Set on a graffitied backdrop, the chrome masks Kip Omolade (previously) paints appear to emerge from the canvas, jutting out from the vibrant display to confront the viewer. The Harlem-born artist layers dripping colors and typographic markings that contrast the smooth, gleaming faces protruding from the center for his new series Masks: Portraits of Times Square and Luxury Graffiti, which he completed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement, he explains the history of the collection:
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In New York City during the ’80s, my tag was ‘Kace’ and I would ‘get up’ on MTA subway car interiors, public walls in Brooklyn, and graffiti black books. Throughout the ’90s, I never stopped tagging. Even when I was painting from life, I was still tagging here and there in random spaces. Years later, I produced a real-life ‘Kace’—when my twin sons were born, I named them Kent and Kace. The ‘Kace’ tags in these paintings reference NYC subway ‘bombing’ of the ’80s, but mostly it’s about legacy. I want my work to represent our shared experiences of the past, present, and future.
Omolade’s process includes sculpting a resin mold of a chosen subject, which he then covers with chrome and uses as a reference for his hyperrealistic portraits. Many of the masks are reflective, revealing a hidden landscape. In Omolade’s self-portrait (shown below), an American flag in the shape of a bullseye marks his forehead, a nod to racial injustices in the United States.