter are key in Shiri’s works. The concept for each piece is clear, and the focus gripping, and although the viewer will understand some of the pieces, some may not be understood and apprehended, because abstract/tashism is explored by Shiri in some of her pieces, to leave her viewers to come to their own conclusions.
Shiri’s art is bold, dramatic and uncompromising. They aim to delight and leave the viewer moved as well as leave the viewer with thoughts of wonderment, at times of bewilderment; also to engage ones diagnostic imagination.
Ever increasingly so, one of the aims of Shiri Achu’s Art is to showcase the culture of Cameroon and other African countries worldwide. It’s also to bring back the fond memories to those in the diaspora.
She finds beauty in the woman carrying her child on her back and going her way, She finds beauty in the old lady who makes here ‘atchu’ in her dark outdoor kitchen for her grandchildren, She finds beauty in the African fabrics, she finds beauty, envy even, in the young girl climbing the tree!! So she paints these images. For her they are beautiful moments and for that moment, whilst she works on that piece she buries herself in the story and in the culture.
There is a beautiful simplicity in the African culture she is trying to project into the western world. She paints them to educate people in the western world whilst trying to entice them to be inquisitive of the culture and to one day plan to visit and see for themselves.
Shiri makes some of her work into limited edition prints, so it’s relatively easy to transport her work around the world. Since her first solo exhibition in London 4 years ago, she has exhibited in Australia, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Washington DC and Las Vegas. Also, The Smithsonian (National museum of African Art) orders my limited edition prints and sells them, which is great exposure.
Shiri Achu’s Art is gripping and engaging across the globe. From Australia to Texas, from Wales to Atlanta, from London to Singapore, from Cameroon to Berlin, from Kenya to Ghana. Her works (Originals and Signed Limited prints) have been and are continually sought after all over the world. Shiri has representatives in Cameroon, Prague, USA and in Australia.
Shiri is extremely pleased and excited that she is achieving one of her goals of promoting the African Culture worldwide.