Amoako Boafo - 20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Monday, December 7, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Focused on locating the various nodes of Black subjectivity, Amoako Boafo’s portraits depict a diverse array of subjects who all have different ways of approaching, or rather self-fashioning, their own Blackness. Known for his highly texturized and vivid portraits, such as Purple on Red, 2019, Boafo presents isolated subjects who are caught in moments of contemplation, joy, rest, or stillness. The viewer is caught by the gaze of his subjects; whether they stare at us nonchalantly or in confrontation, the protagonist is undeniably entirely self-assured. 



    Made during a major turning point in the artist’s career—a year that saw Boafo’s first solo exhibition in the U.S. with Robert Projects in Los Angeles as well as an artist-in-residence show at the Rubell Museum in Miami—Purple on Red exemplifies the idiosyncratic approach and painterly confidence that catapulted Boafo to international acclaim. An overdue disruption to the singular manner that Black representation is often discussed, Boafo’s works consider the psychological territories that Black figuration resides within and how such territories are complicated by tension and multiplicity.  


    Purple on Red portrays a singular Black woman, dressed in purple and sitting on top of a red armchair. Her hair falls gracefully behind her while she crosses her legs and rests her arms on the sides of the chair. There is an air of regality to her that is emphasized by her open stance and her almost expressionless gaze towards the viewer. Boafo deepens the intricacy of this painting by developing a textural contrast between the figure’s skin and her background reminiscent of Egon Schiele’s gestural brushwork. Although the space surrounding her is flat and monochromatic, Boafo develops lushly applied paint to her skin using his fingers in place of a brush; brown oil paint is dragged along her body, swirling at some instances, starting and stopping abruptly in some, and developing into long strokes in other sections. Hints of blue pigment are carefully introduced to imbue her with cool undertones and areas where the oil paint builds up to a dark and impasto texture provides contour that lifts her highlights. Boafo’s manipulation of paint enhances the richness of her skin while also adding to her magnetism. Her Blackness serves as the focal point of the composition: its unmissable tonalities are rendered in such a way that lends her a psychological complexity. 


    [left] Egon Schiele, Youth in purple cassock with folded hands, 1914. Photo credit HIP / Art Resource, NY [right] Lucian Freud, Girl with Roses, 1947-1948. Artwork © Lucian Freud

    The rich surface of Boafo’s portraits is not only a visual tool—it also contributes to the overarching concept and goal of his oeuvre. “The primary idea of my practice,” Boafo expressed, “is representation, documenting, celebrating and showing new ways to approach Blackness.”i Born in Accra, Ghana and based in Vienna, Austria—another affinity with Schiele—Boafo’s own global perspective allows him to capture the depth and breadth of something as contained and yet multitudinous as the African diaspora. 


    Such an experience is captured in the technique Boafo uses to present his subject’s skin. Although he uses his signature finger-painting technique in almost all of his portraits, the resulting effect is unique in each work. In Purple on Red, for example, the subject’s cool undertones emerge more clearly than Boafo’s other portraits: in his exploration of Black subjectivity, Boafo expresses how diverse and multifaceted Blackness can be. This emphasis also carries with it the diverse range of personal and political histories each member of the diaspora contains. 


    Beauford Delaney, Self-Portrait, 1944. The Art Institute of Chicago, Photo Credit The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY
    Beauford Delaney, Self-Portrait, 1944. The Art Institute of Chicago, Photo Credit The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY

    A similar exploration is present in Beauford Delaney’s self-portraiture, which played with color and light and helped him reconcile the issues and concerns that limited him from fully expressing himself as a gay Black man. As a result, these self-portraits were mesmerizing and differentiating compositions composed of brown, yellow, green and blue paint. A reconciliation of this kind is done in order to make the identity of the subject coherent to the artist and others, and at a moment where the representation of Blackness is a subject of continued and constant discussion, Purple on Red presents us with multiple routes from which we can discuss this concept.


    i Amoako Boafo, quoted in Victoria Valentine, “Amoako Boafo’s First Exhibition at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles Centers Black Subjectivity,” Culture Type, February 15, 2019, online.

    • Provenance

      Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Chicago
      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


Purple on Red

signed, inscribed and dated “AMOAKO M BOAFO 2019 KING” center right
oil on canvas
76 5/8 x 55 1/8 in. (194.6 x 140 cm)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $756,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278 


20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 7 December 2020