Lynette Yiadom Boakye

Lynette Yiadom Boakye was born in 1977 in London and is a British Painter and Writer. She is best known for her portraits of fictitious subjects painted in muted colours. In an interview with Nadine Rubin Nathan in the New York Times Magazine, Yiadom-Boakye described her compositions as “suggestions of people…They don’t share our concerns or anxieties. They are somewhere else altogether.” I really like that sentiment, these imagined people existing on a different plane to us, imagined and other worldly, they remind me a little of the imagined portraits of Yuko Nasu. Yiadom-Boakye’s body of work mostly focuses on black figures, which has brought attention and questions raised around any statement behind this. In an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist in Kaleidoscope, she explained “People are tempted to politicize the fact that I paint black figures, and the complexity of this is an essential part of the work. But my starting point is always the language of painting itself and how that relates to the subject matter.”

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye – Citrine by the Ounce 2014 Private Collection

I chose the above image due to the vibrant yellow background and intimacy between the viewer and this imagined person. There feels a real closeness to the subject, as if they are just about to look up and fix their gaze at you but you’re forever waiting for that moment. The more I look the more I am intrigued by the imagined person’s downward gaze and what they might be feeling or thinking. Arguably this is exactly what Yiadom Boakye aims to do in creating these mysterious people, they invite the viewer to project their own feelings and interpretations on to the image. Perhaps I am yearning to be truly seen? Or for my art work to be seen?


In contrast to Yiadom Boakye’s imagined persons I decided to create a response based on a very real person. After recently completing a portrait as part of Tom Croft’s Portraits for NHS Heroes someone had suggested on instagram that I attempt to paint John Boyega following his powerful speech on Black Lives Matter in London’s Hyde Park and I thought that this would be a great opportunity. The emotion and power in this photograph proved to be especially challenging to capture and I feel like I really wrestled with this painting. Below are some progress photos

As my tutor had previously suggested building up layers in oil painting can prove very useful as you create an underpinning, so the first couple of images were created to try and create the correct composition, and then as I moved forward with each layer the image transformed slightly. I initially struggled with creating the correct tone and shade. Being mindful of my heavy handed approach to previous portraits I had worked on I was quite hesitant to load the board with too much paint but then equally became frustrated when I felt too restrained. I also then became a little to tight and detailed (middle image) and lost sight of really experimenting in the style of Yiadom Boakye who is quite free with her brush strokes. I also really struggled with the facial features, I think I still have a lot to learn with regards to positioning facial features correctly, in my previous work exploring Laura Collins once I had finished the painting I could immediately see the error in size and composition of both faces in the portrait. These are all good points for learning though as I know this is what I need to work on to improve my portraiture skills.

Overall I’m happy with the final image as a representation although am frustrated that it doesn’t really look like it’s intended subject – John Boyega, I suppose the style of Yiadom Boakye is not hyper realistic though, it is representational, so maybe this is ok . This exercise has taught me a lot about my painting style and switching between tight and loose painting technique. I also need to go back a few steps and work on my drawing skills so that I may capture portraits more realistically and have a better command of my composition and form. Perhaps even looking at facial anatomy and understanding the muscular and skeletal structures of the face would be very useful.

I’m also pleased to announce that my work has been featured in the international online exhibition by Vacant Museum, ‘Eat, Sleep, (I Can’t) Breathe’. To see the entire exhibition please visit their website.

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