British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is one of the most accomplished figurative painters working today and one of the foremost contemporary painters in Britain. She uses earth colors to draw out veiled emotions from her portraits. The figures in her paintings are mostly Black men and women, rendered in muted tones and isolated against dark or solid color backgrounds. Her portraits do not depict actual people. Her persons are fictitious, invented by her and left to the viewer’s interpretation. Using the words of the author Zadie Smith, she has referred to the people in her paintings as ”character studies of people who don’t exist.”
Born in London, Yiadom-Boakye is of Ghanaian descent. She attended St. Martins School of Art and Design. In 1997 to 2000, she attended Falmouth College of Art in Cornwall and from 2000 to 2003 the Royal Academy School where she received her M.A. degree. In 2009, she had a residency in Marseille, France where she mostly drew in oil stick because she had so little money.
She focuses on the history of painting, the material quality of oil, and her particular subject matter. Her expressive images of people are not exact portraits. Instead of using a model, she often draws from her imagination and memory the people she has seen in everyday life or in magazines. She assembles images from her scrapbooks and drawings and turns them into into lush compositions of the human figure. Appearing in ordinary or vague settings, these figures are mysterious. The spontaneity and intensity of their images comes from her practice of often completing a composition in one day. The settings for her subjects are indistinct which lends to the mystery of where these people are. Some of her signature touches are to present her figures in three-quarter length in shades of a single color or to have her figures emerge ethereally from the night.
She was the recipient of the Future Generation Art Prize in 2012. In 2013, she was nominated for the Turner Prize and was selected to participate in the 55th Venice Biennale. She has participated in a group show in London and in Harlem’s Studio Museum in 2017. Her work was exhibited at the Thornton Portrait Gallery at The Huntington in 2018. In that year she was the winner of the Carnegie Prize in Pittsburgh.
She has had solo exhibitions in New York at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2010; in London in 2015 at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery; in Basel in 2016; and in New York at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in 2017. Her work was recently shown as a solo show at the Yale Center for British Art as part of a series created by the African American writer and theater critic Hilton Als. She is having her Los Angeles solo debut at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Gardens through May 11, 2020. In May of 2020, Tate Britain will mount a major survey of her work with 80 pieces representing her output from the past 17 years.
Her work is in the public collections of major institutions such as MOCA Chicago, Saatchi Collection London, Museum of Modern Art New York, Seattle Art Museum, and the Tate Collection.