Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe’s journey into the arts began with movie theatre posters. A “frequent movie-goer”, in his words, he would often head out to the theatre and naively observe the posters around him. “I wasn’t aware the posters were commissioned art works,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I found out the day I peaked through an adjoining room off the main stage and saw dozens of hand painted posters advertising upcoming films.”
Surprised and inspired no less, he was instantly fixed on becoming a part of this world. So much so that he bought himself a small sketchbook to begin working away at his new-found craft of sketching – what could now be described as the gateway to “real” painting. At first considered an enjoyable hobby, the process of putting thoughts and observations to paper soon developed into something bigger. He started to recreate that which can be found in magazines and “anything [he] could get his hands on” and, as it later transpired, this ended up being figures because of the printed subject matter. “So ultimately it began as a hobby, and then it blossomed into a passion – into something I liked and then something I liked to do.”
Rove through Otis’ portfolio and you'll wander into a curious and colourful world of portraiture. Here, his subjects are captured in standstill, with their sharp attire paired with a flashy backdrop and considered poses to match. It’s like his subjects’ movements have been frozen, but the more you observe the more you start to think about how long they might have been standing (or sitting) this way.
Speaking of his process, the Ghanaian artist tends to head to the studio at around six in the morning. “At that point I just paint, paint and then paint some more,” he says, working this way until around 6.30pm. When he’s got a specific idea in mind – specifically that of whom he’d like to paint – that’s when he decides on and sources his reference material. “After choosing the subject matter,” he adds, “I take their photo, if possible, through various settings. The overall process is one where the details are flushed out while I work.” In this case, Otis’ practice is split halfway, with one half being thought-out and pre-planned, while the other being more spontaneous. “The end result always surprises me.”
One of his most recent pieces, and most favoured, is that of his “dear friend” and old school pal Amoako Boafo – a portrait painter too, Amoako was born in Ghana and is currently based in Vienna. This specific image was part of his last solo exhibition at Roberts Projects gallery, based in California. “The reason why I liked this work, beyond the subject matter, is because it commemorates when Amoako and his cousin Kofi came to Los Angeles ahead of the show’s opening date to spend time with me,” says Otis. “The portrait was a spontaneous gesture because he was around, and memorialises not only our time together, but of our new shared paths in life.”
This portrait in particular cements Otis’ work as a practice that holds on to these moments, adhering to the true definition of what portraiture has the ability to be. Besides using his medium as a way of documenting time, the places he visits, the moments and and people he’s met, Otis tells us how there isn’t much intended with what he puts out into the world. “I don’t really expect my audience to be a mirror image of myself,” he concludes. “What I see in the subject might be radically different than what someone else sees. I just want them to enjoy the work – to try as much to understand my work, my perspective and life story, but to also enjoy it as well.”
GalleryOtis Kwame Kye Quaicoe
Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe: Joseph Cubo, 2020. Oil on canvas. 84 x 54 in (213.4 x 137.2 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California; Photo Alan Shaffer
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.