Isshaq Ismail (b. 1989, Ghana) is a visual artist living and working in Accra, Ghana. Known for his distinctive abstract style and unique approach to figurative painting, Ismail has emerged as a singular artistic voice in Ghana’s contemporary art scene.
Ismail’s paintings demonstrate a fidelity to what he has termed “infantile semi-abstraction,” a style that performs a studied, technically and conceptually rich form of childish abandon. Marked by the liberal use of impasto, gestural lines, and a vibrant colour palette, his works speak to the human condition in postmodernity. The thick layers of paint that compose his figures add texture and depth, belying the simplicity that initially greets the viewer’s eye. Ismail notes that his technique of painting mimics how a sculptor manipulates clay, which intimates a tactility to how the artist brings these subjects into being. There is an attentive freedom to the thick brushstrokes that sweep across canvas, imbuing the scene with the joyful possibility of liberation through non-conformity. Bold, bright, vivid colours saturate the scene, encasing both figure and background in pulsating energy. The figures themselves are surreal imagining of the human. Magnified lips, impressionistic noses, and a two-dimensionality to faces and bodies produce portraits that are raw and organic in their commentary on human life. Ismail explores the grotesque as an aesthetic form, asking what it means to confront the ugly and misshapen in a world, especially an artworld, that is fixated on beauty. These works stake a political argument in their interrogation of beauty standards, pressing questions of who gets to be deemed lovely and who languishes in the realm of the hideous and, so, disposable.
A keen observer of the world around him, the artist translates his felt sense of moods, emotions, and atmospheres into the figurative representations he paints. The end result is an at times disconcertingly honest glimpse of how social and political realities - our material aspirations in a consumerist world, the destructive force of racism or patriarchy - distort and unravel us. Bodies and identities appear fractured and haphazardly pieced together, demonstrating the daily reality of existing in the contemporary world and its conditions that undo. Ismail describes his art as making polemical statements about socio-political circumstances as a way of exploring them, in order to understand the texture and substance to these issues as well as to confront them in ways that ensure survival and freedom. However, the ravages of the world are not the only discernible sense of his works. Expressed here is desire, elation, wonderment, strength, resilience, joy, and hope, proving that the human subject is never wholly marred by adversity or violence.