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Yellow Dress

Yellow Dress
signed, inscribed and dated 'KING AMOAKO M BOAFO 2018' (lower left)
oil on four joined sheets of paper
overall: 57 1⁄2 x 53 7⁄8 in. (146 x 137 cm.)
Painted in 2018.
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Senior Specialist

Lot Essay

With its bold use of color and unique painterly style, Amoako Boafo’s Yellow Dress is a striking example of contemporary portraiture. In addition to being highly personal works—the artist says he wants to immortalize the “good people” in his life—these portraits are also celebrations of the creative act of painting itself. Lavishing the appearances of his subjects with an extraordinary degree of attention, Boafo seeks to celebrate the Black face in art history: “I want to make a point,” he says. "By making the black faces I paint as strong and lively as they are, I want to show that blackness does not indicate negativity” (A. Boafo, quoted in G. Roland, “In the Studio: Amoako Boako,” Collectors Agenda, 2019). Painted in 2018, Yellow Dress formed part of the inspiration for fashion designer Kim Jones’s SS21 collection ‘Portrait of an Artist’ for Dior and this painting was featured on garments included in Jones’s runway show that season.

Against a backdrop of rich golden yellow, Boafo’s subject stares out from the picture plane, engaging the viewer directly with his contemplative stare. The subtle tonalities of the subject’s skin are the result of the artist mixing together black and brown pigments with hints of blue and red, drawing them together directly on the surface of the sheet with an animated sense of energy. Surrounding the face with vast fields of color serves to draw attention back to the figure, and the flatness of the background reinforces the intricacies of the subject’s face. The rest of the composition consists of the empty bistro table, save for a small container of purple flowers. Isolated in their vase, they serve to echo the sense of quiet contemplation.

Boafo’s exceptional painting technique is deceptively simple, yet the results are highly sophisticated. He begins by sketching the outlines of his figures onto planes of high-keyed color on his large-scale canvases. Then mixing his pigments with linseed oil, he applies them to the surface of the canvas with his fingers, using them to manipulate this translucent mixture directly on the surface, tracing out the contours of the face with his fingers. Only then does he pick up a paintbrush to complete delicate details that surround the eyes, nose, and mouth. This “fingerpainting” technique, as the artist terms it, results in a highly evocative image that is born, literally, directly from the hand of the artist. “Years of experimenting produced this technique,” Boafo says, “which makes my subjects more beautiful. The absence of a tool—and therefore of an obstacle—frees me and allows me to achieve a very expressive skin colour that I could never get with a brush. A simple movement can create an incredibly intense energy and reveal highly sculptural figures, which I adore, with a certain lack of control. It’s fairly paradoxical really: you’re taught to use a brush, and instead you end up going back to the origins, finger painting, the primitive gesture as used by the first humans” (A. Boafo, quoted by N. Trembley, “Interview with Amoako Boafo, rising star in the art world,” Numero, March 1st, 2021, online: [accessed 03⁄29/2022]).

The emotional intensity of Boafo’s paintings has attracted numerous admirers throughout the world of art and fashion, including the fashion designer Kim Jones, creative director of Dior Homme. Jones and Boafo first met in Miami in 2019, where Jones was preparing for a show, and Boafo was artist-in-residence at the new Rubell Museum. Jones grew up in Botswana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya and Ghana and had a visceral relationship with the African continent, and the two bonded almost immediately. On seeing Boafo’s work, the designer was inspired to design a line of clothes which included images from the paintings. “I really fell in love with it, because it’s so intense in reality, and I just thought I’d love to do something with this” (K. Jones, quoted by J. Diderich, “Artistic License,” WWD, 14 July 2020, online: [accessed: 3⁄29/2022]).

Highly personal paintings, Amoako Boafo’s canvases speak to the wider African diaspora about their shared experience. His highly contemporary approach searches for new ways to communicate the artist’s message, while at the same time nodding to the genre’s historic traditions. “There are some people who connect my paintings to Egon Schiele, for example… I was searching for a way to paint figurative portraits in a loose and free way. So I would go to museums or look at books, thinking about how people like Schiele got there. In that way art history had a big influence on how I paint” (A. Boafo, quoted by G. Roland, op. cit.). Looking to push past negative biases by using an age-old artform in an inclusive, dynamic manner, Boafo seeks to insert Black representation into the art historical vocabulary while raising the bar for expressive, vibrant portraiture.

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