Ludovic Nkoth’s Vivid Paintings Capture All of Life’s Intensities
Ludovic Nkoth, Night Watch, 2022. Photo by Todd-White Art Photography. Courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.
In Ludovic Nkoth’s emotionally compelling paintings, bold and fluid expressionism reflects passing life. His rich compositions with wide-ranging color palettes of brown, red, and blue hues feature the strong presence of Black figures on impastoed canvases and create a moody feeling of nostalgia.
Born in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and based in New York, Nkoth suffuses his narratively robust paintings with his cross-cultural experiences as a member of the African diaspora in the United States. Through his artistic practice, Nkoth pieces fragments of his past with his current life, intertwining them within the larger context of Cameroonian history.
In his current solo show “TRANSFERRED MEMORIES (Work No Dey)”––on view at MASSIMODECARLO in London through May 15th––Nkoth explores lost and newly formed connections through the portrayal of family members and the ordinary people of Cameroon he draws his inspiration from. With striking, colorful brushstrokes, he paints everyone meticulously, vividly, and in their natural settings.
Personal investigation of one’s roots and lived experiences inform Nkoth’s work throughout. “I’ve been filtering the world through my own creative lens since my childhood,” Nkoth said in a recent interview with Artsy. Leaving his birth family and home country of Cameroon, the artist moved to the U.S. at just 13 years old. Last year, he earned an MFA from Hunter College in New York.
Emigration has had a significant influence on Nkoth, as seen in his 2021 debut solo show in Italy, “You Sea Us” at Luce Gallery. The exhibited paintings depict the struggles faced by African refugees traversing the Mediterranean Sea. On view alongside that body of work were mixed-media pieces incorporating wood, shells, metal, and sand. Nkoth’s strong use of color and raw materials brings these difficult stories of migration, often seen in daily news outlets, even closer to viewers.
Ludovic Nkoth, installation view of “You Sea Us” at Luce Gallery, 2021. Photo by Andrea Ferrari. Courtesy of the artist and Luce Gallery, Turin.
Being an African immigrant in the U.S. encouraged Nkoth to rethink, study, and trace the complexities of being elsewhere and away. This is further articulated in the artist’s understanding of questions regarding representation, belonging, and displacement—as informed by close observation of the spaces he occupies. “As a kid, I remember being fascinated with the simple fact that I could somewhat record exactly what my eyes and body were experiencing through my daily life,” Nkoth said. “At times when I felt I did not fit in, I would create these worlds I wanted to escape to.”
Nkoth’s London debut at MASSIMODECARLO—the artist’s first show with the gallery since it announced co-representation with François Ghebaly—is characterized by his pursuit of capturing the present with portraits affectively marked by a genuineness. In The Ties That Hold Us (2022), a child is embraced and held closely while colorful textiles and patterns populate the canvas, indicating an intimate and domestic environment. “Before, I would approach a whole body of work without a clear outline and I would allow the works to dictate what the paintings would be about,” Nkoth explained. “What I enjoyed about this manner of working was it was very much about the moment and what was going on in the spaces I was creating in. The works had their own ways of being informed by the atmosphere.”
Ludovic Nkoth, The Ties That Hold Us, 2022. Photo by Todd-White Art Photography. Courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.
His scenes are drawn not only from memories of lived experiences, but also from imagined ones. “There are many aspects of my everyday life that make it into my paintings: my surroundings, the architecture from my present and my past, all the environments I occupy,” the artist said. “My mood enters every painting I create even when I don’t want to. Over the years, my relationship with painting has grown into an extension of my own existence.”
Nkoth continues to raise the importance of being aware of the current state of the world and its social structures. In his latest body of work, he references musicians and activists, such as Fela Kuti, whose oeuvres have masterfully embodied empowering storytelling and empathized with the plight of the oppressed. Named after some of Kuti’s songs, Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense (2022) depicts a child lovingly held by his seated mother while the father lounges comfortably beside them, and VIP Part 1 (2022) and VIP Part 2 (2022) both portray Black men relaxing next to their motorcycles in a midnight-blue milieu. The inclusion of these references raises thought-provoking questions on power, defiance, and self-determination, situating Nkoth’s works within a wider historical tableau and discourse.
Ludovic Nkoth, Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense, 2022. Photo by Todd-White Art Photography. Courtesy of the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.
Painters Charles White, Jack Whitten, and Norman Lewis—whose works incorporate messages of spirituality and historical reclamation, and questions of identity—are also sources of inspiration for Nkoth. “My work as a painter doesn’t stop at the studio,” Nkoth explained. “I exist as a painter through everything I do and, as such, everything finds a way to permeate and influence my practice.”
Through Nkoth’s paintings, viewers encounter subtle sensibilities––an element that remains constant in the artist’s oeuvre. While his detailed portrayals are created through evocative intuition, traces of thickly applied paint demonstrate the trust Nkoth has in navigating journeys of discovery. Striving to treasure the small moments, Nkoth reconnects with life brush by brush, eventually catching all of its intensity on the canvas.