Amoako Boafo paints flesh with his fingers. “This lack of instrumental barrier sets me free and diffuses a barrier between myself and the subject. I am able to connect with the subject in a more intimate way, which allows me to create an expressive skin tone. I don’t think this type of stroke can be achieved by a brush,” the artist explains. He’s described his portraits as self-reflection focused on identity, and challenging preconceived notions.
The visceral attraction and veritable overnight success of Boafo’s paintings can be attributed to how he activates intimacy when he applies physical, unmediated pressure to his figures, caressing their likeness into actualization with swirling, sinewy gestures. The complexity of emotion is rawly visible.
Boafo grew up and studied in Accra, Ghana before moving to Vienna for love and grad school. Though he already had a handle on his style and sold commissions, he was turned away from the prejudiced galleries of conservative Austria. In choosing to enroll at the Academy of Arts, Vienna, Boafo embarked on a goal to develop a network.
Formal training in Accra helped develop formal skills, and from his studies in Vienna, he gleaned conceptual experimentation approaches. In Accra, he had a community; in Vienna, the opposite. Unwelcome by the local art scene, he and his partner launched a platform for emerging artists of color. This was likely a seed for his new studio compound and residency in Accra, which Dior will help fund as part of a recent partnership with the artist.
“My intention with the residency in Accra is so African artists do not have to leave the continent for professional opportunities,” Boafo explains. “It will form part of a growing network of organizations and spaces concentrating on that aim. Then, maybe collectors, when they can travel, they can visit the places that have inspired us. It is important to show resilience for the younger generation, so they always stay focused on their craft. My residency is a safe place for artists to work and share their work to people like them, living in the same place.”
Championing his friends has always been a part of his practice, so when his first gallerist, Bennett Roberts, suggested offering a show to Boafo’sGhanaian friend, Otis Kwame Kye Guaicoe, Boafo insisted, “You better! I’m his biggest collector.”
“It’s a truly honorable reflection of who he is as a person,” Roberts notes, “He doesn’t see it as taking the shine off himself to help other artists. He sees it as climbing Everest together.”
The artist’s prioritization of camaraderie is reflected in his newer paintings, and as he works towards his fall solo show, Roberts has noticed changes, “More figures within each canvas, mimicking this idea of inclusion. There were a lot of isolated individual figures in his earlier works, but they’ve started to broaden to include two or more figures. I think the work will be more about inclusion than exclusion, and the Dior project is part of that, because it was much more of a collaborative effort. Everything good comes from a meeting of the minds. There are discussions and moments spent together, and if you click, that symbiotic relationship does add something much greater.”
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