Amoako Boafo SINGULAR DUALITY: ME CAN MAKE WE September 18 – November 6, 2021
“SINGULAR DUALITY: ME CAN MAKE WE,” a solo exhibition by Amoako Boafo featuring new large-scale paintings that explore the tension of internal and external worlds, and of the complexities of shadow and light. Boafo’s second solo show with the gallery expands on his oeuvre representing and celebrating Blackness, while introducing significant new themes.
Situated at a pivotal juncture between the artist’s celebrated mode of figuration and the development of a complex visual language, these magnificent new paintings introduce the subject’s shadow. At once connected yet separated, Boafo’s characters are enigmatically coupled with their shadows.
In each of Boafo’s newest paintings, light now casts a shadow, which becomes an image in its own right. Cantilevering outwards, shadows are rendered in muted but still luminous colors. As a result, Boafo’s paintings are now more archeological, more layered. Dark and light do not fuse into one another; rather, they oppose one another. The effect is not unlike Andy Warhol’s Shadow series (1978-79), Goya’s Black Paintings (ca. 1819-1823), or Francis Bacon’s Triptych, May–June 1973 (1973).
All of the exhibited paintings continue to epitomize the bold yet simple colorful silhouettes typical of Boafo’s portraiture. His instantly recognizable strokes, imbued with rhythm and movement, accentuate the confidently applied hues of cerulean blue, yellow ochre, ripe reds and pinks. Loosely applied with his fingers, the paint used to depict skin tones of varying tonalities of black produces an illusion of three-dimensionality. Boafo also advances his earlier technique of using appliqué, transferring patterns from gift wrap papers to obtain rich textural effects to the paint surface. The emphasis is not merely to paint the figure, but to cultivate an atmosphere where, through texture and materials, reality is alchemized.
Boafo’s limitless diversity – as it relates to both his characters and himself – continues to prompt discussion on the complexities of identity, community, and race. Depicting people both within and outside his intimate circle, Boafo’s characters occupy the dominant space of each composition. Emotionally poignant, at times melancholic, expressions reveal the subject’s character and state of mind. Domestic settings and relaxed, natural poses grant further insight into Boafo’s relationships with his characters. Artists, writers, models or friends, these are men and women he celebrates through his portraits.
Monstera Leaf Sleeves (2021) exemplifies Boafo’s exploration of the relationships between color and form, showing and hiding. Set against a dramatic yellow background, a young man in profile admires a clasped flower. He is isolated from the rest of the composition as the main focal point, joined only by the double-capture of his shadowed body. Stylish Overcoat (2021) shares the same characteristics. There is a conspicuous interaction of light and dark interplay between the main figure – a man stylishly outfitted in colorful clothing – and his shadow, which enveils him as would a halo.
In an essay recording his confrontation with the work of Francis Bacon, Gilles Deleuze articulates how “the shadow escapes from the body like an animal we had been sheltering” (Deleuze 1981). Within each of Boafo paintings, there is a process through which each of his characters can engender their own experience, whereas their shadow forces a negotiation between intention and the actual world. Jung believed the shadow cast by the unconscious mind contains the hidden aspects of the individual (Henderson 1964); Boafo contends that our shadow, or alternate reality, knows us better.
Boafo’s painting is, at its core, a highly personal record of his and our existence during an extraordinary time. The desirous combination of the yearning and the deluge reflects on his and our moment: the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout; the impact of racial inequity; the effects of fame; balancing daily life; an uncertain, troubling future. He asks us how to discern between the two desires at odds in all people, and whether there is a possibility of redemption through growth?
In seeking to remake the world in his own image, Boafo navigates the shadow cast by his own path. His individual style remains influenced by movements that include The Vienna Secession, though it is his contemporary sensibility that ensures his work looks to the future rather than to its past. Rather than simply painting what is there – witness his earlier work – Boafo’s pursual of the psychological depth of pictoral representation (Gombrich 1956) moves his ideas onwards.
In this evolution, Boafo’s works find new meaning. With this show Amoako Boafo expands from superb Black representation to portraits that chart and encompass the totality of the human experience.