Celebrated for his dynamic approach to portraiture and his visualization of the Black experience in Europe, Amoako Boafo’s striking representations of friends, colleagues, and members of what the artist notes as the African Diaspora have quickly expanded traditional modes of figural painting. Blue Pullover is an particularly important painting as it was included in the artist’s first solo exhibition and is an especially bold depiction that highlights Boafo’s approach to both arresting compositions and the rendering of emotionally charged portraits. “The main idea or goal of what I do is to paint people I like, people that inspire me, people who create spaces and opportunities. All I do is document the good people around me,” the artist explains. “On the one hand I want to make the face stand out because I want to highlight the character I’m painting. But I also want to make a point: By making the black faces I paint as strong and lively as they really are, I want to show that blackness does not indicate negativity” (A. Boafo, quoted in G. Roland, “In the Studio: Amoako Boafo,” Collectors Agenda, 2019). 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.
The main idea or goal of what I do is to paint people I like, people that inspire me, people who create spaces and opportunities. All I do is document the good people around me.”
I want to make a point… By making the black faces I paint as strong and lively as they really are, I want to show that blackness does not indicate negativity.”
Rendered on an even yellow ground, Boafo depicts a bust-length portrait of a man wearing a blue sweater. Pulling the neck of the garment up over his nose, the subject reduces his face to a pair of eyes staring straight at the viewer. Besides his short, dark hair and eyebrows, this upper half of his face is the only indicator we get of the individual behind the thick blue fabric. Painted with light blue vertical stripes against a smooth blue field, the artist seems to indicate cabling or a simple linear pattern on the clothing. Its azure tone contrasts sharply with the canary colored background and sets up a striking dichotomy. Though both of these elements make up the majority of the canvas, the man’s face easily overpowers their visual weight. Working in a tangle of black, brown, tan, and white, Baofo’s signature approach to the depiction of dark skin creates a kinetic space within the outlines of the body. “The technique not only belies the literalness of the designation ‘black’ but also makes the figures pulse with energy. Despite their static poses, they seem ever shifting and unfixed” (S. Mizota, “In Amoako Boafo’s portraits, every brushstroke of every black face matters,” Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2019). Though abstracted and painterly, Boafo’s rendition of human skin feels personal and intimate owing to its highlighting of the artist’s hand and the steady gaze outward that many of his viewers exhibit.
Growing up in Accra, Ghana, Boafo practiced art as a hobby in an effort to keep himself busy and to expand his skills. It wasn’t until moving to Vienna, Austria that he felt he could study at the university and really focus on painting as a career. There he became enamored with the history of European art, but never lost sight of his home. Blue Pullover comes from the Diaspora series that takes the people of Ghana and its neighboring countries as its subjects. Fusing a distinct method of depicting the Black experience with a style influenced by artists like Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, Boafo seeks to investigate and celebrate what being African in Europe means. His references to the art historical canon can be seen therefore as a challenge to the dearth of black subjects throughout history. He claims, “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 in: op. cit.). In the same tact, artists like Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Kehinde Wiley draw comparisons, as does his handling of monochromatic compositions refer however tangentially to the oeuvre of the late Barkley L. Hendricks. Creating in conversation with these artists, Boafo proves himself a powerful voice in the new dialogue on painting.