Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe Endorses Cultural Dignity Through Color

Whether black or white, lime green or bright orange, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe interrupts the normal view of portraiture with his bold colors and transformative human intricacies. After attending the Ghanatta College of Art and Design, Quacioe took on greater personal challenges by depicting both strangers and friends in intimate, yet thoughtful scenes. A true feat when considering the luminosity he includes in each representation. The colors he employs seem to reflect each of his subjects’ individually in a way only one with the power of conviction might convey.

Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from originally and when did art first enter your life?

I was born and raised in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana, West Africa. I was the fourth born of six siblings – made up of two girls and four boys (including myself). Growing up in Accra, it was always my dream to be a footballer (soccer player). I loved playing soccer and ended up playing for a couple of local football clubs for quite a few years. During this time, watching movies was one of the few things I did in my free time. I loved going to the movie theaters whenever I had the chance, until one day, I noticed the posters used for the movie advertisements were hand-painted scenes by local artists. I was stunned when I saw the detail in the paintings, and I took it upon myself to find out how it was done.

I followed up the next day to see the artists painting these posters, and I fell in love. Since then, I went there every day to watch them paint, and then later bought myself a small sketch book and started drawing any image I could set my eyes on. Over the next few years, my love for drawing grew greater, until after completing junior high school, I applied for the Ghanatta College of Art and Design in Accra, Ghana, where I pursued my art career for four years and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in fine art. This helped shape me into becoming the artist that I am today.

Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA

Has your work always taken on the style it currently embodies?

I have gone through several processes during the past few years trying to find my language as an artist after graduating. I first started off as an abstract and landscape painter focusing on nature and fantasies until I started taking lessons in portrait photography. This created a deep connection between me and the people I photographed, which led me to begin working on figuration. I have worked with different materials and explored different styles throughout my career, and it took me eleven years to find my own voice, which I currently inhabit.

Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA

What’s a day in the studio like for you?

A day in the studio is like taking a trip into multiple souls. It’s where I connect with the subjects I work on by putting myself in their position. Listening to music while I work also calms me down and puts me in a different universe.

What is your process like? How do you begin a work?

I start my work like one would solve a puzzle. First, I have to understand and emotionally involve myself in order to capture the essence of my subject, and I always start that with the eyes. I make the eyes my focal point of communication to the viewer, and once I get that, the rest flows naturally. Like they say: “The Eyes are the window to the soul.”

Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA

From where do you draw inspiration?

I draw my inspiration from the life stories of everyday people.I think the best way to connect with viewers is through people and their stories. Be it political, social, gender, racial dynamics or personal issues, the idea is to be the channel between the unheard and the rest of the world. I try to capture the soul and humanity of my subjects; creating a relationship between the viewer and the subject.

Does your work reference any Art Historical movements?

My works currently engage in the conversation of gender and racial dynamics, which explore the African and African American cultural and historical experience in the US and beyond.

Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA

What’s next for you?

For now, I keep working, exploring, and empowering people through my works. The future is unknown, and the rest will follow.

At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?

Patrick Quarm. Instagram handle: @ _quarm.