I had the joyous experience of going to the Tate Britain recently, my first gallery visit since lockdown finished. It was a great visit, to a great show, the work of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. The show is caled Fly in the League with The Night. I enjoyed it very much.
And why? Because it was great. It is not very often you see contemporary figurative portraiture displayed in a major gallery so there is that.
There are other stand out matters in this show. It is very rare to see in art, of any period portraits of black people, at least portraits that do not fetishise them. This show makes a small step to correcting this. This is not the only thing that makes it stand out. It is of extremely high quality.
The paintings are large, gallery large but convey an intimacy in the way the subjects are depicted. The group of dancers above is a good example. The ease of the figures with each other and the the one subject that looks out at you with that piercing gaze. There is a nice looseness about the brush work that I like, and also she is excellent at reflections.
It is slightly here in this painting, but more so in others in that there is, or at least I read, a lot of ambiguity about the sexuality of the subjects.
It is the intimacy in these portraits that I think attracts me the most. My favourite of the paintings in the whole show is the one above. The two squatting figures, stark against the textured white background, staring intently at each other. Their pose is both dynamic and relaxed. Tense and relaxed at the same time. I stared at this painting for a long time.
What I particularly like is the looseness of the paint. There are parts of the painting, the left hand edge of the left figures face for example, where the canvas shows through the paint, making a very effective highlight. This is very difficult to do effectively.
One of things Yiadom-Baokye is good at is contrasting shades. The figure on the left with the different shades of white on the jacket are superb. The folds conveyed in the jacket and shirt are very well rendered, working against the skin of the figure.
She does this again with the figure on the right, but with the added detail of the reflection, all set off by the flash of gold in the chair behind. The flash of gold is something she does in a number of paintings, it works very well.
I could say more, much more, all I will say is that you should go and see it for yourself. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I will leave you with two pictures, ripe with iconicraphy. I particularly like the shades of right in the figure with the christ like pose.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.