In her lush oil paintings, British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, a 2013 Turner Prize finalist and one of the most renowned painters of her generation, conjures elegant figures that appear both quotidian and otherworldly. For her solo exhibition at the New Museum, Yiadom-Boakye has created seventeen new works and conceived of a painted environment specific to the Fourth Floor Gallery.
With these paintings, Yiadom-Boakye further establishes her distinctive approach, which embraces many of the conventions of historical European portraiture but expands on that tradition by featuring purely fictional subjects. In spite of their everyday appearances—reclining on a sofa, conversing over coffee, or pausing deep in thought—none of her figures represent real people. The artist’s subjects stem entirely from her imagination, yet even as composites of her mental archive of gestures, postures, and gazes, they exhibit a human depth and confidence that is enigmatic and engaging.
Although they inhabit curiously placeless and timeless settings, Yiadom-Boakye’s painted figures also probe the politics of representation. The characters brought to life in her works are almost always black, and—in part because of the artist’s compositional style and chosen medium—they call to mind the absence of people of color from centuries of European painting and attest to the enduring relevance of black portraiture.
The artist, however, offers scant details about her subjects or the scenes she depicts, instead furnishing her viewers with oblique and lyrical titles that prompt contemplation or evoke a mood. In foregoing any specificity, Yiadom-Boakye seems to underscore that her figures are ciphers for the viewer’s imagination and are, as such, intentionally open to a range of narratives, memories, and interpretations.