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  • Overview

    'When I first see my subjects, whether in real life or in photos, I see in them their resilience, their power, their inner strength. These are the character traits that arrest me.' —Otis Kwame

    Devising a regal, colourful and entirely fresh style of portraiture, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe takes the tradition of painting and propels it into the contemporaneous. In Black Stripes on White, an anonymous male model gazes, motionless, at an area beyond the frame, wearing a curated attire that blends romantic flânerie with urban coolness. The delicate, small flower lain behind his ear echoes the floral print running along his striped T-Shirt – a recurring element that resonates with Quaicoe’s painterly endeavour to challenge gendered perceptions. ‘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.i While Black Stripes on White attends to all the pictorial conventions typically deployed within the painterly 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, interfering with the composition’s otherwise traditional structure. Incorporating distinctive accessorial elements, the painting namely calls to mind Jan Vermeer’s iconic Girl with a Pearl Earring, here imparted with a modern twist.

     

    Jan Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, c. 1665-66, oil on canvas, Mauritshuis, The Hague. Image: Bridgeman Images.

    'I have worked with different materials and explored different styles throughout my career, and it took me eleven years to find my own voice, which I currently inhabit.' —Otis Kwame Kye QuaicoeTaking inspiration from strangers he meets on the street, encounters on social media or 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 stylised posters painted by local artists to advertise upcoming films. Engrossed with this material, he soon thereafter began to recreate the images he found in magazines and ‘anything [he] could get his hands on’.ii ‘Color means a great deal where I come from’, the artist continued. ‘It's a distinguishing quality – the very means of self-expression’iii. 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 ornating his striped T-Shirt. As the nameless protagonist sits in a considered and elegant pose, Black Stripes on White furthermore encapsulates Quaicoe’s desire to portray ‘sophistication and humility, curiosity and quietude’.iv 

     

    Painting, Painting, and Painting More

     

    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’.v When a specific idea comes to mind – specifically that  of whom he envisages painting  – 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 out while I work’.vi Aside from using his medium as a way of documenting time, the places he visits and the people he meets, Quaicoe concludes that his work ultimately comes down to each viewer’s specific and subjective reading. ‘What I see in the subject might be radically different than what someone else sees. I just want them to enjoy the work – to try as much to understand my work, my perspective and life story, but to also enjoy it as well’.vii 

     

     

     Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, quoted in Grace Erbert, ‘In Bright Paintings Full of Color, Artist Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe Depicts Black Subjects in Gray’, Colossal, 6 July 2020, online. 
    ii Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, quoted in Ayla Angelos, ‘Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe hopes his audience will understand and – most importantly – enjoy his portraiture’, ItsNiceThat, 9 July 2020, online. 
    iii Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, quoted in ‘Black Like Me — Paintings by Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe’, Nevah Black Down, 13 January 2020, online. 
    iv Roberts Projects statement, quoted in Katy Cowan, ‘Lush and luminous oil paintings of black men and women by Ghanaian artist Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe’, Creative Boom, 9 January 2020, online. 
    v Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, quoted in Ayla Angelos, ‘Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe hopes his audience will understand and – most importantly – enjoy his portraiture’, ItsNiceThat, 9 July 2020, online. 
    vi Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, quoted in Ayla Angelos, ‘Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe hopes his audience will understand and – most importantly – enjoy his portraiture’, ItsNiceThat, 9 July 2020, online. 
    vii Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, quoted in Ayla Angelos, ‘Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe hopes his audience will understand and – most importantly – enjoy his portraiture’, ItsNiceThat, 9 July 2020, online.
       

     

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 2019

    • Artist Biography

      Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe

      Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe paints empowering images of black men and women set against lush monochromatic backgrounds. His portraits of friends and family are celebrations of blackness and reclamations of lost and forgotten cultural dignity. He uses color, the primary instrument of self-expression in his native Ghana, as a language of transformation to create a dynamic of cultural, political, and personal redemption. Quaicoe was born in Accra, Ghana, where he was first introduced to painting by the expressive, highly stylized posters painted by local artists to advertise upcoming films, and attended the Ghanatta College of Art and Design for Fine Art in Accra, where he studied painting. He lives and works in Portland, Oregon.

       
      View More Works

6

Black Stripes on White

signed and dated 'Kwame Kye 19' lower right; further signed and dated 'KWAME KYE JUNE 2019' on the reverse
oil on canvas
122 x 91.5 cm (48 x 36 in.)
Painted in June 2019.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£20,000 - 30,000 

Sold for £94,500

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020