The Portraits of Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe

Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe takes the tradition of painting and propels it into the contemporary.

Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe takes the tradition of painting and propels it into the contemporary.

Otis Kwame Kye QuaicoeBlack Stripes on White (detail)2019. Estimate £20,000 - 30,000. 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, London

Color means a great deal where I come from. It's a distinguishing quality—the very means of self-expression.

Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe takes the tradition of painting and propels it into the contemporary. In Black Stripes on White, the artist paints an anonymous male model gazing at an area beyond the frame, wearing attire that blends romantic flânerie with a youthful cool. The delicate, small flower behind the model’s ear echoes the floral print running along his striped T-Shirt—a recurring element that resonates with Quaicoe’s ongoing challenging of gender conventions. “When I paint male figures, I typically incorporate floral elements into the painting as a means to subvert the overall masculine energy of the work,” he said. While Black Stripes on White attends to all the pictorial conventions typically deployed within the genre of portraiture, the bright yellow background at the protagonist’s back, as well as the free-flowing parameters established to distinguish his identity, betray a contemporary touch.

Taking inspiration from strangers he meets on the street, encounters on social media, and friends and colleagues, Quaicoe paints luminous portraits of Black men and women, typically set against bright monochromatic backgrounds. Born in Accra, Ghana, the artist was first introduced to painting by the expressive, highly stylized posters painted by local artists to advertise upcoming films. Engrossed with this material, he thereafter recreated the images he found in magazines and “anything [he] could get his hands on.”

Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, Black Stripes on White, 2019. Estimate £20,000 - 30,000. 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, London.

“Color means a great deal where I come from,” the artist continued. “It's a distinguishing quality—the very means of self-expression.” In Black Stripes on White, Quaicoe’s proclivity for glossy renderings and chromatic vibrancy is made evident by the flashy yellow background haloing the central figure, as well as the carmine flowers ornamenting his striped T-Shirt.

Speaking of his process, Quaicoe explains that time, focus, and perseverance became essential tools from which to approach his craft. As a result, the artist typically goes to his studio at around six in the morning, at which point “I just paint, paint, and then paint some more.” When a specific idea comes to mind, he begins congregating reference material. “After choosing the subject matter, I take their photo, if possible, through various settings. The overall process is one where the details are flushed [sic] out while I work.”

 

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