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Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe’s Intimately Textured Portraits Challenge the Weight of Performance — Colossal

March 23, 2024 - Art

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Art

#impasto
#Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe
#painting
#portraits
#sports

March 22, 2024

Grace Ebert

a portrait of a boxer holding red boxing gloves to his face with a pink impasto background

“in Readiness.” All photos by Paul Salveson, courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, shared with permission

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Bukom neighborhood of Accra, Ghana’s capital, produced several champion boxers—including Roy Ankrah, Azumah Nelson, and Ike Quartey—and their records drew international fame, money, and prestige that helped to secure the area as a hub for the sport.

As scholar Emmanuel Akyeampong details in an insightful essay, boxing rose to popularity in the mid-20th century as tensions between Ghanaians and English colonizers intensified. Lower classes had previously taken up asafo atwele, organized group tournaments that prized “winning in style,” but after the British banned the activity around 1935, many fighters transitioned to state-sanctioned Western boxing. Because the latter sport pits single opponents against one another, it’s come to symbolize the possibility that individual self-determination and strength can lead to a life of glory and wealth.

 

a portrait of a boxer holding his bright red gloves in the air above his head

“Victory Pose”

In a new body of work debuting at Roberts Projects, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe delves into this history. Titled Hall of Fame, the paintings reflect the figures and feelings of the artist’s native Ghana.

Quaicoe begins each work with a photo of his subject and renders their eyes first, immediately grounding their presence in oil paint. As with earlier series, the artist’s distinctive use of patterned texture is prominent in these new portraits, which seem to push the dimension of the medium further. He lays thick, three-dimensional swirls for hair, and sweeping brushstrokes characterize his flat, monochrome backdrops. Their skin remains in his signature grayscale.

Hall of Fame focuses largely on men, and although boxing can breed machismo, Quaicoe uses the sport to question masculinity and anti-Blackness. Focusing on the individual, their power, and potential, he asks what it means to perform an identity and perform in the ring, prompting viewers to look more closely at the people behind both acts.

If you’re in Los Angeles, you can see Hall of Fame from March 23 to April 27. Otherwise, find more from the artist on Instagram.

 

two boxers fight, one taking an uppercut and the other hitting a shoulder, all on a green impasto backdrop

“Bout”

two portraits, both of a boxer on a white impasto backdrop. on the left he has his hand wrapped and on the right he holds his fists in the air with his gloves strung around his neck

Left: “David Tagoe.” Right: “Champ”

two red boxing gloves are strung up on a nail

“Untitled II”

a boxer in red shorts holds his red boxing gloves above his head

“The Ali Effect”

a man holds black boxing gloves as if to fight, on a yellow impasto backdrop

“Up For It”

two red boxing gloves hang down

“Untitled”

#impasto
#Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe
#painting
#portraits
#sports

 

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