48 x 16″ (122 x 40.6 cm)
Traditionally in Africa many small, often ambulatory businesses have used hand-painted signs to advertise their business. The business person may have an actual store front but more often just sets up shop along any street and moves around town from day to day as the business prospects appear better in different parts of town. In the case of people who cut hair, men’s or women’s, this is a very common option in all parts of Africa. To support those people in business there are very accomplished artists who make their living as commercial artists, painting signs for any business, itinerant or in a fixed location. This sign was painted by hand by a commercial artist for a barber who carried the sign with him as he moved from place to place to cut men’s hair wherever he could find customers.
The background of the sign is of two colors, in two halves, dark red on the left and pale yellow on the right, fading into each other. There are several additions to the background enhancing the character of the sign. Most notably are the titles on the top right of the sign, “Extra ‘O'” and “Get Cool”. Extra O is short for Extrardinary. There is a cartoonish character drawn in outline at the top of the sign in between the two heads furthest to the left, a man with an oversize nose and teeth and a long left arm and large hand, appearing to point to the star around the name “Unity Art”, the name of the art studio which painted the sign. In between the two left-most heads is a drawing of a pair of scissors, pointing down, with a star at the point. There is a drawing of a long-handled comb in between the right-most 2 heads.
There are 4 men’s heads, all in a line, horizontally. The two on the right are facing each other; the two on the right face each other also. The faces are all the same but have different clothes, different hairstyles. Two of them have beards and mustaches, two do not. The head furthest to the left is of a man wearing a red shirt with a white stripe with a haircut identified as “Boeing” by a caption to the lower right of the head. This man sports a full beard although it’s rather light. It appears he is wearing a small diamond-like earring. The second man from the left is facing to the left, wearing a yellow shirt with the word “Boss” in red on the collar. His haircut is identified as “Jet Punk” by a label to the bottom left of the head. The third man from the left is looking to the right, wearing a black shirt with a yellow stripe and has a thin sideburn and a full goatee. The label to the bottom right of the head says his hairstyle is “Super Forex” (Forex is short for Foreign Exchange, meaning dollars and other foreign currencies). The man whose head is furthest to the right is wearing a red and pink striped shirt and has sideburns. The label to the lower left of this head says his hairstyle is “Concord”.
The sign is in generally excellent condition except for a small nick out of the lower right hand corner of the sign and some minor cracking at the lower right hand edge of the sign. The veneer at the lower left corner of the sign is slightly chipped away and there is a small amount of wear along the perimeter, especially on the left hand edge. All over the surface of the painting there are small marks, evidence of use. This form of African art is contemporary; these signs continue to be made although currently the trend seems to be to more professionally printed signs on paper which is now cheaper than hiring an artist. This, therefore, is one of the last of a dying art. This sign was well used for some time but not so old as to have been worn as much as some of older signs. The quality of the artwork of this sign is characteristic of some of the best painting that has been done on Ghanaian barbershop signs, a level of quality that is very difficult to find any more. This is truly an outstanding example of the genre.
We are pleased and honored that this sign is being featured in the African Hairdressing and Barbershop Sign show at the SFO Museum at the San Francisco International Airport which runs from February 29 to September 4, 2020. Therefore, it is not available for purchase until October of this year. Please contact us if you would like to reserve this once this exhibition will be over.