Alive with vivid colour and feeling, Bada Diop (2019) is a bold, large-scale example of Amoako Boafo’s distinctive portraiture. Clad in bright yellow clothing, a young man regards us with poised intelligence. He reclines on a seat, indicated in schematic ochre and brown planes against a bright white backdrop. In contrast to these crisp, almost abstract fields of colour, Boafo has modelled his subject’s dark skin with sensitive, nuanced strokes of his own paint-dipped fingertips: born of the contact of skin and paint, marbled touches of inky blue, umber and magenta create a tactile depth of hue and texture that is charged with life. Over two metres in height, Baba Diop pictures emotional intimacy on a monumental scale.
The Ghana-born Boafo counts Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Kerry James Marshall, Jordan Casteel and Kehinde Wiley among his influences. His portraits’ incandescent, graphic qualities have also earned him comparisons to Egon Schiele – since 2014, Boafo has lived and worked in the Expressionist’s hometown of Vienna, Austria. His works have recently joined Schiele’s in the collection of Vienna’s Albertina Museum, and have also been acquired by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and the Rubell Museum, Miami, among others.
Boafo’s fluid strokes and vital colours embody the dissolving of stereotypes that lies at the heart of his approach. The regal, elegant man depicted in the present painting is vitally present, but he is far from rigid: Boafo’s lucid technique conveys the dynamism of authentic, individual life, and rejoices in the rich subtleties of human connection. As he has put it, ‘the primary idea of my practice is representation, documenting, celebrating and showing new ways to approach blackness’ (A. Boafo, quoted in V. L. Valentine, ‘Amoako Boafo is Latest Young Black Artist to Make Major Auction Debut’, Culture Type, 11 February 2020).