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Tema artist wins public support to secure UK art award

Updated: Apr 24

Nana Kwaku Boateng has been named the winner of the People's Choice Prize at the 2024 Derwent Art Prize in London after being one of 68 artists to have his art shortlisted.

AKADI Magazine caught up with the 24-year-old from Tema to find out how initial perceptions of his work on social media encouraged him to showcase his art more publicly and resulted in him securing his first art win.

© Nana Kwaku Boateng
© Nana Kwaku Boateng

He also tells AKADI Magazine what inspired him to create this work, which artists he admires and why he loves hyperrealism.

Tell us about your journey as an artist

I am a self-taught and full-time artist and started drawing at around three or four years old. I even used to draw for my class at school. I believe that every child who can pick up a pencil and draw, colour and or just scribble anything that comes to mind, is an artist.

The more I grew, the more I was inclined to drawing rather than what my mates were doing. If it was stick figures we were drawing, I ended up adding more features like hair or introducing something different to change the shape.

I attended Koforidua Technical Secondary School in the Eastern Region, where I did a course in visual art. I also earned a living taking photographs. But one day, my camera was stolen, and it felt like a part of me left with the camera. I was left clueless and didn’t know what to do.

I applied for a place at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science of Technology (KNUST) but my results weren’t good enough. My mum suggested I apply to Takoradi Technical University, where I chose graphic design – a course that requires you to have basic art skills to draw logos for billboards and banners.

After two months on the course, I saw someone draw and that gave me the drive to continue with my passion.

My first piece was a self-portrait entitled ‘Stress’ that I drew in 2018. It was the era that my work, as an artist, was undervalued and people didn’t appear to appreciate my work.

Initial self-portrait of Nana Kwaku entitled 'Stress' © Nana Kwaku Boateng
Initial self-portrait of Nana Kwaku entitled 'Stress' © Nana Kwaku Boateng

I stressed a lot about securing commissioned work. So, I decided to move away from that and focus on myself. It was a pivotal moment because it was based on an instruction from the Holy Spirit. Everything changed when followed that voice.

He guided me on what paper size to buy, where to move, when to start and when I would finish. My drawing abilities improved and I was able to master new skills. As a result of this focus, I was able to improve on my original image to make it more hyper-realistic.

Improved self-portrait of Nana Kwaku called 'Stress' © Nana Kwaku Boateng
Improved self-portrait of Nana Kwaku called 'Stress' © Nana Kwaku Boateng

Why do you like hyper-realism as your mode of drawing?

Hyper-realism is what I wanted to do all along. I like drawing people in their likeness and bringing those human emotions back to life through drawing.

What do you like about using pencil as a medium and would you consider other media forms?

People underrate using pencil as a medium because it is viewed as a basic tool that is used from childhood. But for me, I like that it is both simple and complex.

What you do with it really depends on your mind and if you limit yourself. I like the sound it makes; how slim it feels and its ability to allow you to use it according to how you feel. As I evolve with my art, I think I would be adding other media as well.

Tell us about your process – how long did it take to complete this image and what was the best or most challenging part about creating this piece.

Before I draw, I take about 15-30 images of my subject because I believe we, as humans, operate with emotions and moods - so I need to capture everything - from the subject smiling to being still.

I typically study the image for months before I draw. For ‘Portrait of Nii’, I used about three weeks to complete the work instead of two months.

Original picture of 'Nii' © Nana Kwaku Boateng
Original picture of 'Nii' © Nana Kwaku Boateng

Why did you complete it so quickly?

I had wanted to take my time and study the image before drawing. That is my typical process with drawing. But there was a debate online and people were doubting my skill. Some people even went as far as discrediting my work.

To prove them wrong, I started making live videos showing my process to change their perceptions. That was the first time I experienced being challenged about my work by the public.

AKADi Magazine went to see Nana Kwaku's work at the Derwent Art Prize exhibition © AKADi Magazine
AKADi Magazine went to see Nana Kwaku's work at the Derwent Art Prize exhibition © AKADi Magazine

Tell us about the inspiration behind your shortlisted piece ‘Portrait of Nii’ and what made you choose it for submission for the Derwent Art Prize?

With most of my drawings I take time to plan. I take time to insert my ideas. But for this one, it was different because it was unplanned.

My friend had come to visit me and had gone through some stress to do so. I remember seeing a reflection of light on his skin.

I told him to hold on so that I could take a picture. If I had not done it in that split second, I don’t think I would have been able to capture that same image again. I took the photo around 2020 and drew him in 2021.

The ‘Portrait of Nii’ is a mixture of beauty and tension – something that I cannot really pinpoint exactly but there is something about that image that captures me.

Which artists in Ghana or abroad inspire your art style?

In Ghana it was rare to see very detailed works. But I was exposed to international artists from the internet. I fell in love with two artists basically, Arinze Stanley Egbengwu and Kelvin Okafor even before I started drawing.

Was the Derwent Art Prize the first competition you have submitted your work to?

I applied to other exhibitions prior to this one but all my applications were rejected. The Derwent Art Prize is the first competition I have successfully entered and had my work accepted.

Did you just submit one art piece to the Derwent?

Initially, I made four submissions. One of Steve Jobs, another of a friend, a self- portrait and the ‘Portrait of Nii’. The ‘Portrait of Nii’ was the one that was shortlisted. This is the first time that my work has been publicly displayed.

How did you hear about the Derwent Art Prize and what made you enter the competition?

A friend sent me a link and later my brother did too. I was even reluctant to participate but my friend called Emmanuel Addy was so persistent. I decided to contact my big brother to help me out with the financial aspect and then I hit the submit button.

Tell us what you were doing when you found out your work had been shortlisted and how it made you feel?

I was talking to a friend and he told me to email him. When I went to email him, that’s when I saw the email from the Derwent Art Prize. I had to read it 10 times to understand what was in there.

AKADi Magazine went to see Nana Kwaku's work at the Derwent Art Prize exhibition © AKADi Magazine
AKADi Magazine went to see Nana Kwaku's work at the Derwent Art Prize exhibition © AKADi Magazine

I was hopeful that I would be selected but as is human, self-doubt can sometimes get in the way but I had prayed about it and I had an inner peace about the whole situation.

How did it feel to know that your work was being seen by the public by Waterloo Bridge?

Seeing my work displayed on billboards in the street and on signage was a surprise to me. I said to myself: “so, out of all the work?… mine? How?” But I saw God’s grace being manifested and I am extremely grateful.

Making a living from being an artist is challenging sometimes, you can go four months without getting income. This year, I had planned to stop drawing and was actually look for work when the competition came to my attention. In a way, I feel that was God telling me he was with me.


Nana Kwaku is set to receive prize money of £500 for his win. In the future, he would like to teach art, monetise his work better online, and secure better equipment and his own studio as he currently works from his mum’s kitchen.

The 2024 prize received over 6,000 entries by 2,324 artists in 77 countries. The selectors Sergio Gomez, Curtis Holder, Valérie Sonnier and Helen Waters - shortlisted 68 artworks for the exhibition which can still be viewed online and were exhibited at the Oxo Tower.

‘Portrait of Nii’ is on sale as well as other art prints by Nana Kwaku.

If you are interested in buying any of them, contact him on:

Instagram: @nkaybeee

The contents of this page are based on questions AKADi Magazine sent to Nana Kwaku Boateng and cannot be reproduced without permission.

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