Ghanaian artist Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe is recognised for his bold portrait paintings that explore contemporary Black representation, sartorial culture, and the African diaspora.Read More
Quaicoe was born in Accra, Ghana. He studied painting at the Ghanatta College of Art and Design, where he met artists Amoako Boafo and Kwesi Botchway, and graduated in 2008. In 2017, Quaicoe moved to Oregon, where he is currently based.
When living in Ghana, Quaicoe was influenced by the highly stylised, cinematic quality of handpainted film posters. After graduating from Ghanatta College, the artist furthered his interest in photography, experimenting in particular with studio and portrait photography. His interest in the way the camera could mediate the relationship between artist and subject shaped the direction of his early painting practice.
Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe's portraits of Black figures depict friends, family, and colleagues, as well as strangers encountered on the internet or in public. Their relaxed, assured poses—whether seated, standing, or gazing towards the viewer—reflect the artist's attunement to his models and their demeanours, in a perceptive, empowered, and sympathetic representation of Black identity and the African diaspora.
Quaicoe's paintings are executed in vibrant, lush oils on canvas, with the use of colour in attire and pictorial background contrasting with the monochromatic bodies of his subjects. The noticeable absence of colour in skin subverts the focus of his works from purely that of racial identity to a dynamic figuration where fashion and objects reveal further dimensions to cultural and personal identities.
Cowboy hats, jewellery, and branded clothing reflect the globalisation of fashion in relation to the African American diaspora. Two young women wear identical Levi's t-shirts in Oneness (2021), while a pair of young men wear bold red Adidas football shirts in Ethos (2021). On colour, Quaicoe states: 'colour means a great deal where I come from. It's a distinguishing quality – the very means of self-expression.'
For his first solo exhibition in the United States, Quaicoe presented Black Like Me at Roberts Projects in 2020. Alluding to white American journalist John Howard Griffin's 1961 book of the same title, for which the author disguised himself as Black and travelled through the segregated Deep South, Quaicoe's exhibition may be seen as reclamation of Black representation or a contemporary re-examination of the Black American experience, as seen through the African diaspora.
On Black Like Me, Terence Trouillot compares Quaicoe's works to those of Black American figurative painters Barkley L. Hendricks and Kerry James Marshall, writing for Artforum: '... the artist deftly incorporates a variety of bright hues and displays a propensity for the sartorial... While an emphasis on colour and style seems to be the central conceit of Quaicoe's work, his treatment of black skin, with wide tonal variations of smooth and painterly greys, is a suitable counterpoint.'
Quaicoe's large-scale portraits are each set against sparse, brightly coloured backgrounds rendered in heavy impasto—a style distinct to the artist, which he states is influenced by northern Ghana's architecture, made of wood and mud. Turquoise blue enhances the figure in Man and his Black Cat (2019), while the primary colours blue, yellow, and red set the backdrop for David Theodore Cowboy (2019), a series of three virtually identical paintings of a man wearing a cowboy hat, his face half-covered with a turtleneck pulled up just high enough to reveal his nose stud and hoop earrings. Reminiscent of fashion or celebrity photography, Quaicoe's flamboyant portraits project his subjects to a powerful pop icon status through the artist's painterly narrative and their grand scale.
Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe has presented in solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and internationally.
Solo exhibitions include Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe: 2021 Artist in Residence, Rubell Museum, Miami (2021); ONE BUT TWO (Haadzii), Roberts Projects, Los Angeles (2021); Black Like Me, Roberts Projects (2020).
Select group exhibitions include Ontology, Ross & Kramer, New York (2021); The Show Will Go On, Nassima Landau, Tel Aviv (2021); Life in Flowers, Luce Gallery, Turin (2021); Salon de Peinture, Almine Rech, New York (2021); Un Hiver à Paris, Almine Rech, Paris (2021); Friend Zone, Half Gallery, New York (2021); Painting Someone, Almine Rech, Shanghai (2020); Synchronicity, Roberts Projects (2020); BLACK VOICES / BLACK MICROCOSM, CFHILL Art Space, Stockholm (2020); Agony & Ecstasy, Gresham City Hall Art Gallery, Portland (2018); Au Naturel, Royal Nebeker Art Gallery, Astoria (2018); Spirited Robot, Chale Wote Art Festival, Accra (2017); Never Ending Story of African Children, Hos Oona Gallery, Vejle (2017).
Quaicoe's work is held in museum collections including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Portland Art Museum; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and Fogg Museum at Harvard University, Cambridge.
Misong Kim | Ocula | 2022