Kwesi Botchway - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'I don’t want to just produce realistic work but works that speak loud and can prompt dialogue […] My focus is to be more conceptual, focusing on the language of colour. I want to elevate Blackness and also what Black truly represents.' —Kwesi BotchwayExecuted in stunning shades of tangerine and establishing deep chromatic harmonies across its impressive expanse, The Apprentice Bench is a visually arresting work from the young Ghanian artist Kwesi Botchway. Supremely stylish and exuding a relaxed sense of self-possession, the figure dominating the composition leans back on a low bench, folding one leg up towards his body and raising one, playfully patterned sock underneath him. Holding a tool of his trade lightly in his hands, the titular apprentice gazes out past us, engaging, but impassive.

    Describing himself as an ‘Afro-Impressionist’, Botchway belongs to an import and diverse group of contemporary figurative painters who seek to reframe the representation of Black bodies and narratives within the Western art historical canon by entering into a robust and sustained dialogue with its traditions. Drawing certain comparisons to the Old Master drama of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s figures and the pointed insertion of the Black subject into a European art historical tradition developed by artists such as Kerry James Marshal and Titus Kaphar, Botchway’s arresting works are marking him out as one of Ghana’s most prominent and important emerging voices.


    Purple Black

    'In Kwesi Botchway’s vibrant paintings, colour is everything. Colour is language, character, culture, community.' —Katherine Finerty 

    Included in Botchway’s celebrated first solo exhibition in Accra, Dark Purple is Everything Black with Gallery 1957 in 2020, The Apprentice Bench belongs to a distinctive body of work that establishes the primacy of colour - and its communicative power – in Botchway’s practice. As well as the complex depths achieved in the passages of vibrant orange here, the present work also highlights the artist’s uniquely bold application of purple in achieving deep melanin skin tones. Directly challenging any negative associations associated with deeper, darker skin tones, Botchway’s assiduous use of purple here draws on the colour’s historical rarity and elevated status, realigning the ‘dark purple’ skin with a culturally codified language of beauty, royalty, and power, and exploring new ways to ‘communicate colour-consciousness, identity, representation, and perceptions of beauty’.i As the artist explains ‘purple is an ancient colour which has been linked to royalty. The Queen of England, in the past, had to ban people from wearing purple. It was mainly used by people with power or authority. I took that inspiration. Instead of painting black people with purple clothes or putting crowns on them I would rather depict it through their skin.’ii


    Peter Clarke, The Blue Bird, 1959, the Norva Foundation, Cape Town. Artwork: © The Estate of Peter Clarke/DALRO/ DACS 2022 CAPTION: Detail of the present work
    Left: Peter Clarke, The Blue Bird, 1959, The Norva Foundation, Cape Town. Artwork: © The Estate of Peter Clarke/DALRO/DACS 2022.
    Right: Detail of the present work

    In this respect, Botchway’s work sits in close dialogue with a rich tradition of modern and contemporary African and diasporic artists. In his rich handling of paint and colour, Botchway’s work draws certain visual parallels to the canvases of the late South African artist Peter Clarke, who used portraiture as a vehicle for resisting the homogenisation of Black South African experience under Apartheid. In contrast to a levelling narrative of collective struggle, Clarke drew out the individuality and interiority of his subjects, developing a pictorial vocabulary of flat angularity and heightened chromatics that proved to be highly expressive and enduring.


    Afro Impressionism

    'I am an impressionist and a portrait artist. I‘m more focussed on the human face, I believe that’s where our souls display their emotion.' —Kwesi Botchway Shifting his sights to more European traditions, Botchway engages deeply and directly with the traditions of 19th century French Impressionism. This legacy can be traced primarily in the artist’s heightened palette, his deep sensitivity to the emotive power of light and colour, and, importantly, in his approach to fashion and the psychological reality of his subjects. Departing from the overt academism of the previous generation, Édouard Manet and early Impressionist painters moved increasingly towards an appreciation of the figure as an individual, psychologically complex modern subject, a shift that clearly resonates with Botchway’s own project. Shown in contemporary fashions and often in roughly finished, bare environments these 19th century paintings also provide a pictorial reference point for Botchway where ‘fashion serves as a crucial extension of his figures’ personality’. This is especially apparent in The Apprentice Bench where the figure’s richly saturated overalls and bench contrast against the bare monochromatic ground in order to focus our attention on the psychological dimensions of the work. Characteristic of Botchway’s paintings more broadly, the effect is ‘at once grounded yet aspirational; reflective of an intermingling of cultures new and old, and an ever-evolving definition of luxury.’iii


    Frederick Bazille, Pierre Auguste Renoir, 1867, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: akg-images
    Frederick Bazille, Pierre Auguste Renoir, 1867, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: akg-images

    A tribute to and celebration of Black subjectivity and power, The Apprentice Bench has incredible presence, its strong narrative force underpinned by Botchway’s technical facility. Against the deep purple tones of the figure’s skin, the orange tint to the eyes burns brightly. A recurring feature in Botchway’s work, this flourish communicates the expressive core of his aesthetic project. As he elucidates: ‘I love intensity and white eyes for me are a bit plain, there isn’t as much of a story behind them […] the orange eyes create an intensity in the work. It’s kind of like you’re looking at someone who is staring at you intensely, posing their stories to you. The hot orange eyes signify a kind of superiority, I want to put black people in this state, to see themselves as not normal human beings but something more powerful, because you know for me I feel like black is the presence of everything.’iv


    Collector’s Digest

    •    A strong emerging Ghanian voice, Kwesi Botchway studied at Ghanatta College of Art and Design, as did his close friends Amoako Boafo and Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe.


    •    Like fellow Ghanian Serge Attukwei Clottey, Botchway places community at the centre of his practice. Founder of the WorldFaze Art Studio based in Ogbodjo, the artist’s birthplace and home to a large Zonga community, he works to provide residency and exhibition opportunities as well as practical and emotional support for young artists.


    •    Botchway has exhibited widely in recent years including the 2022 solo exhibition Rumours of Blackness with Maruani Mercier Gallery in Brussels and the 2020 presentation of his work in London with Gallery 1957.


    •    In November 2021, Phillips debuted Botchway’s first work at auction as part of our 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale.

    i Katherine Finerty ‘Kwesi Botchway – Dark Purple is Everything Black’, Gallery 1957, 2020, press release, online.
    ii Kwesi Botchway, quoted in ‘In Conversation with Kwesi Botchway, Unit London, online.  
    iii Kwesi Botchway, quoted in Stephanie Sporn, ‘For Ghanian Portraitist Kwesi Botchway, Fashion and Power go Hand in Hand’, Galerie Magazine, 13 November 2020, online.
    iv Kwesi Botchway, quoted in ‘In Conversation with Kwesi Botchway, Unit London, online

    • Provenance

      Gallery 1957, Accra
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Accra, Gallery 1957, Kwesi Botchway - Dark Purple Is Everything Black, 19 May - 9 June 2020

    • Literature

      Naomi Rea, 'Studio Visit: Kwesi Botchway on the Importance of Painting Faces and Celebrating His Fellow Ghanaian Artists', artnet news, 30 March 2021, online (illustrated in the artist's studio)

Property from an Important Private Collector


The Apprentice Bench

signed and dated 'K. Botchway 20' on the centre of the bench; signed, titled and dated 'Kwesi Botchway The Apprentice Bench (2020)' on the reverse
acrylic and oil on canvas
171 x 127.4 cm (67 3/8 x 50 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2020.

Full Cataloguing

£50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for £138,600

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+ 44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 3 March 2022