Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe

Untold stories find a voice in radiant and intimate portraits.

artist stands in his studio wearing a blue adidas tracksuit and a pink cap
artist hand holding a paintbrush up to a painting to add detail to an orange flower
four portrait paintings hang alongside one another on a wall in the artist's studio
5 images

Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe was born in 1988 in Accra, Ghana, and is now based in Gresham, Oregon.

Education

A local artist referred him to the Ghanatta College of Art and Design, Ghana, where he received his MFA. It wasn't until his graduation in 2008 that the artist felt he found his own voice and artistic identity.

Did you know?

Quaicoe is a lover of commercial blockbuster films. After noticing that the large-scale movie posters at his local theatre were hand-painted, he began visiting artists' studios and attempting to imitate their practice - eventually leading to his career as an artist.

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Practice overview

Quaicoe’s oil paintings of friends, family and strangers are known for their use of rich contouring and thick impasto. The works contrast bright oranges, yellows, reds, blues, and greens against the dark skin tones of their figures, created with a mix of deep grey and black pigments. Cultural empowerment is at the heart of Quaicoe’s practice, who was born in Ghana but now lives and works in the United States, a move that has profoundly informed his art. Growing up, Quaicoe was inspired by cinema: the films that he watched and also the hand-painted posters that advertised them. References to both African and American pop culture inspire his practice, as well as fashion and American portraiture, from Barkley L. Hendricks to Amy Sherald. Each painting proffers its own nuanced narrative, “the idea is to be the channel between the unheard and the rest of the world.”

Quaicoe is not driven to create a physical likeness to the people he paints, but instead focuses on embodying their energy and atmosphere. Alimatu Yussif (2019), for example, depicts the Ghanian model of the same name sitting upright on a wooden stool with the cool, unabashed poise of a fashion editorial. Her tapered suit captures the androgynous feel of much of her work as a model, and the block orange background engulfs her in sandy, repetitive textures. While inherently ambiguous, the strength of her almost-frowning expression is that it does not hide vulnerability, but embraces it as power. As a result, Quaicoe’s portrait is both an ode to Yussif herself and a spectacle of cultural celebration expressed in the sunlit joy of orange, black and grey.

Rather than governing his portraiture with traditional notions of ‘subject’ and ‘object,’ Quaicoe creates a three-way conversation between himself, the sitter and the viewer by creating a personal relationship with the people he works with. This intimacy, set against Quaicoe’s unmissable high-contrast stylisation, gives the work an exquisite ability to tell autobiographies without words. As Quaicoe puts it himself, “everyone has their own life, their own story… if you listen.”

"The idea is to be the channel between the unheard and the rest of the world."Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe