Artist, Portrait Painter, Storyteller
If you have always sat on the fringes of convention and your memory reaches beyond the time-frame of the Western mind, from where do you take your references to create?
Through his work Alvin Kofi seeks to enquire, learn and celebrate the traditional notions of African culture. Although a second-generation West Indian who grew up in London, his creative perspective is very much African-centered. “The genius of African art, especially its use of iconography, is how it allows us to understand nature and our relationship to it,” says Kofi. “I feel the African-centered viewpoint has been dismissed, almost lost, and needs to be brought back to prominence – not just in the world of art but also in our debates around philosophy, spirituality and our relationship to our environment.
Closely allied to the UK Black underground art movement that has not been so well documented by the mainstream, Kofi partnered with various activist organisations and creative enterprises producing numerous illustrated covers for publications and magazines through the late 80’s & 90’s when Black consciousness was on the rise – gradually becoming well known in these political and creative circles. “I shared an affinity with those activists and, although I didn’t think of myself in that way at the time, supporting them with my art was a form of activism,” says Kofi. “As an artist, you begin to understand that we are part of a community that has the collective responsibility for representing and preserving African culture. We are all part of the continuity Diaspora.” In support of this imperative, Kofi also teaches master classes, mentors up-and-coming artists, and runs a drawing programme.
His influences have been many and varied. One of the most profound has been that of Olowé of Isé: “A master of such significance, one of the most renowned sculptors in the history of Yoruba art, and one of the last great African masters of the 20th century,” says Kofi. “Other artists whose work has had resonance include John Biggers, Charles White, Fowokan and Sir Stanley Spencer. In addition, Kofi’s close friendship with the late Roy Alderson, the English trompe l’oeil muralist with whom he collaborated and shared a deep interest in art history, heightened his appreciation for the classical European masters. Of Giovanni BattistaTiepolo, Kofi says: “When I visited Italy and saw his work first-hand I was enthralled by the scale, detail and subject matter of his magnificent frescoes.”
Kofi is a multi-disciplinary artist working in a variety of media across the public and private sector producing installations to sculptures, but concentrates his practice around the expression of painting. Whichever medium he is using, his approach is to get back to materials that are authentic and organic to the conversation or narrative.
He has exhibited in solo and group shows in the UK, US and the Caribbean. In 2020 Kofi was a finalist in the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year Award (series 7), which greatly widened his audience. More recently he was commissioned to create a globe for the prestigious national project, ‘The World Reimagined’, conceptualised by Yinka Shonibare. After being on display in Trafalgar Square, Kofi’s globe was selected for their charity auction by Bonhams, the prestigious international auction house.
Kofi’s latest mural commission collaborating with the organisation, Hospital Rooms, is his largest work to date for the new cutting edge Springfield Hospital in south London. Often returning back to portraiture he was one of the highly commended artists who participated in the Ruth Borchard Self-Portrait Prize 2021 exhibition. And the portrait of his son, ‘Emanuel’, is on show at the Black Cultural Archives exhibition celebrating 40 years of Black UK art.
Born in south London in 1961, Alvin Kofi also spent some of his childhood years in Antigua. He studied graphic design at Richmond School of Art and worked for a short time at the first Black-owned advertising agency in the UK.