"BREW" Ghanaian movie posters by the Elusive Kwesi Blue



From the 1980s to the early 2000s video clubs throughout Ghana screened primarily pirated video cassettes of action, fantasy and horror films. Because commercial printing was limited in West Africa at this time, sign painters and artists were hired to create posters that enticed the general public to purchase tickets. These interpretive commercial works were painted on fifty kilogram flour sacks and using various paint media including spray, oil, acrylic and airbrush. A rich artistic tradition quickly developed as these media and style variations produced diverse outcomes, making each artist’s work different than the last.

While most of the artists watched the movies prior to painting these posters, many worked only from the existing VHS packaging. They often incorporated violent, comical and erotic imagery, producing paintings that could be completely removed from the film itself. Despite these imaginative diversions, such posters still succeeded in their commercial application. Regardless of accuracy, their eccentric content helped promote the movies and sell more tickets.

This exhibition highlights the movie posters of Mr. Brew, a Ghanaian artist renowned for representing American and African films with satire and a bold use of color. His work accomplishes a strange brand of terror and comedy, at once repulsive and curious. Brews imagery stands out amongst his contemporaries, his knowledge of cartooning and classical paintings truly shines in his depictions. His paintings are reminiscent to the traveling sideshow banners that graced America throughout the early 1900’s. With that being said I wanted to share this related Ghanaian tradition with a western audience.

While his work is well known, the artist himself is somewhat mysterious. Born Kwesi Blue, he received the moniker Mr. Brew after he began painting advertisements in exchange for beer. For several years his exact whereabouts have been unknown, inspiring pilgrimages by collectors from all over the world hoping to locate him. Followers of his work have paid astronomical amounts of money to so-called guides and dealers to find him, but with little success. In December 2018, Dutch art dealer Mandy Elsas uploaded footage to the internet of Mr. Brew painting by the seaside somewhere Ghana. Although the video has prompted renewed speculation as to the whereabouts of Mr. Brew, Elsas has not responded to requests for information. At this point I have had no luck directly communicating with Brew. His work, person and education are a mystery, at this point all we can do is assume and appreciate.