Lynette Yiadom-Boakye review
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Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings are stuck in the middle; caught between the past and the present, reality and fiction, freedom and constraint.
The British artist captures black figures at rest and at play. A white-shirted couple reads, one in silence, the other speaking out loud. Three characters sit at tables, another lies in bed, a group moves in a line. Everything is quiet, dark, sombre, frozen in twilight.
All these figures are imagined, fictional. They feel like intimate, private portraits of the artist’s circle, but they’re something deeper and weirder than that: intimate, private portraits of the artist’s imagination, what she sees when she closes her eyes.
But what most strikes you, as the shapes peek out of the gloom, is how they feel so old but so contemporary at the same time. They look like 1970s Alice Neel portraits caught in classic Flemish interiors, a postmodern bit of conceptual jiggery-pokery that could only happen in contemporary art.
She’s brilliant with the brush, too. Thick and rough but perfectly considered, sloshing endless browns, black and dark maroons and greens about, then letting little bursts of lovely bright pink and yellow burst through.
The only problem is that these don’t feel like Yiadom-Boakye pushing herself particularly hard. These are the same ideas, with the same execution, she’s been pushing for years now. They’re lovely, but a little unexciting. Like her relaxed cast of characters, it’s all just too comfortable.