Home Magazine When Portraiture Becomes Storytelling

We are living in the times of the rise of the black culture, a moment in history characterized by the development of strong artistic personalities which have destroyed all the existing racial boundaries due to their provenance and their choices regarding subjects. While over the past centuries portraiture has always been a way not only to capture the resemblance of an individual but also to describe the time and being of the subject, nowadays artists like Lynette Yiadom-Boakye give importance to other aspects of the figure and the poetic potential that can be found beneath appearances.

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Originally from Ghana, British painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye has been an extremely influential artist over the last decade, with participation to the most famous art fairs like The Venice Biennale, Frieze Art Fair and Art Basel. If we take some time to study Yiadom-Boakye’s background, we can learn about her love for poetry, which is not only her passion but is also one of the other forms of expression she loves to practice and a strong input for her figurative research.


LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, "Amaranthine", 2018, oil on linen, 78 3/4 x 98 5/8 inches


Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, 'An Unkindness', 2019, oil on linen, 63 x 51 3/16 inches


When focusing on her work as a painter, we must keep a distance from the general conception of portraiture and observe the importance that is given to storytelling, in order to unveil the romantic and poetic interpretations that are hidden inside her subjects’ expressions. In her works it is no longer a matter of time and space; placing the subject into a specific time-frame has lost its fascination. As we understand from her own words, Yiadom-Boakye strives to keep her subjects from being related to a specific decade or time, and focuses on making the postures and mood of her subjects relatable to the viewer.


Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Medicine at Playtime, 2017, oil on linen, 78 3/4 x 47 1/4 inches


Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, 9:30 pm Friday, 2013, oil on canvas, 78.74 x 47.24 inches


Her colour palette remains simple with a dominance of dark tones interrupted by bright yellows and oranges, which are placed with courage in very specific parts of the painting to enhance the expressiveness of the scene and the emotions the artist wants to underline. This elegant colour scheme is combined with the use of ambiguous backgrounds in which dark hues and monochromatic spaces create a dialogue with the past, in particular with the works of some of the greatest old masters like Velazquez and Degas. The result of this unique combination is at the same time fresh and innovative, but maintains a strong alikeness with the best examples of modern portraiture, creating, through a dialectic combination of past and present forms, a forward-looking aesthetic that captures the viewer's attention and allows him to dive deep into the expressive power of the figures that are put before him. The observer is transported to a place in which he gets in contact with the inner soul of these black subjects, a place where him and the painting stand free from any racial or temporal categorization, a moment in which the story told by the portrait is shared with the spectator, enabling him to continue the journey through the use of his personal experience. 

Cover image: Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, 'Waves and Crests', 2019, oil on linen, 23 5/8 x 25 5/8 inches.

Written by Mario Rodolfo Silva

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