A Portrait Inspired by the Bright Colors of Los Angeles

In each installment of The Artists, T highlights a recent or little-seen work by a Black artist, along with a few words from that artist putting the work in context. This week, we’re looking at a piece by the painter Amoako Boafo that appears in his solo exhibition “Singular Duality: Me Can Make We,” on view at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles through November 6.

Name: Amoako Boafo

Age: 37

Based in: Accra, Ghana, and Vienna

Originally from: Accra, Ghana

Where and when did you make this work? In my temporary Los Angeles studio in the month leading up to my show.

Can you describe what is going on in the work? This is a friend of a friend. I liked the composition of the original photo, so I didn’t change much. The expression and her hair texture are exactly the same as in the photo. I did change the colors of her clothes. From the way she’s standing, it’s like she’s asking someone, “What? What do you want?” without necessarily saying that. I like when people show confidence like this in their posture. Fashion is also a big thing for me: It’s a way of saying something without actually saying it.

Most of my practice has to do with focusing on a single figure who commands the space they’re in. I want them to own the space. I usually work from pictures that the subjects already have, because once you tell someone to pose, they’re already thinking about how they want people to see them. My goal is to paint and capture real emotions. And you really get the emotion in the face. So for the face, arms and body, I focus by painting with my finger. With finger painting, I try to control as much as I can, but there’s always a surprise element. Sometimes I do the skin first and paint the clothes or the surroundings last. But other times I need time to think about exactly what I want the facial expression to convey. For me, an empty canvas is a problem. Most of the time I have an immediate solution for how to resolve it, by painting this color or that color. You know, sometimes you get stuck in front of just one painting and you feel like you have to resolve it before moving on to the next painting? I don’t do that. It helps me to work on multiple images at the same time. It’s a solution to unstick myself.

What inspired you to make it? I was recently at the Paul Smith store in L.A. and it has a really nice pink wall. When I got back to my studio, I was like, “I’m just going to take this pink and put it into the work.” I often try to take some of the colors that are around me. L.A. is very bright — there aren’t many earthy tones — and I wanted to reflect that in my work. When I’m in Vienna I have to fight to paint yellow, because it’s just so quiet and gray there. I have to keep reminding myself, “Yeah, it’s gray, but you’re not gray.” I always want my paintings’ backgrounds to feel energetic, because otherwise it’s just dead space.

What’s the work of art in any medium that changed your life? I like Egon Schiele’s work because you can trace the colors he uses. I can see, “Oh, he had blue here, red here, yellow there.” I like that all this paint comes together and makes a portrait. Moving to Vienna, where Schiele lived, really changed my perspective on painting. I was exposed to art in a different way. I kept thinking, “How do I unlearn what I’ve been learning so I don’t do exactly what other painters are doing?”

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