Tschabalala Self Princess, 2017. Estimate: £150,000-250,000.
20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Phillips London, 13 February.
Looking at the viewer fixedly in a squatting pose, the flamboyant woman in Tschabalala Self’s Princess, 2017, is a token of the artist’s imaginative mind. Endowed with grandiose features including a blue face, an orange neck, cheetah-patterned collarbones and mulberry stilettos, the protagonist is at once divine and leveled, distant and familiar, embodying the claim that Self’s "figures are not exactly portraits and not precisely characters. Self calls them avatars for her own personality" (Laura Cumming, "Lubaina Himid: Invisible Strategies; Tschabalala Self review – history and mystery," The Guardian, 22 January 2017, online).
Experiencing a spectacular ascension in recent years, Self’s body of paintings has been the subject of numerous solo shows including the recent Bodega Run at The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and Tschabalala Self at the Frye Art Museum, Seattle, coinciding in 2019. Forming part of this burgeoning success story, Princess was included in the group exhibition Mademoiselle which took place at the Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain Occitanie in 2018-19, bringing together a generation of artists reflecting on the diversity of women's experiences in the modern world.
Faith Ringgold Early Works #25: Self-Portrait, 1965, oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum;
Gift of Elizabeth A. Sackler, 2013.96, New York.
© Faith Ringgold/ARS, NY and DACS, London, Courtesy ACA Galleries, New York, 2020.
Image: Sarah DeSantis, courtesy Brooklyn Museum.
Born in Harlem in 1990, Self has continuously focused on the subject of the black woman since her graduation from the Yale School of Art in 2015 – addressing the way black bodies defy the narrow spaces in which they are often forced to exist. Her figures are realized in a mixture of painting, discarded canvas scraps and fabrics that, when affixed to a stretched canvas, create ripples and undulations that mimic movement. "My mom would sew at home [...] I started sewing after my mom passed," the artist elucidated. "She would trace patterns on the floor, and I frequently work on the floor as well. I use a lot of the fabric that she collected. If my sisters outgrew a pair of pants, she would turn them into skirts. I do that in my practice" (Tschabalala Self, quoted in "An Individual Is Made of Many Parts: Tschabalala Self Interviewed by Sasha Bonét," BOMB Magazine, 20 November 2018, online).
Tschabalala Self Princess, 2017 (detail).
With her real human hair, her blue breasts and her supernatural eyes, the Princess within the present composition – literally displaying stitched Disney princesses on her chest – summons visions of surreal feminine glory. Her hypersexualized body is assertive rather than enshrouded in false humility; it exemplifies Sasha Bonét’s claim that Self’s characters "are not dainty or faint beings. They are heavy and deliberate and delicate at once" (Sasha Bonét, "Tschabalala Self maps the intricacy of the black aesthetic," Document Journal, 30 May 2019, online). Presenting the viewer with a seminal female figure – unnamed and universal, yet titularly regal – Self subsequently endows her with a distinct, contemporary edge. In this perspective, Princess dithers between genres, taking from figuration, abstraction, self-portraiture, and pure fantasy.