When We Arrived, 2022
ArtMatch Value Score*: Promising
Richard Mensah (b. 1978) is a scientist turned artist whose narrative work features important historical and cultural scenes along with portraits, centered around dignified representations of Black people.
After focusing on a career in science, Mensah returned to a natural talent and deep passion he’d had since childhood. The prompt was a question from his Mom: “Can you still draw?” Indeed, he could. Not only that, he’d been matured by the years and now had stories he wanted to tell...stories that would inspire his children and promote greater knowledge of African history and Black culture around the world. Today, Mensah’s work is in high demand, with sold out shows in London, Paris, and Los Angeles. His striking figurative works depict joy, strength, resistance, resilience and beauty with a broad emotional and artistic range that is unique among his peers.
I love storytelling so much. I could never be just a portraiture artist.
Credit: Chilli Art Projects
From an early age, Richard had a special talent for drawing. He was almost completely self-taught as no one in his family or childhood community had such talent. As early as six years old, Richard was paid for his first commission – a mural for a community building. At school, Richard was known as the kid who traded sketches for pesewas…or candy. While Richard’s parents were supportive of his creative talents, they saw greater promise in his talent for math. They steered him toward a more reliable and practical career path as an engineer. Richard graduated from Kwame Nkrumah University in Accra with a degree in Chemical Engineering, and subsequently moved to London.
The demands of Richard’s job meant no time for art. For 15 years, he didn’t pick up a paint brush. That changed in 2016 during a visit from his Mom in London. “Can you still draw?” she asked. “Yes, I can,” he replied. Richard made a drawing for his mom, and after that the passion was re-kindled. Richard began to draw and paint more and more. For the next three years, he created art in the limited spare time he had, thinking of it only as a hobby. However, a confluence of events – the 2020 lockdown, racial justice protests, support for black art, new technology enabling artists and creators to reach their audiences, among others – led Richard to take his art more seriously.
Richard saw the energy around Black art akin to that seen during the Harlem Renaissance, a period of unprecedented cultural fertility within and emanating from the Black community in Harlem, NYC. “Africans are more confident to express themselves in music, fashion and art. My paintings capture expressions flowing from Black community.” Mensah had stories he wanted to tell. He wanted to contribute to the conversation through visual art. He wanted to inspire his children, particularly his daughter who is an aspiring artist herself.
Black is Elegance, 2022
Oil, acrylic, acrylic modelling paste, 24ct gold leaf
59 x 47 in
Mensah’s work features a range of themes – from historical battles to ladies in bathing suits. His works often feature graceful, dignified Black figures, many whom are dapperly dressed. Central to many of his backgrounds is a large, gold framed circle with plantain leaves (a nod to Ghanaian culture) or landscape backgrounds. Another common element found in Mensah's backgrounds is overlapping circles with decorative floral patterns, done in different colors depending on the work. All of these elements create a beautiful, unique and recognizable aesthetic.
Who Gets to Swim, 2022
Oil on canvas
53 x 61 in
Mensah craftily references classical themes from art history and filters them through his own cultural lens. When We Arrived (2022) reinterprets leisure scenes depicted by French Masters Manet and Seurat or American Master Kerry James Marshall, with cultural references to the UK and Ghana.
When We Arrived, 2022
Oil, Acrylic, Acrylic Modelling Paste, 24ct Gold Leaf on Canvas
50 x 74 in
A new work starts with an idea, a spark of inspiration on a topic Mensah feels he can add his voice to. When the idea strikes, Mensah captures the big picture concept by writing notes on his phone and sometimes doing a very basic sketch. From there, he fleshes the idea out by living with it. The idea dominates his thoughts for a period, until finally he’s ready to bring the idea to life. The materials and colors are not predetermined and flow from the story he wants to tell. In that sense, his process has a method but is also intuitive, allowing for experimentation and evolution. The way Mensah works borrows heavily from his experience as a scientist. In fact, Mensah sees many parallels between art and science. “Art and science are very similar. Most of the old masters were scientists as well. In both, you use imagination to bring something new to the world. You’re the one who brings it to the world and you have to solve problems brought by the new creation as well.”
Much of Mensah’s work is also research-based. In the series Why We Resist, Mensah beautifully and powerfully adds his voice and knowledge to the discussion around the resistance of Black people during the slavery era. In the piece Igbo Landing (2021), Mensah depicts a historic site in Glynn County, Georgia, where a group of Igbo committed a mass suicide in 1803 after taking over their slave ship and refusing to submit to slavery. Mensah hopes that by depicting such scenes, more people learn of these important historical events which are often not taught.
Why We Resist - Igbo Landing
Oil and Bees Wax on Canvas
69 x 79 in
Mensah recently completed a solo exhibition in Paris called The Softer Side of US and has plans for another solo show later this year in Los Angeles. Mensah is represented by Chilli Art Project in London and has also collaborated on shows with Afrikaris (Paris) and Band of Vices (Los Angeles).
Watch an interview with Richard about his recent solo show in Paris:
ArtMatch interview with Richard Mensah: June 30, 2023
*The ArtMatch Value Score is our assessment of the likelihood of the artist's work to hold or appreciate in value. Numerical scores are calculated based on a combination of variables, including but not limited to type of gallery representation, number of solo shows, quality of collector base, number of pieces sold at auction. Scores are summarized to one of three ranking categories: emerging, promising, and strong. Note this does not constitute official investment advice and is given purely as an input to help assess artists from a value perspective.