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Based in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Lavaughan Jenkins builds his human figures by layering oil paint over an armature of wire, molding paste, and foam. His work can be seen as part of the reinvigoration of figurative painting in recent years, where issues of identity and representation have underpinned formal exploration.
Jenkins describes his works as “three-dimensional paintings,” and he is centrally invested in the effects of color and light. He continuously reworks his surfaces, adding and scraping paint until his figures emerge. His figures assume a range of poses and often lack certain features that typically define the human form, resulting in distinctive emotional and psychological registers. Missing arms, the standing figure in Untitled (2018), appears to be rendered mute or even emasculated. Kneeling with upturned hands in Untitled (2019), the figure evokes humility, supplication, or spiritual openness. Jenkins’s engagement in gesture as a form of nonverbal communication, combined with his abstract treatment of surface, distinguishes his approach. While swirling, bright colors—often influenced by the artist’s study of high fashion—cover most of the surface, the figures’ heads and hands are emphatically black. Jenkins combines a roughness of form and paint application with the delicacy of color built up slowly over time.
Numerous works by Boston-area artists have entered the collection through the ICA’s biennial Foster Prize exhibition, including works by Lucy Kim and Luther Price, and these acquisitions mark the 2019 iteration of the exhibition and prize. Jenkins’s works offer unique approaches to figurative painting and portraiture, two strengths of the ICA’s permanent collection. Furthermore, this acquisition bolsters the institution’s commitments to racial diversity, to collecting works by artists of color, and to representing individuals of color through artworks.