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A portrait by the artist from Ghana obliterated estimates in London last week.

Who is Auction Sensation Amoako Boafo?

Amoako Boafo, The Lemon Bathing Suit (2019). Oil on unstretched canvas. Courtesy the artist and Phillips.

Amoako Boafo's The Lemon Bathing Suit (2019) fetched an eye-watering £675,000 (US $881,550) at Phillips' 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in London last week. The price eclipsed the estimate of £30,000-£50,000 (US $38,700-$64,500) more than ten times over.

The result is especially surprising given Boafo's age—he's just 36—and because it's the first time his work has gone under the hammer. So who is Boafo, and why is he so keenly sought after?

Boafo was born in Accra, Ghana in 1984. He studied art at the Ghanatt College of Art and Design before following artist and curator Sunanda Mesquita, now his wife, to Vienna in 2014, where he is pursuing an MFA at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna. He gathered acclaim in Austria, winning the 2017 Walter Koschatzky Art Prize for works on paper by artists under 35, and the 2019 STRABAG Artaward International for artists under 40.

Boafo has developed a distinct style, using his fingertips to paint portraits of black men and women who, he told Culture Type, 'I find strength in—how they celebrate [and] live their blackness'.

His work has been compared to Austrian Egon Schiele (1890-1918), a protege of Gustav Klimt, but he also cites Lynnette Yiadom-Boakye, Jordan Casteel, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Jennifer Packer, Kehinde Wiley, Derek Fordjour, and Kerry James Marshall as influences.

After showing in Ghana and Austria, Boafo had his first show in the United States at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles in 2019, entitled I See Me. He was recommended to the gallery by Kehinde Wiley, who found Boafo on Instagram.

In December 2019, Mariane Ibrahim showed a solo exhibition of Boafo paintings at Art Basel Miami Beach. The entire booth sold out with prices ranging from US $15,000-$45,000. During the fair, the City of Miami Beach inaugurated a new Legacy Purchase Program, acquiring Boafo's Cobalt Blue Earring (2019) from Mariane Ibrahim for US $44,000.

The price paid for Boafo's work—reportedly driven along by a phone bidder from Hong Kong—follows increasing interest in the market for work by black figurative artists. Philipps has repeatedly debuted young artists from Africa or of African descent in recent years, including Derek Fordjour in 2017, Nina Chan Abney and Jordan Casteel in 2018, and Tschabalala Self in 2019.

Harlem-born Self's Princess (2017) fetched £435,000 (US $566,000) including buyer's fees at Phillips' Evening Sale in London last week.

Boafo is participating in the group show Wish You Were Here at Roberts Projects until March 7. A solo exhibition of his work will show at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in June. —[O]

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