Critics’ Picks

Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, Orange Turtleneck, 2019, oil on canvas, 48 x 36".

Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, Orange Turtleneck, 2019, oil on canvas, 48 x 36".

Los Angeles

Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe

Roberts Projects
5801 Washington Boulevard
January 11–March 7, 2020

Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe’s exhibition at Roberts Projects features an ensemble of paintings that, although clearly indebted to the colorful, virtuosic work of Barkley L. Hendricks and Kerry James Marshall, present an idiosyncratic perspective on African culture through the celebrated form of black portraiture.

Ten new large-scale paintings—each portraying a friend, a fellow artist, or a stranger from the street or internet—cover the white walls of the expansive Culver City gallery for “Black Like Me,” the Ghanaian artist’s first solo gallery show in the United States. As usual, the artist deftly incorporates a variety of bright hues and displays a propensity for the sartorial: His subjects are clothed in acid-washed blue jeans, white Converse sneakers, an oversize salmon-colored turtleneck, a lavender-hued sweatshirt—all chosen by the artist and commemorated in lush oils.

While an emphasis on color and style seems to be the central conceit of Quaicoe’s work, his treatment of black skin, with wide tonal variations of smooth and painterly grays, is a suitable counterpoint. The dark skin of his male and female figures is at times also peppered with subtle marks of other pigments, as in Orange Turtleneck (all works 2019), where the figure’s striking cheekbones are shaped with thin curves of light yellows, blues, and reds. Moreover, the works’ backgrounds, often solid blocks of color marked with heavy impasto, draw attention to the materiality of the medium, flattening the perspectival space and accentuating the figures’ forms. 

At first glance, one might admittedly be hard-pressed to identify these figures as purely African, as opposed to African American or Afro-Latin American, and so on. Yet Quaicoe’s approach to painting is specific to his home country’s culture and aesthetic: His canvases are informed by handpainted Ghanaian film posters from the 1980s and ’90s, which may account for their melodramatic air.