Portland, Ore. – Otis Kwame’s paintings of Kwaiko can stop you in your tracks. Piercing eyes, bold colors, and the sheer scale of his paintings convey pure power, which is all by design.
It’s very important that when you’re portraying a black subject, that they look “powerful enough to inspire them to feel confident in themselves, to realize who they are,” Cuoco said. said.
Kwaiko studied painting at the Ghanatta College of Art and Design in Ghana, Ghana. While there, he became fascinated by classic paintings of the past.
“It all goes back to the old masters,” he said. His paintings have always shown “very powerful people who have a certain position in life.” But he had never seen black people who were portrayed so lavishly. Today, as a painter, his drawings are one way to fix that.
“This is my way of rewriting history,” he said. “We also tell our own stories about how we want to be seen.”
In 2017, Quaicoe moved to Portland, Oregon to live with his wife Jessica. He continued to paint, but was finding it difficult to find a place to show his work. He used to work at FedEx to meet his needs. But then, in November 2019, he got a call from Amoko Boffo, an old friend from art school and a fast rising star in the world of painting. Amoacco invites Quico to join him for residency in Los Angeles. That residency led to a solo show at the prestigious Roberts Projects Gallery in 2020—a show that sold out before the doors opened. “I was blown away,” Quico said. “I wasn’t expecting people to like my work so much.”
The show was titled “Black Like Me”, which refers to Kwaiko’s experience of moving to America. “Once you get here, you’re black,” he said. “Nobody says, ‘Oh, look at that African,’ because nobody knows I’m Ghanian, they only see my dark skin.”
His arrival in this country inspired him to create a show that spoke to the shared experience of Africans and African Americans.
His work often depicts friends he met in Portland, painted in a very American setting, but some African elements are brought into the scene. Some of his background shows a heavy application of paint, a look that draws from mud houses in the northern region of Ghana where people build their homes using coarse mortar and clay applied by hand.
“Whenever I get the opportunity to go there,” said Quico, “I rub my hands at home, just to get a feel for it.”
The success of his recent shows has given Quico only space to paint, creating new work for several high-profile shows to come. It has also garnered media attention from the likes of Vanity Fair, ArtNews, and Art Forum, a fact that Quico mostly tries to ignore.
“To me, it gets a little distracting — you don’t want it to get into your head. Because it’s like this, you’re still a work in progress. I always consider myself that. I always say that I didn’t do my best. But sometimes you have to enjoy the moment a little bit. Yeah, it’s good.”
This report originally appeared on OPB’s “Oregon Art Beat.”