From Architect to Artist: How Arthur Timothy’s Lifelike Paintings Reflect His African Homeland

There’s a fine line between art and architecture. They are closely linked and have influenced each other for centuries, and many artists from centuries past have mastered painting, sculpture and architecture. For Arthur Timothy, the transition from architect to artist was accidental.

“My son gave me a large canvas which he had stretched on a wooden frame on present on Christmas Day in 2018,” the West African, England-based artist shares. “I think he was trying to encourage me to paint because he sensed my frustration at not producing artwork regularly.” 

Arthur Timothy
Artist Arthur Timothy. Image: Erica Timothy.

Born in Accra, Ghana, Timothy’s work reflects his immediate family life and his history and recollections of his childhood in the country, as well as in Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom. Here, he shares with EBONY the arc behind his transition.

EBONY: You went from architect to artist. How did that happen?

Arthur Timothy: I had always loved drawing and painting, but it became a hobby I indulged in only occasionally. I regularly attended art exhibitions and liked to discuss the work of other artists, which was a strong hint for me to create my own work. Painting became a welcome break from my architectural work because I could be creative without answering to anyone.

What do you remember about that first canvas your son gave you?

The canvas was set up on an easel in my architectural office near Tower Bridge in London. I did not touch it for about three months. I frequently walked past it and would feel slightly guilty because I had not started to paint. Eventually, I tentatively started sketching a composition based on my mother and some relatives from an old black-and-white photograph. When I finished, I obtained another canvas and completed another painting. I really enjoyed the process. It was suggested that I submit both paintings for inclusion in the annual Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts in London. I did, and to my great surprise, both paintings were selected for display at The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2019. My launch into the art world happened in 2020 during the pandemic. My painting entitled Brothers went to the permanent collection at ICA Miami. I was offered my first solo show with Gallery 1957 in Accra the following year.

How would you describe your artistic style and the messages you are trying to convey?

I see myself as a painter and draughtsman specializing in figurative art, portraiture and landscape. I am not so interested in style as it can be limiting. I think the object in painting pictures is to try to move the senses by intensifying reality. How this can be achieved depends on how intensely one understands and feels for the person or object of one’s choice. I think it is possible to communicate feelings to everyone who views a painting through the intensity with which it is felt. I hope my work conveys all that is good about the human spirit, including warmth, joy, love, kinship and beauty.

This collection is in honor of your late older brother. How has it been a release and catharsis for you?

Desmond Timothy was my beloved older brother. His passing at a young age was a very painful experience that I learned to live with over time. However, at the time, I could not process the loss of someone I loved so dearly. In my mind, I created an imaginary fortress that would be impregnable to anything else that life could throw at me after that loss. My outlook on life changed. The creation of the Desmond collection of paintings allowed me to reflect deeply on our time growing up together; to reflect on his personality, sense of humor, warmth and geniality. Most of all, it allowed me to come to terms with my loss. Vivid memories came to life during the process of painting. There were moments of joy, humor, relief and even transfiguration while creating these paintings. This was the catharsis I experienced.

Why is it important for your work to be represented by an African gallery?

As an artist of Ghanaian and Sierra Leonean descent, it was important for me to work with Gallery 1957 because of their commitment to African diaspora art and their integrity and genuine interest in nurturing local artists. Gallery 1957 has championed artists from Africa and the diaspora for a long time. It introduced the work of leading artists such as Amoako Boafo, Kwesi Botchway, Gideon Appah and many others to collectors and institutions in the West. I am pleased to have exhibited in Accra, London, Dubai, Dallas and recently in New York’s Armory Show with the gallery.

What is the one item you need on hand to complete your work?

It is essential for me to have music playing when I am completing my work. I like jazz artists such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and Bill Evans. I also like contemporary musicians such as Yussef Dayes, Eddie Chacon and Afrobeat stars including Burna Boy, Tekno and Kizz Daniel. And I also love to listen to my son Duval Timothy’s music.

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Updated: October 2, 2023 — 12:02 pm