Deaf (Ghanaian-born) Toronto visual artist Peter Owusu-Ansah believes we can communicate through our eyes, not just words. His beautiful works vibrate with colour and energy.
A series of new digital works by the award-winning artist will be featured on the National Arts Centre’s Kipnes Lantern during the 2021 holiday season and throughout 2022. Titled My Journey Through Colours, his creations explore themes of connection and belonging.
In the following article, Peter tells us more about his journey as an artist, his process and why he puts so much energy and time into each of his creations.
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Growing up in Ghana, I was a creative child, drawing and crafting with cans and clay. One day, my sister hired an artist to paint an image of her at her store. I watched him and learned how to draw a picture just like he did. When my sister saw my drawing, she said: “You did this? I should let you paint for me!”
When I came to Canada in 1994, I didn’t know the art world existed. A few years later I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario and saw many works, including art by the Group of Seven. It brought back memories of making art as a child and got me interested in the art world. I went to the dollar store and bought art supplies. I experimented with painting for some time. Later I got into street photography and eventually began to manipulate my photos, turning them into pop art.
I was always looking for new ideas to fit in. One day I zoomed in on one of my pop art pieces and I saw pixels filled with a beautiful variety of colours. They reminded me of Gerhard Richter’s Farben. I loved Richter’s square studies and grids. Inspired by his work, I began to manipulate the pixels. Eventually, I learned how to use Photoshop and other digital tools to create my art.
Through this process I’ve created hundreds of works exploring how colour reflects emotions. I am striving to find the rich colours of life, and to better understand life through colour.
My goal is to promote inclusion through art. I am Deaf living in a society designed for people who hear. That’s why I’m trying to find a different way to communicate and connect through colours.
Showing Deaf and Disabled art works permanently in museums and art galleries, as well as on displays such as the NAC’s Kipnes Lantern, allows the public to learn about us. We are the only ones who can explain who we truly are and determine what our abilities are. The (able-bodied) have these ideas about how disabled people inhabit a body. I have been working hard to challenge this. The reality is we have different bodies and different abilities.
I also believe it’s not necessary to use words to explain visual art works or communicate their impact. Silence can be beautiful!
I want to connect to myself and to others through colours.
In some of my works, the pixels represent me – or perhaps multiple versions of me. Sometimes, when I group pixels too tightly, I feel I can’t breathe. That’s why now and then I create white spaces between the pixels, to give my colours (and myself) room to breathe. Lines of pixels may also represent criss-crossing paths evoking a person walking on the street. The pixels could be anybody.
In the end, I want people to bring their own experience to my work. I want them to be themselves. My job is to put the art out there. People just need to taste it with their eyes.
My Journey Through Colours
One of the works I’ve created for the Kipnes Lantern is composed of concentric squares. When I look at it, I imagine that I’m standing there, on the edge of the squares. I then walk across the violet, toward the light in the centre, which gets brighter and brighter. The light inspires me to keep going through a jungle of green and into the orange centre. This could be a sunset or a sunrise.
Whatever it is, it feels like a warm place, like paradise.