Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is one of today’s leading contemporary figurative painters. She is celebrated for her portraits of fictitious Black subjects, plucked from her vivid literary and art-historical imagination.

Yiadom-Boakye was born to Ghanaian parents in London in 1977. She studied at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, Falmouth School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools. She came to prominence in 2010 with her first solo museum exhibition Any Number of Preoccupations at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. Her landmark presentation at the Chisenhale Gallery, London in 2012 won her a nomination for the 2013 Turner Prize.

Yiadom-Boakye allows her subjects to emerge organically from the act of painting. She works in thin layers of wet-on-wet paint, and her characters take shape through gradual accruals of tone and texture. Some are loosely informed by photographs and other secondary sources. Others echo European art history, invoking Velázquez, Manet or Goya. All are shrouded in chiaroscuro, often furnished with enigmatic costumes or props. There are dancers, readers and smokers. Many are simply lost in thought, or poised mid-conversation. Some recur across her practice, inhabiting charcoal drawings and prints.

Yiadom-Boakye is a writer as well as a painter. Her sensitivity to words is reflected in her canvases, which often confront the viewer like fragments of verse or chapters in a half-told story. Her titles, similarly, are elusive and poetic. The artist conceives them as ‘an extra brush-mark’, and the viewer is left to fill in the blanks. While her paintings are not self-portraits, they are nonetheless reflections of her own internal monologue. Her decision to paint Black subjects is part of this approach. ‘They’re all Black’, she says, ‘because I’m not white.’

Yiadom-Boakye received widespread acclaim for her solo exhibition Under-Song for a Cipher at the New Museum, New York in 2017. She was awarded the Carnegie Prize the following year. Her first major retrospective Fly in League with the Night opened at Tate Britain, London in 2020 and again in 2022. Her paintings have achieved outstanding prices at Christie’s, with works from her Diplomacy series realising in excess of £1,300,000. Others, such as Condor and the Mole (2011, Arts Council Collection, London), reside in important institutional collections.