Bottle Tops: The Art of El Anatsui

By Alison Goldberg, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Lee & Low Books

ISBN: 9781620149669

Release Date: 6/14/22

The inspiring biography of Ghanaian artist El Anatsui whose handmade sculptures, created from discarded bottle tops, have received international acclaim and been showcased around the world.

​”If you touch something, you leave a charge on it and anybody else touching it connects with you, in a way.” — El Anatsui

El Anatsui has always written his own story. As an art student at the University of Ghana, El noticed that the artists and styles he was studying were grounded in European traditions. Curious about his own culture’s art history, El observed his people and found stories in the fabrics they wore and the way they used recycled goods. He decided to tell these stories through his artwork.

El experimented with different mediums—firing broken clay into new pots and cutting wood into sculptures using a chainsaw. Each time El tried something new, he brought with him the experience of all the experiments he did before. After coming across a discarded bag of shimmering bottle tops, El wondered What was their story? He experimented with the new material—disassembling, flattening, and reshaping—then stitched the tops together with wire. The result were large, flowing tapestries that tell stories about history, culture, and link people together. Today, El’s bottle top sculptures are showcased all over the world inspiring audiences everywhere.

Here is the captivating story of a Ghanaian sculptor whose passion, creativity, and awe-inspiring artwork reminds us that creating powerful art is about being true to yourself.

Reviews

STARRED REVIEW “When El Anatsui was a teenager, his home, a British colony, became the independent country of Ghana. “We could decide to do things on our own terms,” comments the artist, with the shift reflected in his outside-the-box creativity and changing old materials into something new. This striking book, vividly illustrated in paint and cut-paper collage, showcases Anatsui’s signature works: flowing tapestries made from deconstructed bottle tops. Goldberg describes the artist’s early life and artistry and then focuses on how he executes his famous fabrics, which have been exhibited in museums worldwide. As well as learning about Anatsui’s art, readers can gain here some important insights into the creative life—Goldberg emphasizes that Anatsui doesn’t work alone; a team gets the bottle tops into their new forms. It is also instructive to learn that the artist (who reviewed Goldberg’s text) isn’t always sure how to proceed artistically or that the results will be popular. Best of all, readers will find out that nobody in this man’s town was an artist, but he still found his way to success. Robust back matter includes source notes, citations for quotes, and an art activity. Use this excellent biography alongside Shelley Pearsall’s The Seventh Most Important Thing (2016) in units on found-object art; it also deserves a place on public library shelves.” –Booklist

“This picture-book biography is a fascinating introduction to Ghanaian artist El Anatsui and his innovative artistic process. Early pages present Anatsui’s childhood love of artmaking in the British colony of the Gold Coast. When he was a teenager, in 1957, his country achieved independence as the nation of Ghana, and Goldberg stirringly writes, “With this new freedom, he felt a shift.” Anatsui’s own words follow: “We could decide to do things on our own terms.” Words and pictures guide readers to see how liberation on this national scale translated into Anatsui’s artistic quest to freely express himself by experimenting with diverse media and developing new techniques. Zunon’s (I Am Farmer, rev. 1/19; Grandpa Cacao, rev. 5/19) use of paint and cut-paper collage is particularly well suited to depicting Anatsui’s life and artistry; it echoes his own evolving process of using found materials and assembling them in his artwork. Throughout, the illustrations’ style is largely realistic, and shifts in visual perspective invite the reader to home in on pivotal moments. For example, when Anatsui finds a discarded bag of bottle tops at the side of the road, Zunon spotlights him holding one. The next spread eschews background detail to show Anatsui’s hands manipulating the bottle tops as he develops a technique for creating the massive, fabric-like sculptures that brought him international acclaim. Back matter provides additional context and sources while inviting readers to get their own hands involved in creating art.” –The Horn Book

For teachers:

The Bottle Tops Teacher’s Guide is now available!