Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe

In his radiant and dramatic portraits, Ghanaian artist Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe shares otherwise untold stories through the canvas.

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.

  • Solo show Black Like Me at Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, 2020
  • Solo show Black-ish at Helina Aminu's Pop Up Gallery, Portland, Oregon, 2019
  • Group show Xenia: Cross Roads in Portrait Painting at Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York, 2020
  • Group show at Art Basel Miami, Florida, 2019
Wilde Wilde West (2020) by @otis_quaicoe. Courtesy of the artist.
Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, Steady Gaze, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects.
“The idea is to be the channel between the unheard and the rest of the world.”

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.”

Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, Nykhor on Blue Couch, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects.
Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, Alimatu Yussif, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

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. 

Courtesy of the artist and the Roberts project.

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.”

“I try to see what they see, experience what they experience, be who they are.”
Kwameotis Quaicoe
Kwameotis Quaicoe
Kwameotis Quaicoe
Kwameotis Quaicoe
Kwameotis Quaicoe
Kwameotis Quaicoe
Kwameotis Quaicoe
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Otis Portrait 4