With museums, art galleries and institutions across the United States bubbling back to life this month, few shows will strike a more profound note than the first solo show of the Ghanaian painter Amoako Boafo. ‘I Stand By Me’, which opened this week at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in Chicago, is staged in person and allows a maximum of five visitors into the gallery at a time. The exhibition of Boafo’s gloriously textured, large-scale portraits of stylish Black men and women is a succinct representation of the zeitgeist, in more ways than one.

In the last year, Boafo, who lives in Vienna but has spent most of this year in his hometown of Accra, has found a place in the canon of contemporary Black artists who are experiencing rising success. Most recently, he achieved prominence through his collaboration with Dior men’s artistic director Kim Jones for the label’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection that saw Boafo’s colour combinations, graphic prints and patterns and brushstrokes replicated as embroideries, knitwear and even figurative reproductions.

Portrait of Amoako Boafo. Courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim

Boafo’s elegant deployment of colour, pattern and articulate manipulations of paint using his fingers give his subjects an invigorating, modern energy, while nodding to classical portraiture and expressionism.
 
‘I use painting as an instrument, both literally and to navigate the human experience,’ Boafo explains, of the oil-on-canvas and oil-on-paper paintings. ‘The hands and faces of the figures in the works have been finger-painted, [which] allow[s] me to create freely and to achieve an expressive skin tone, formed by blue, red and brown tones.’

‘I use painting as an instrument, both literally and to navigate the human experience’ – Amoako Boafo

‘I love that this seemingly simple motion can generate such intense energy and unveil these sculptural figures by the pattern the form of the skin reflects,’ he adds. ‘The lack of control I have with using my fingers is organic, and that shows through in the abstract forms that create the beautiful faces of my subjects.’

Amoako Boafo, ’I Stand By Me’, 2020, Installation view. Courtesy of Mariane Ibrahim

Each of Boafo’s portraits exerts an assuredness and strength, not only compositionally, but in the artist’s addition of detail as well. In the new, previously unseen body of work on view at Mariane Ibrahim, subjects often don patterned or printed garments, which have been created using Boafo’s collection of European wallpaper or gift wrap paper and through photo transfer - a significant development in the artist’s technique.

‘As my hope is to present my subjects in a vivid way, I elevate their environment with colours and intriguing patterns,’ Boafo says. ‘My sourced gift paper wrappers explore the possibilities of the transfer method, [as] textiles adorning my subjects and in some [works], placed within the foreground or background.’

Amoako Boafo, Green Beret (detail). Courtesy of Mariane Ibrahim

In ‘I Stand By Me’, Boafo invites viewers to ‘celebrate oneself’, seeing as these works represent his own moment of self-reflection. ‘[I want to represent] solidarity and individuality [in my work]. I believe these traits have never been more crucial than now during a time of crisis, amidst the pandemic,’ he concludes. ‘In times of crisis, notions are shifting, and our roles as artists must shift as well. The subjects of the paintings serve to challenge existing beliefs surrounding the Black identity as Black people are not only constructing their own identities, but [also] celebrating them. This is how art can play a role in society.’ §

Amoako Boafo, I Stand By Me, 2020, installation view. Courtesy of Mariane Ibrahim