Amoako Boafo - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | Phillips
  • “The direct gaze in my paintings makes this person look back at you. You stare at the painting and someone stares back at you. That might not be very comfortable for you. It's not easy to be stared at because it means when you’re analysing the painting, the painting is analysing you at the same time. It's give and take. And then there’s a bit of me staring at you at well. I choose characters I also want to identify myself with. The colours, the energy, the patterns, the expressions – that's them, but then I always add something of myself too.” 
    — Amoako Boafo


    Amoako Boafo in his studio, 2019

    Photo Courtesy: Maximilian Pramatarov and Collectors Agenda


    Recognised amongst the cohort of emerging artists who have spearheaded figurative art back into fanfare, few have enjoyed such a meteoric rise to intentional acclaim as Ghana-born, Austria-based contemporary painter Amoako Boafo. Honoured as one of Artsy’s ‘Most Influential Artists of 2020’ and included in Time Magazine’s ‘2021 TIME 100 Next’ list of leaders who are shaping the future, Boafo’s large-scale portrayals of Black figures rendered in bold, gestural, finger-applied strokes have captured the attention of the art world, widely revered for the transfixing way in which they indefinitely hold your gaze. His tactile compositions explore the role of diaspora, race, identity, and masculinity, challenging the viewer to consider preconceived notions throughout the history of Western painting in his celebration of Blackness in all its multitudes. Painting from images of those he either knows or holds in high regard, the artist asserts: 


    “I have always been interested in facial expressions… That’s one reason I like portraits so much. And then there is a certain gap: When you go to a museum or a big gallery all you see are white figures. You don’t see the kind of faces I paint there. I want to do my own small bit to close that gap… that is my main goal: To paint a different kind of portrait.” 
    — Amoako Boafo


    A Fusion of Styles

    Originally from Accra, Ghana, Boafo was artistic from childhood. Entirely self-taught, he would compete in drawing competitions amongst his friends, however, in an effort to capture his surroundings and the emotions of those around him, he gradually transitioned towards the medium of painting. After losing his father at a very young age, he was raised solely by his mother who worked as a cook. Whilst she was away at her job, he would paint, but he never imagined his childhood passion would become such an accomplished career. However, once an opportunity arose to study at Accra’s Ghanatta College of Art and Design, Boafo seized the chance and soon became one of their most accomplished students, even awarded with the prize of Portrait Painter of the Year. 



    Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait with Physalis, 1912
    Collection of the Leopold Museum, Vienna

    Following his graduation in 2008 and as encouraged by Sunanda Mesquita, the Austrian artist who is now his wife, Boafo travelled to Vienna in 2014 to continue his formal training at the Academy of Fine Arts. It was here that his practice truly came into its full effect, born from his unique ability to synthesise Black perspectives with the inherently Viennese style of painting he was gaining exposure to, harking back to traditions established by the likes of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. Indeed, evoking Schiele’s gestural approach to portraiture – as seen in Self-Portrait with Physalis (1912) which like Gaze I, depicts the artist framed by a plant - Boafo too, frequently isolates the central figure against monochrome backdrop intermixed with subtle nuances of texture. As marvellously showcased in the present painting, the result of this compositional technique is an enhanced clarity that commands the attention of the viewer.

    Gaze I

    Gaze I was executed in 2018, at a pivotal point in Boafo’s career just before his well-received Roberts Projects solo exhibition at Culver City, California, which marked the start of his rapid trajectory to global acclaim. Contrasting the dense brushstrokes that drench the backdrop in colour, the self-portrait of the artist is rendered in energetic whirls of ochre, burnt sienna, and hints of deep blue. Though he is relaxed, he exudes confidence and poise as his stare meets ours with a casual intimacy.

    Applying pigment directly to the surface of the work with his fingers, Boafo’s distinctive method of mark-making animates the painting with life, as despite his static pose, the composition vibrates with ever-changing movement. Speaking of his methods, Boafo explains, ‘I am trying to find ways to celebrate individuality, which is reflective in my technique. When I paint with my fingers, I have less control, which I believe is beneficial’ i. This juxtaposition between the traditional methods used on the background and the atypical approach used for the figure creates a particularly thick, expressive surface that feels at once spontaneous but also wholly considered, as the contours of his body have been almost softened into abstraction. 


    Detail of the present work


    And yet crouched behind the lush green foliage, his self-portrait gazes out at us matter-of-factly, asserting his presence against the monochrome peacock-blue background. As collector and founder of the Rubell Museum in Miami, Mera Rubell declares, ‘it’s very mysterious the way in which he captures the most powerful human expressions with just his fingers’ ii. Indeed, as if weaving notions of identity into each swirl, his fingerprints are forever stamped onto the work, reminding his future audience of not just the provenance of the artist, but also of his primary motivation for ‘representation, documenting, celebrating and showing new ways to approach Blackness' iii.


