The recently announced shortlist for Tate Britain's 2013 Turner Prize includes painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (London, b. 1977), who readers may recall was the only painter included in the New Museum's 2012 Triennial "The Ungovernables." Turner Prize jurors select specific exhibitions, and Yiadom-Boakye was singled out for "Extracts and Verses," a 2012 exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery. "Yiadom-Boakye’s intriguing paintings appear traditional but are in fact much more innovative," according to the Tate's press release."Her portraits of imaginary people use invented pre-histories and raise pertinent questions about how we read pictures in general, particularly with regard to black subjects. " In NYC she is represented by Jack Shainman, where she had a solo in 2012.
JS: Looking at your paintings, I find that small details become the seeds for how I might begin to project some kind of narrative on to the image. Is that way of reading the work something that you want to foster?
JS: So they don’t necessarily correlate? Could all the titles of the works potentially be transferred to different paintings within the space?
JS: In terms of associations, one of the most written about elements in your work is the anonymous or fictitious status of the characters. Is it important that we should know that these people aren’t real, that they haven’t sat for you?
LY-B: Yes, it is important because I need the work to not be read as though these are friends of mine or family members. I’m not interested in that mode of working. I’m not really interested in people in that sense. In the past, I have had people sit for me. I had one man sit for me for many hours but I couldn’t get anything because he was there. Why try and immortalise him? I couldn’t get him on to a page or canvas without it becoming all about that specific person. I want to think about painting, not the personality of the man sitting with me. I’m far more interested in how we can make people intelligible through paint, rather than getting bogged down in characters. I’m not interested in the personalities of specific people I know. I want the work to be pulled out of the air somehow, to play God and exploit that power of creation in paint.
JS: The work is very affirmative in that way. There does seem to be quite a claim for painting in your work, in terms of how ideas can become material.
JS: The thing that you are saying you definitely don’t want, the question about are these paintings of friends and family, that somehow does get to the crux of an issue which is relevant to the work. Having an African name and being a black artist, do you feel like you have to push against an idea that you must always be representing those things somehow?
JS: The work definitely addresses that tension, perhaps even in how the work overwrites such questions.
JS: What drives your interest in figuration and portraiture?
JS: To talk about the paintings present in this exhibition, one feature that has been a surprise for me is the use of colour. I had a strong sense from documentation of your work and also from studio visits that the colours in your paintings are chosen from a very precise range. But actually this exhibition slightly dissembles that idea – there are very bold departures of colour from the dominant palette present in almost every work.
JS: Does your interest in the rules or principles of academic painting mean that you have work that clearly fails?
JS: And you make a lot of work – is that to do with your impatience?
JS: The speed and gestures latent within your paintings seem to be preserved in those works that do survive your initial judgement of whether or not the work has failed. How does that first selection process unfold?
JS: You used the phrase ‘dragging people out of the painting’ and there do seem to be real traces of physicality within the works. There are parts of the paintings that seem highly focused in their compositions but in the same canvas there can be a seemingly different status of attention or approach to how the paint is applied.
JS: You talk about reading across the works and although some works are very distinct and others very similar, there is a sense of seriality to your work. Do you feel as though all of your paintings are part of one overarching project?
JS: Could you talk specifically about the hang at Chisenhale and also the process of the hang in general? At the moment there are more paintings in the corridor ready to be returned than there are in the gallery space. Is the process of deciding the final presentation pleasurable?
JS: So the work that has been left in the exhibition does have a clear coherence for you? One of the common features of the paintings is that they all have male figures in them, which wasn’t planned when all of the works first arrived at the gallery. How did that pan out?
JS: There is definitely a lot of variation left within the exhibition, from scenes of people interacting to individual faces with feather collars, etc.
JS: So whilst you render them do you develop an idea of their personalities or do they remain as composites?
JS: It’s a particular type of fiction that you seem to propose with the paintings and, as other writers have commented, they don’t seem to suggest specific contexts.
JS: The elements in the painting that do feel particular tend to be the posture of the figures, where they are looking, their clothing also often seems to ground the image somehow.
JS: How do you decide on the scale of your paintings?
Other finalists for the Turner Prize include filmmaker Laure Prouvost, relational aesthetician Tino Sehgal, and sculptor-drawer-photographer-writer David Shrigley. After much spirited debate among the general public, the winner will be announced, on Monday, December 2013.
Boilerplate info about the Turner Prize: The Turner Prize award is £40,000 with £25,000 going to the winner and £5,000 each for the other shortlisted artists. The Prize, established in 1984, is awarded to a British artist under fifty for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months preceding16 April 2013. It is intended to promote public discussion of new developments in contemporary British art and is widely recognised as one of the most important and prestigious awards for the visual arts in Europe.
Turner Prize shortlist: Video, photography, perfomance, and a guy who draws imaginary worlds (2012)
Turner Prize finalist George Shaw (2011)
Suicide, homicide, frenetic violence: 2010 Turner Prize finalists (2010)
OMG: A painter wins the Turner Prize (2009)
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