Isshaq Ismail

Lurid, boldy-composed portraits attest an exuberant artistic spirit.

Artist seated in front of large painting tilting his head to the side and resting it on his hand
Isshaq applying blue paint with fine paintbrush to painting
Isshaq standing in front of two large portrait paintings whilst leaning to dip paintbrush into paint
8 images

Isshaq Ismail was born in 1989 in Accra, Ghana. He uses his art as a tool to make polemic statements, working in a style he describes as infantile semi-abstraction.

Achievements

One of 10 artists shortlisted for the Kuenyehia Art Prize for Contemporary Ghanaian Arts in 2015, and one year later reached the top 100 of Barclays L’Artelier Art Competition in Johannesburg.

At Auction

Nonchalant 2 (Nana Kwesi Wiafe) was purchased for $110,000 in Christie's 2021 Say it Loud: Visionaries of Self auction, more than 6 times the painting's upper estimate.

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Practice overview

Infantile Semi-Abstraction is the name Ismail gives to his distinctive style of portraiture. Drawing on the histories of Naïve painting, Neo-expressionism, Cubism and the architecture, art and history of his hometown, Accra, he examines personal feelings as they relate to our environments. The paintings have a sculptural sensibility. Luminous oil and acrylic shades are applied without inhibition as thick impasto using an eclectic range of tools. Ismail also incorporates elements of collage and assemblage — often with recycled debris from his studio — in a symbolic gesture that parallels the beauty found in imperfection with the inevitable faults of a human being.

Being an artist, for Ismail, is a social calling. “I see it as my duty not only to make art for visual appeal, but also to create awareness and inspire society towards action.” Facade, a series of portraits from 2020, draws together these two ambitions: form and civic function. While their stylisation establishes a marked distance from reality, skewed facial features express familiar human emotions that are designed to invoke the viewer's empathy, the most fundamental step to thinking about others and, by extension, how we choose to treat those around us. Away from the canvas, in 2018 Ismail founded Isshaq Projects, a foundation that platforms emerging and mid-career artists. This sense of collectivism this suggests percolates throughout Ismail’s practice as a compelling companion to his intuitive and experimental approach to painting.

“Not trash, but people. Not remnants, but lives - look closer and they will tell you their stories.”Isshaq Ismail