Profile: Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (1977-)



Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is a contemporary British portrait painter and 2013 Turner Prize finalist. Yiadom-Boakye describes her work as being ahistorical, set amidst fictional scenes which are enhanced by the titles of each piece and cites artists like Chris Offili and Lisa Yuskavage as influences on her practice. Working in a loosely gestural style, she often depicts people of color set amidst muted backgrounds. As a black artist of Ghanian descent, Yiadom-Boakye has said that “race is something that I can completely manipulate or reinvent or use as I want to,” and notes that the material and historical aspects of paint as essential to her practice. “There’s something very particular to oil painting, especially. It’s just very dirty, it’s very messy; it doesn’t always do what you want it to do,” she has explained. “It’s fleshy and unpredictable—it has a kind of human quality to it.” Born in 1977 in London, United Kingdom, she studied at St. Martins School of Art and Design, Falmouth College of Art in Cornwall, and finally received her MA from the Royal Academy of Arts in 2003. Today, her works are in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. among others. Yiadom-Boakye lives and works in London, UK.


Her paintings are rooted in traditional formal considerations such as line, color, and scale, and can be self-reflexive about the medium itself, but the subjects and the way in which the paint is handled is decidedly contemporary. Yiadom- Boakye’s paintings are typically completed in a day to best capture a single moment or stream of consciousness. Her predominantly black cast of characters often attracts attention. In an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist in Kaleidoscope, she explained “People are tempted to politicize the fact that I paint black figures, and the complexity of this is an essential part of the work. But my starting point is always the language of painting itself and how that relates to the subject matter.”

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