Under the Microscope: Amoako Boafo
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Under the Microscope: Amoako Boafo

His fingerprint, the only truly personal possession, is forever stamped onto his work...

As the crowds descend upon Miami this weekend for Art Basel, and the sea continues to encroach on the land - sparking a Miami climate emergency - you could be forgiven for thinking the priorities of those in attendance are slightly misaligned. However, at Unit London we believe art can and will play a pivotal role in challenging the regressive status quo surrounding environmental issues. With this in mind, we feel justified in looking towards the future of art and continuing to write about exciting young artists.

Amoako Boafo, who has been picked up by renowned African art collector and gallerist Mariane Ibrahim, will be exhibiting at Art Basel as the artist in residence for the Rubell Family Collection, whose museum opens today. We often like the Rubell’s selections (as evidenced by our love of Allison Zuckerman), and it’s safe to say they have done it again. 

The portraits currently being produced by Boafo are the kinds of works that restore your faith in contemporary art, if it were ever waning. As Evan Beard has so sagely elucidated in an article regarding the millennial art community: the collective consciousness of the emerging art generation dictates that 21st century work should grapple with notions of identity, whilst the 19th century valued aesthetic prowess and the 20th century conceptual complexity. Boafo’s work spans all three realms, and does so with veritable flair.

He paints the base of his canvas or paper using brushes and other traditional methods and then applies oils, acrylics, or pastels with his fingers to create the figures. The paintings are gestural but manage to be extremely detailed, vaguely reminiscent of the work of our own Johan Van Mullem. Boafo creates portraits of black figures - sometimes his friends, sometimes famous people - that attempt to “create a new vernacular, reframing [Boafo’s] experience and that of his subjects to include a more variegated understanding of the black experience.” They are captivatingly lucid depictions of accentuated figures, their poses serene, skin luminous, isolated and emphasised on single colour backgrounds.

Not only are these paintings a joy to behold, the way in which Boafo approaches them intellectually is extremely refreshing. It can sometimes feel as though artists project meaning onto their work that is slightly incongruous with the sensory experience said work provides; Boafo is not guilty of this, he never strays into the realms of pretension when talking about his work, which makes the actual conceptual underpinning that bit stronger. So, in one fell swoop, Boafo has ticked the boxes Beard provided from 19th and 20th century art: his work is unambiguously beautiful, with a strong conceptual underpinning that the artist refuses to dilute with verbiage.

Which leaves the 21st century art preoccupation with identity. Boafo was born in Accra, Ghana. He has claimed drawing acted as a means for staying out of trouble or avoiding a beating when he was younger, and that his artistic nucleus grew less out of inspiration, more out of motivation. He attended university in Ghana before following his friend, mentor, and now wife, Sanada Mesquita to Austria. He’s currently based in Vienna - attempting to finish a degree at the Academy of Fine Arts that has been put on hold due to his success - and is due to exhibit around the world in 2020. Boafo is identity focused, claiming “the primary idea of [his] practice is representation, documenting, celebrating and showing new ways to approach blackness.” Notions of identity are tightly woven into his work, not least the fantastically apt application of paint by the fingers, as if his fingerprint, the only truly personal possession, is forever stamped onto his work - reminding future audiences not just of the provenance of the artist, but of his emotional and intellectual landscape.

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