Chisenhale Gallery presents a new body of oil paintings by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, in her first exhibition in a UK public institution for five years, following a solo exhibition at Studio Museum Harlem and inclusion in the Lyon Biennial (both 2011) and current participation in the 2012 New Museum Triennial, New York.

Yiadom-Boakye’s figurative paintings are drawn from her own fictitious set of characters and allude to traditions of European portraiture. The way in which an audience might project meaning on to these figures is a key point of interest for Yiadom-Boakye, addressing the very problem of representation – particularly with regards to black subjects – in figurative painting and public spectatorship at large. 

Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings suggest a narrative but the people and places depicted are carefully ambiguous ciphers of the imagination. Occasionally there are small traces of specificity, such clothing or hairstyles, but largely the figures and scenarios appear unfixed to any clear associations of race, class, gender or location. Yiadom-Boakye deploys a consistent painterly strategy and palette of colours, with the works produced at speed, revealing fluid, expressive, brushstrokes; dramatic, dark tones with sharp highlights dominate. The resulting collection of paintings produces a serial effect with an accumulative conversation developing between the works. 

This tension between process-based production and the potential narratives within the individual paintings is present throughout this most recent series of Yiadom-Boakye’s work. The contingent relationship between the represented subject and the material of paint serves as both a seamless continuation of historical painterly tropes and also a profound challenge to that very history – about both the absence of black subjects and their disappearance altogether since portraiture itself became peripheral to contemporary art practice.