Take a second and imagine a world where you aren't spending hours a day on your screens being constantly inundated by commercials for the latest Hollywood blockbusters, like "Still Fast and Somewhat Furious 14." You don't have a local movie theater, you don't have television, hell, you don't even have electricity. Every once in a while a stranger comes to town with a projector and some DVDs, giving you the opportunity to actually see a movie. In order to hook you, they set up posters promoting the movies. These posters are huge, bright and they depict all manner of ghoulish violence and mayhem. They immediately capture your imagination and dominate your thoughts, compelling you to pony up your hard-earned cash to see the movie advertised. Welcome to the Ghanaian Mobile Cinema.
Brian Chankin has been enamored by the quirky posters since the moment he discovered them in 2011. They soon became a passion of his, and in no time he was working alongside the artists to help them share their art all over the world. We spoke with Chankin about his passion for the unconventional movie posters, the future of this niche art form and how it all ties into the tattoo world.
Can you give our readers a very quick idea of what exactly Deadly Prey Gallery is and how it came to be?
Deadly Prey Gallery started in my video rental store in Chicago called Odd Obsession Movies in late 2011. Twenty paintings lined the walls back then and it was mostly for decoration, though when we needed money for rent I would put a few up for sale. A video store is a very inconsistent business! Everything changed that year when I met Robert Kofi and he explained how he's been close with many of the artists for years because he used to work in the mobile cinema as a teenager. This is how Deadly Prey's relationship with the artists started.
Kofi organized a couple of commissions with the artists Heavy J, Stoger and Salvation for me, and I began to ask my friends if they'd be interested in such a thing. Word traveled and it caught on pretty fast. Kofi then inquired with Leonardo, Mr. Nana Agyq, Farkira and Mark Anthony, who all started working with us shortly after. Since then the actual studio has moved to my kitchen and today we operate physically as a touring exhibition. The artists C.A. Wisely, Magasco, Nii Bi Ashitey, and most recently, Bright Obeng are now also working with us. I also want to mention they're under no contract with us by their own choice, so it's a huge honor they decided to work with Kofi and I consistently through the years. We are first and foremost here to support the artists in Ghana working in the hand-painted movie poster genre today, though we do have a nice collection of older paintings from the mobile cinema days ranging from the early ‘90s - mid 2000s. The majority of those are in a permanent archived collection that will in time be its own museum space dedicated to the genre.
How did you discover the movie posters from the Ghanaian mobile cinemas?
In early 2011 a good friend came into my video store with a book he had just purchased called "Ghanavision." It featured around 50 pages of hand-painted movie posters from Ghana. I was immediately obsessed and had to learn more, so I researched day and night. I've always been an avid movie fan—especially low budget horror, action and martial arts—so in seeing those were also the most popular genres in Ghana, I found a quick connection. The scenes are of course typically far wilder than the actual movie being advertised. Misspellings and plot inconsistencies didn't matter. What did matter was making a poster that caught someone's eye. On the 50 something-ish page of Google search I found Kofi's contact. Nine years later we are best friends and partners, it's crazy.
Tell us a little about the relationship between you and the artists working in Ghana.
We work with 11 artists in Ghana. That's Heavy J, Salvation, Stoger, Leonardo, Mr. Nana Agyq, Farkira, C.A. Wisely, Magasco, Nii Bi Ashitey, Bright Obeng and Mark Anthony. Mark Anthony has actually since retired, but Kofi and he are like family so we proudly still support him. We've basically provided a platform for the artists in Ghana to find customers for commissioned paintings and sell their current work as well. Our prime goal is that the artists continue to thrive, so it's our job to make sure they have a consistent supply of paid work whenever they'd like it. When a customer requests a commission they can choose the artist if they like, or Kofi and I will match the project up with the artist we feel would be most excited and best suited for the request. We encourage the customer to provide some reference photos because the artist won't always have time or access to watch the actual movie. It's usually 6-9 months from date of request to the painting reaching the customer. Most of that time is spent waiting in the queue, things have been so busy, it's just insane!
Technology is in the process of getting rid of the Ghanaian mobile cinemas, thus the need for the posters. Do you think that this art form may die out? Was this part of the motivation behind creating Deadly Prey?
Great question and I think this is exactly where Deadly Prey comes in. Kofi and I are surely motivated to make sure this art form never dies. We aim to see it flourish now more than ever and constantly evolve! This is our motivation for the tattoo-related paintings that have recently been popping up on Instagram. For a little background, from the mid-'80s up until the mid-2000s, video clubs mostly from Accra and Kumasi, but also smaller cities like Elmina and Swedru, would travel from town to town showing movies in places with little or no electricity or access to movies. A mobile cinema was created in Ghana by entrepreneurial video operators who traveled by truck creating open-air cinemas with a TV, VCR or DVD player, VHS and DVD movies, a gas-powered generator and, of course, these hand-painted posters. There were also stand alone cinemas in Accra and larger cities that used the posters as well. Back then they were used for advertising primarily, but after 2008 or so, most if not all paintings were made strictly for art. The posters heyday was in the ‘90s, so actually by 2001 there was definitely a decline in use, but an upswing in selling new posters as art. I honestly think we're still in the early phases of this mammoth genre and it's here to stay. Kofi and I constantly tell each other it's only the beginning!
Do you remember the first one you ever saw? I feel like this is the sort of thing that sticks with you.
Yes! I actually do!!! It's a painting made for the Nollywood (Nigeria) horror movie “Witches.com” as seen in the Ghanavision book. The name still makes me laugh, it's so good. The artist is not working today, but man is he good. His name is King Vicos. I'll include a photo of the painting from the book.
The Sly Stallone getting tattooed by the terminator is one of my favorite things I've ever seen. Do you think there is a connection between these paintings and tattoo art?
Hahaha, isn't that the best?!? It started with my friend Indy Voet, a talented tattooer in Brussels who owns a shop there called Purple Sun. In April of last year we had our first tour in Europe which started and ended in Brussels thanks to Indy. We actually centered the tour around tattoo flash and tattoo subjects painted in the style of the giant movie posters. We toured Brussels, Paris and Amsterdam, and each city's exhibition had a live tattoo element to it. A person could come to an exhibition of hand-painted movie posters from Ghana and leave with a tattoo designed by the same artists in Ghana who made the posters they just saw! Since then we've had consistent requests for the artists in Ghana to make more of these tattoo paintings and I'm happy to say it's become a regular thing. In fact, all of the artists have tried their hand at it so far and the results have been unreal. I'm very happy they're interested in the idea, it's such a cool evolution, being a big fan of tattooing and tattoo artwork myself.
Is there anything else that our readers should know about what you do?
Sure, thank you! We make high quality 14x22' inch artist-centric prints of many of the best commission paintings for just $15-20. We also have a book for sale called "Deadly Prey" that features some of our earliest commission paintings, with essays from Kofi, myself, and film director Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World, Bad Santa). All profits from the prints and book go directly to the artists in Ghana. You can visit www.deadlypreygallery.com for prints and www.perfectly-acceptable.com for the Deadly Prey book!