El Anatsui: Generator of Ideas

Photo by See-ming Lee
Photo by See-ming Lee.


When Ghanaian/Nigerian artist El Anatsui spoke at the Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor in conjunction with his retrospective show “When I last wrote to you about Africa,” on exhibit at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, he gave the most succinct explanation of what it means to be an artist at the head of a large studio. His studio has 30 people.

“It allows you to make much more work,” he said. “The artist becomes more of a generator of ideas.” Indeed.

His signature and current series of work involves crimping, piercing and hooking together with wire many thousands of aluminum caps from liquor bottles. The final result is sort of a folky chain mail that glimmers and folds like a robe painted by Klimt.

These works may have started as quilt-sized wall hangings, but now because of the many hands at work in his shop and his recent rise to fame on the world art stage, they are monumental in scale.

Part of the take-away for me is that if you have an idea that works, let yourself think big and then bigger still. Find people to help you pull it off: friends, family, art students looking for an internship. Who do you know who can help you?

By stepping away from having your hands on every part of the creative process, you can expand your impact.


Photo by Marcel Oosterwijk
Photo by Marcel Oosterwijk.


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Both photos are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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