In depicting movies, these artists were not all thumbs

Hand-painted African posters promoted traveling VHS films

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By KATHARINE GRAYSON

The VHS tape arrived in the African country of Ghana well before many residents had access to electricity or televisions, leading some entrepreneurs to find profit in developing makeshift mobile theaters that would travel to villages throughout the country.

Accompanying the trend, which lasted only from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, was a need to advertise films that would fueled by a portable electric generator, and shown using a TV and VCR.

Advertisements frequently came in the form of promotional posters, hand-painted by local artists, sometimes on canvasses, but often on flower sacks sewn together. And more often than not, the posters were painted by artists who had never seen the movies, said Ridge Art gallery owner Laurie Beasley, who will be displaying and selling a collection of the posters beginning Sept. 8.

"Almost all the artists had only seen the title. Sometimes the [posters] have absolutely nothing to do with the movie, or only show some tangential relationship," she said.

The works are quite large, with many over 40-by-60 inches, and will be sold for up to $450, Beasley said. The posters depicting popular Hollywood movies can cost thousands of dollars, she said. Most of Ridge Art's collection promoted non-American films, from a wide range of genres?#34;including kung-fu, romance, slasher films and science fiction.

Beasley added that the pieces are actually reversible, too. Many artists used flour sacks?#34;largely because canvass was too costly?#34;so oil paint soaked through to the back of the piece. This created "fabulous abstract art" on the reverse side of the paintings, she said.

The posters were rolled and unrolled to promote the films as the mobile theatres traveled throughout the country, causing many of the original works to completely deteriorate.

The movies were shown in a variety of venues, at homes, social clubs, or outside at night. The trend was apparently only popular in Ghana, Beasley said, and ended by the mid-1990s, when more widespread access to electricity and TVs allowed people to watch movies at home.

All works are one-of-a-kind and come signed and dated.

Ridge Art is located at 21 Harrison St. The showing of the Ghana cinema posters will be held concurrently with the Harrison Street fall festival, Art on Harrison. The event starts with a preview tonight, from 6-9 p.m., and a formal reception will be held 6-10 p.m on Friday.

The event will continue on Saturday, from 12-10 p.m. and Sunday from 12-5 p.m.

Ridge Art's regular hours are Thursdays and Fridays, from 1-6 p.m., Saturdays from noon-5 p.m. and Sundays from 1-4 p.m.

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