Gideon Appah: How to Say Sorry in a Thousand Lights

Pace Gallery, London, United Kingdom
15 Mar 2023 - 15 Apr 2023

Gideon Appah, Red Sun, 2022 © Gideon Appah

Gideon Appah, Red Sun, 2022 © Gideon Appah

Marking Gideon Appah’s first solo exhibition in the UK as well as his debut show with Pace, the artist will present a suite of new, highly ambitious paintings that speak to ideas of identity, memory, and imagination. Taking over the entirety of Pace’s Hanover Square gallery, this exhibition showcases the artist’s unwavering commitment to experimenting with scale, form, colour, and composition.

At the core of Appah’s artistic practice is a fascination with the intangible. His dreamlike, enigmatic paintings convey emotions that exist beyond the confines of language. For Appah, painting is an intuitive act of translation of the inner self to the exterior world. His singular visual lexicon interlaces fragments from reality and imagination to construct mystical, painterly scenes that resist narrative and classification. A surrealist streak runs through several paintings, further subverting expectations and undermining straightforward readings. For example, in Seated Man (2021-22) a figure looks out to sea while a collection of incongruous objects including oranges and a disembodied hand holding a lit cigarette gathers beside them. Central to Appah’s practice is the rich period of Ghanaian history following the country’s independence in 1957. Appah draws on a diverse array of visual sources – including childhood memories and family photographs as well as old newspaper clippings, music videos, cinema, and early ethnographic images – to create his idiosyncratic paintings that feel at once deeply personal and coolly anonymous.

In How to Say Sorry in a Thousand Lights, Appah will present new paintings in his distinctive style that occupies the blurred space between imagination and memory. Appah’s signature use of flattened perspective and ambiguous surroundings evoke ethereal landscapes that appear to exist outside the physical world. In A Love Song (2022) and Red Sun (2022), nude and semi-nude figures move through a seemingly utopian landscape with a sense of ease and grace. The subjects are alert to their surroundings, at once electrified and enmeshed in the undulations of the environment. The lush green carpet of grass in The Dream (2021) mirrors the reclined nude figure’s soft flesh, underscoring the feeling of harmonious equilibrium between human and nature. The colour palette of rich, jewel toned blues, reds, pinks, and greens draw the viewer into Appah’s cinematic world.

Appah’s large-scale canvases position the viewer as a voyeur, stumbling upon secretive or private gatherings set in otherworldly landscapes. Stretching across four meters, Appah’s diptych Cloud Men (2021-22) depicts seven tall men dressed in dark suits towering over the viewer – an impression that is further heightened by the low horizon line against an expansive blue sky. With all but two figures facing away from the viewer, the suggestion is a covert conversation. Appah evokes a sense of glamour and ceremony in the uncertain setting, leaving the viewer to interpret the scene with their own imagination.

The landscape that surrounds Appah’s studio is also a major source of inspiration, as he seeks to capture the sensation of the vast clouds and fields visible from the farm on which his studio is situated. By stitching together real and imagined memories, fantasies, and scenes from everyday life, Appah constructs quasi-theatrical compositions that contain an uncertain narrative, stripping them of the signifiers of identity in order to leave them open to individual interpretation.