Stare Deeply Into the Eyes in Annan Affotey’s Portraits

Having explored an extensive array of styles through his career, Annan Affotey has recently brought interpretation into a new dimension, portraiture. As he invites the viewer to look at individuality through a new dimension, Affotey brings everyday contemporary experiences into intensely colorful, textured and expressive compositions. We had a chance to speak with the artist and understand a his newfound inspiration in faces. Read below to learn more about the artist, his stylistic journey, including the most recent addition to his family as a direct driver of inspiration in his latest work. 

Lemon Nails, Acrylic on Canvas, Courtesy of the Artist

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, and how did art first come into your life? 

I was born and raised in Accra, Ghana, and I am a graduate from Ghanatta College of Art and Design. After completing high school I wanted to become an artist, but my parents were encouraging me to work in mechanics with my brother, as they saw how much he was making from it. I did that for a few months to save enough money to get into a good art school in 2003. 

Black Suit, Acrylic on Canvas, Courtesy of the Artist

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

No. I was more into impressionism before. These portraits I’m working on came about around 2018 when I was experimenting on techniques and this came to be the one that spoke most to me. I’ve seen how different circumstances in life have brought me different ways of expressing through my art. I worked a lot with  abstract-expressionist work. I’ve been very introspective about the things that have been happening in this world in the last couple of years. I’ve worked through many techniques, and what I’m doing now is the one that really speaks to me. I have a kid, and he really inspired me to produce my latest work. After he was born, I stopped painting for about a year and a half, as I dedicated my time to him and to take care of him. During that time I was thinking about what i wanted to express, and how I wanted to depict it. He’s 19 months old now. 

Blue Jean Feeling, Acrylic on Canvas, Courtesy of the Artist

From where do you draw inspiration?

I would say my environment. I grew up in Ghana, and one of the most iconic things there were the poses or compositions you’d see in everyday life events. Women peeling oranges, kids playing in the street, where I grew up, I was surrounded by those poses. Since I came to the U.S., I don’t see those poses anymore. What I see is not what I recognise and identify with. So I found myself asking friends back home to share pictures that they take in Ghana. I get inspiration from both my family, and what I receive from people I know, on Instagram. Whenever I want to paint a person I don’t know, I try to seek them out and ask permission to paint their portrait. 

Natural, Acrylic on Canvas, Courtesy of the Artist

Tell us about the incorporation of red eyes.

This inspiration came to me back in the day, 2014, when I first came to the U.S. I didn’t even know my eyes looked red. But when I went out dancing or to be with friends, I would get the “why are your eyes so red” question a lot by them. They’d ask whether I was tired or high, and I wasn’t either of those things. I thought how people’s first reactions to me were based on how they saw me, my eyes are the first thing they see. I decided to insert that as a component in my paintings, because it was a reflection of how people view me off the bat. But if you look closely in my paintings, the eyes aren’t always really red. It depends on the day and how I feel that day. 

Omar in Pink, Acrylic on Canvas,  Courtesy of the Artist

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

What I do first is go through images for hours and then I start on sketches. I then apply layers of paint with a palette knife, and I have to wait for about a day or two for the paint to set and dry. When that’s done, then I start painting, which takes a few days. It happens a lot now that I’m painting with my kid in the room, holding my leg, or just carrying him around. 

Champion, Acrylic on Canvas, Courtesy of the Artist

Can you tell us about your relationship with color? 

I grew up in Ghana, which is an incredibly colorful country. You see people wearing every different kind of color and pattern. Let’s just say that I grew up in a place where colors are everyday circumstances, and so I’ve never been afraid of them. I have a very good relationship with colors. I add bright colors to the background of the paintings, because I like how they bring a tone into the portrait, and suggest something deeper.

Content in Pink, Acrylic on Canvas, Courtesy of the Artist

How do you settle on a color palette for your works?

Before I begin a work, I’ve already decided the colors I want to include in the background. For the skin color of my subjects, I usually use the same color scheme. Before I find out what color is used, I apply it after the subject appears. It’s happened a couple of times where If the background color doesn’t speak to me, it’s changed until I’m satisfied and I’m sure I love it. 

Genesis, Acrylic on Canvas, Courtesy of the Artist

Do you have a relationship to the subjects you paint? 

Most are people I know, others are people I talk to on Instagram or share pictures with. In many instances I find a picture of a person I don’t know. When that happens, I try to find the person on social media and get their permission before painting them. 

Green Glance, Acrylic on Canvas, Courtesy of the Artist

Does your work reference any Art Historical movements or figures?

Not really, like I said before, my inspiration is mostly in everyday life events.

Portrait of the Artist, 2021