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Isshaq Ismail: A Journey to Artistic Brilliance, Selling Works for Over £100K

Isshaq Ismail, a Ghanaian artist, blends traditional aesthetics with modern sensibilities. His journey from humble beginnings to international acclaim showcases resilience, creativity, and profound artistic expression.

Isshaq Ismail, the Ghanaian artist, continues to rise in his industry. His journey from humble beginnings to international acclaim is a testament to talent, perseverance, and the transformative power of art. Born and raised in Accra, Ghana, Ismail’s passion for art ignited at a young age, fueled by his surroundings’ rich cultural heritage and artistic diversity.

Growing up in a modest household, Ismail’s artistic pursuits were initially met with scepticism. With limited resources and societal pressures urging him to pursue a more conventional path, he embarked on his creative journey with determination and resilience. Despite the challenges, Ismail honed his craft through sheer dedication, drawing inspiration from the vibrant landscapes, bustling cityscapes, and the rhythmic pulse of everyday life in Ghana.

Ismail’s breakthrough moment came when he encountered the works of renowned Ghanaian artists such as El Anatsui and Ablade Glover, whose innovative styles and profound narratives resonated deeply with him. Their influence and his unique perspective laid the foundation for Ismail’s distinctive artistic voice.

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The turning point in Ismail’s career came when he received recognition from one of the most prestigious art institutions in the world: Sotheby’s—his debut exhibition at Sotheby’s showcased captivating paintings that captivated collectors and art enthusiasts alike. One particular artwork, a mesmerizing depiction of Ghanaian folklore infused with contemporary symbolism, caught the eye of seasoned art collectors.

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The sale of Ismail’s masterpiece at Sotheby’s marked a watershed moment in his career, catapulting him into the international spotlight and solidifying his reputation as a rising star in the art world. The painting fetched an astonishing sum, surpassing the £100,000 mark—a remarkable achievement for an artist whose journey began in the streets of Accra.

What sets Ismail’s work apart is its seamless blend of traditional Ghanaian aesthetics with modern sensibilities. His vibrant canvases pulsate with energy, evoking a sense of nostalgia while offering a poignant commentary on the complexities of contemporary life. Through his art, Ismail explores identity, heritage, and the human experience, inviting viewers to embark on self-discovery and introspection.

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Beyond the accolades and financial success, Ismail remains grounded in his roots, actively contributing to the local art community and mentoring aspiring artists. He believes in the transformative power of art to inspire change and foster unity, echoing the spirit of ubuntu—“I am because we are”—that permeates Ghanaian culture.

Sample works by Isshaq.

We recently sat down with Ismail to discuss his journey, themes, concepts, artistic style, and creative process as he continues to push the boundaries of artistic expression. Below are a couple of his responses during our Q&A:

Can you tell us about your journey as an artist and what inspired you to pursue an art career?

“Isshaq Ismail: Being an Artist is one of the most difficult decisions. Furthermore, the decision must be sincere because a career in Art is a compromised and precarious journey. Growing up, art became a catalyst for solace for me to escape solitude. My early relationship with Art was seeking knowledge (how to read the Quran and write Arabic) during Saturday and Sunday school called Makaranta. Furthermore, the geometric and biomorphic forms within the environment also deepened my interest and desire to pursue a career in the arts because I was interested in investigating and interrogating the perception of aesthetics.”

Kakamotobi 1 / Acrylic on canvas / 60 x 50 inches / 2022

What themes or concepts do you explore in your artwork, and what messages do you aim to convey to your audience?

“Isshaq Ismail: My work attempts to make controversial statements. I explore and investigate how the sociocultural and political aspects of the modern world impact identity. Personified/biomorphic characters are conjured using acrylic paint as a vehicle for my ideas. The characters I create become metaphors for people’s sentiments and serve as protagonists to represent the masses and advocate for the voiceless. Desire, longing, wonderment, strength, resilience, power, and hope can be seen in my works once a spectator comes into contact with my paintings.”

Kakamotobi 2 / Acrylic on canvas / 60 x 50 inches / 2022

How would you describe your artistic style, and are any particular artistic movements or influences shaping your work?

“Isshaq Ismail: I am interested in breaking the mould of a painting by subverting and interrogating the preconceived notions of beauty and challenging the perception of aesthetics. My naive, unapologetic, psychedelic, imaginative, raw, and bold expressive paintings are dubbed “Infantile semi-abstraction,” a style that performs a studied, technically and conceptually rich form of childish abandon. Outsider Art, Expressionism, Neo-expressionism, and Cobra art movements imbue me. Artists such as Jean Michael Basquiat, Francis Bacon, Dubuffet, and Karel Appel have helped shape my work.”

Could you walk us through your creative process? How do you typically approach starting a new piece of art?

“Isshaq Ismail: Ruminating in the studio becomes the point of departure. Sometimes, an idea may suggest itself. Other times, it results in an Artist’s block. Drawings are made spontaneously and contrived, using ink, oil pastels, and crayons to express and expose my thoughts on paper. Furthermore, once I am satisfied with a sketch, I transport it onto my canvas with the help of a pencil, and the painting begins. Currently, I use Acrylic paint as a vehicle for my ideas.”

Desire 11 / Acrylic on canvas / 60 x 50 inches / 2022

Many artists need help balancing their creative pursuits with practical considerations. How do you navigate the business of being an artist while staying true to your artistic vision?

“Isshaq Ismail: Art and money is a very controversial issue. However, ‘Art is not about money, but you need money to make Art’—that’s the whole irony. Being honest with your practice without people appreciating your work is a tough decision. Furthermore, if you give people the opportunity to support (purchase) your work, you compromise on everything. ‘The choice is yours.’ I believe once you do very honest work, you will survive with or without money.”

Desire 7 / Acrylic on canvas / 60 x 50 inches / 2022

Finally, what projects or upcoming exhibitions can we look forward to from you soon, and what aspirations do you have for your artistic career?

“Isshaq Ismail: I just resumed from a hiatus. This year, the main goal is to explore and experiment in my studio in the form of an Artist Studio Residency. However, I might participate in a few group shows and Art fairs. Ideas need time to mature; sometimes, you have to unlearn, relearn, and learn to help deconstruct and construct your ideas. I am interested in longevity, so I am moving slowly and correctly without wasting time.”

These insights from Isshaq Ismail provide a deeper understanding of his artistic journey, influences, and creative process, shedding light on the brilliance behind his acclaimed works selling for over 100K pounds.


If you have any questions or need any information, please feel free to reach out via email.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of The Accra Times+. Any references to specific individuals or artworks are made with the consent of the artist.

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