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Colourful paintings explore beauty of black
Mudam

Colourful paintings explore beauty of black

by Faye Peterson 2 min. 20.05.2022
Museum misses important layer of exhibition by not including sounds of artist’s playlist
All Manner Of Comforts by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
All Manner Of Comforts by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
Photo credit: Courtesy of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

I cannot recall the last time I saw a figurative exhibition of paintings like Lynette Yiadom-Boayke’s Fly in League with The Night in a modern gallery setting. 

The Mudam exhibition is the largest to date of the British artist and spans two decades of her works.    

On the face of it, a British black woman’s solo exhibition of paintings depicting solely black people in a modern art gallery shouldn’t feel so groundbreaking for the 21st century, yet, observing the characters and their unfamiliar faces without the crutch of interpretative texts feels - dare I say - radical. 

Citrine by the Ounce by Yiadom-Boakye
Citrine by the Ounce by Yiadom-Boakye
Photo: Courtesy of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

As I entered the exhibition, what struck me was Yiadom-Boayke’s use of colour - predominantly the colour black. It’s a colour most artists avoid, unless demonstrating their mastery of techniques, like chiaroscuro (portraying light and shade), or suggesting sinister undertones within a work.    

Yiadom-Boakye reclaims the colour and she explores the beauty of black to the full. It is soft, envelopes viewers with a warm humour, a dark decadence and deferential power. She exposes each subtle shade and variation within the colour.   

It’s not that other colours do not exist in Yiadom-Boayke’s paintings, they do. Yet, when they appear they invariably take on a supporting role. Bright, gaudy colours spring from the canvas at regular intervals, as seen in the parrot on Accompanied to the Kindness or the yellow budgie perched on the hand of a man in All Manner of Comforts

Yiadom-Boayke plays fast and loose with the idea of the portrait and portraiture, upending the traditional role of a portrait painter by making her figurative paintings purely fictional.  

Once the privilege of the bourgeois, the famous or fame hungry, portraits were commissioned to portray power, wealth, virtue, beauty or learning. Yiadom-Boakye rewrites this narrative by taking the absence of black people in traditional Western portraiture and making it the focus of her work. 

Condor and the Mole by Yiadom-Boakye
Condor and the Mole by Yiadom-Boakye
Photo: Courtesy of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

The exhibition is laid out over two spaces in Mudam, which creates a disjoint and I almost missed viewing some of the paintings because of it. The museum missed an important layer of this exhibition by not including the sounds of the artist’s playlist.  When an artist creates a playlist on Spotify to accompany paintings - you better listen.  I would have much preferred her soundtrack as accompaniment than the eerie instrumental music from the exhibition next door. 

Playfully poetic titles frame Yiadom-Boayke’s work, such as the romantically named Amaranthine and The Stygian Silk. Her works pay homage to earlier portrait artists, drawing upon Rodin’s The Thinker, in her painting The Counter and evoking Degas with her dancers. 

It’s an exhibition of empowerment. Each portrait is defiant, indifferent or self-contained. They encourage viewers to fly in league with them; reclaim their space, identity and power.


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