    “I enjoy the whole process because you have to struggle to get what you want. I struggle with doing the sketch because I don’t want to change what I did from the beginning. I do this sketch. It’s a freehand sketch. And then I start painting. Once the sketch is done, the painting is done, because the painting is all in my head already. I know exactly what I want and how I want it.” — Amoako Boafo


    Kehinde Wiley, President Barack Obama, 2018
    Collection of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.


    Boafo also looks to the work of fellow artists, among them Kerry James Marshall, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Henry Taylor and Kehinde Wiley. In fact, in true contemporary fashion, it was Wiley who discovered Boafo’s work on Instagram the same year the present paining was created, and not only introduced him to his network but also became an early collector and champion of his work. As such, Boafo is thus part of an important group of young artists who are addressing the complex histories of the past, but also negotiating and confronting racial issues which are still poignantly prevalent today. 


    “The main idea or goal of what I do is to paint people I like, people that inspire me, people who create spaces and opportunities. All I do is document the good people around me… On the one hand I want to make the face stand out because I want to highlight the character I’m painting. But I also want to make a point: By making the Black faces I paint as strong and lively as they really are, I want to show that Blackness does not indicate negativity.”
    — Amoako Boafo


    Collector’s Digest

    Boafo’s distinctive aesthetic has propelled him to becoming one of the world’s most in-demand artists, winning him raves from industry giants including Kim Jones, the artistic creator of Dior Men who has orchestrated notable collaborations between the brand and artists including KAWS, Daniel Arsham, Kenny Scharf, and Hajime Sorayama. Having encountered Boako’s mesmerisingly textural portraits during Art Basel in Miami, Jones was immediately impressed by the exuberant nature of the artist’s pieces. Boako too, shares this interest in fashion, textiles, and pattern, admitting he ‘[tends] to look at characters who have a sense of style’ iv. Thus, when the collaboration was launched in Spring-Summer 2021, making Boafo the first African artist to develop a line with the prestigious French fashion house, it immediately garnered widespread recognition with the pair being praised as the perfect fit. 

    To correlate with the collaboration, Dior is supporting an initiative set out by Boafo: the building of a space in his hometown of Accra which will host the artist’s studio alongside an artist residence and artist-run gallery to support a new generation of creatives in the city. 


    Dior Men’s Summer 2021 Collection: Portrait of an Artist: Amoako Boafo 


    When Phillips were the first to debut a work by Boafo at an international auction platform in London 2020, his painting The Lemon Bathing Suit (2019) achieved an impressive £675,000, far exceeding its pre-auction estimates of £30,000 – 50,000. He was the recipient of the Walter Koschatzky Art Prize in 2017 and the STRABAG Art award International in 2019, and has been widely collected by private and public collectors and institutions around the world. Notably, this has included by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York; Marieluise Hessel Collection at the Hessel Museum of Art, Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College in New York; The Albertina Museum Vienna; and the Rubell Museum in Miami. 



    i Amoako Boafo, quoted in Lucy Rees, “Amoako Boafo’s Powerful Portraits Explore Black Identity,” Galerie Magazine, April 1, 2020, online
    ii Mera Rubell, quoted in Claire Selvin, ‘Megacollecting Rubells Anoint Rising Star Amoako Boafo with Residency, Show in New Miami Museum’, ARTnews, 13 November 2019, online
    iii Amoako Boafo, quoted in Claire Selvin, ‘Megacollecting Rubells Anoint Rising Star Amoako Boafo with Residency, Show in New Miami Museum’, ARTnews, 13 November 2019, online
    iv Amoako Boafo, quoted in Osman Ahmed, ‘Kim Jones discusses his collaboration with Amoako Boafo for Dior SS21’, i-D, 15 July 2020, online 


    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Europe (acquired directly from the artist)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Amoako Boafo

      Amoako Boafo’s work questions contemporary misunderstandings of blackness by contrasting personal and structural perceptions and portrayals of black people. His heavily expressionistic and sensitive portraits of friends and acquaintances highlight their self-perception and beauty while challenging the misconceptions of blackness that objectify and dehumanize black people. Often depicting his sitters with animated lucidity against vibrant, monochromatic backgrounds, Boafo asks for understanding of the diversity and complexity of blackness in spite of the frequently negative representations of black people in media and culture. Though born in Accra, Ghana, he now lives and works in Vienna, Austria.

      View More Works


Gaze I

signed, inscribed and dated 'AMOAKO M BOAFO 2018 KING' lower centre
oil on paper
140 x 100 cm. (55 1/8 x 39 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

HK$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for HK$2,772,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 8 June 2021