Leave A Brick Under The Maple

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Stretching to a height that conveys the life-size stature of the painted protagonist, Leave A Brick Under The Maple, 2015, is a sumptuous painting that exemplifies Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s distinctively raw and poised style of portraiture. Created the same year as her significant solo show at the Serpentine Gallery, London, and on the heels of her contribution to the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, Leave A Brick Under the Maple stands as a potent proclamation of the artist’s cornerstone status in today’s generation of figurative painters. It delineates the elegant silhouette of a young man leaning against an indeterminate backdrop, spanning varying shades of terracotta and brown. The man’s relaxed limbs and averted eyes capture a liminal, peaceful state that place him between transitional sleep and conscious restfulness. The indistinct contours of the background absorb the model’s body into a vortex of abstraction, heightening the painting’s ethereal atmosphere. Simultaneously, the figure's phosphorescent white trousers enhance the contrasts of depth and light, allowing him to move forward, as though emerging from the surface of the canvas and into the real world.

    Achieved with loose, expressive brushstrokes and deftly painted fields of muted – yet opulent – colour, Leave A Brick Under The Maple exudes a sense of transience that echoes the fleeting touch of the artist’s particular painting technique. Known to complete her canvases in a single day, Yiadom-Boakye optimises the malleability of the oil paint while it is still fresh, conjuring a tangible, intuitive image that sometimes lets elements ‘happen in the painting itself’ (Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, quoted in ‘Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Fashionable Eye’, The New York Times Magazine, 15 November 2010, online). Continuing a dialogue with pioneering protagonists of portraiture, Yiadom-Boakye draws on traditional painterly methods ranging from the Old Masters’ sophisticated use of chiaroscuro to Paul Cézanne's allusive forms of verisimilitude. However, the artist’s key refusal of named identities and sitters distinguishes her from those who preceded her; herein, the young man portrayed is deprived of a name and can only be individualised through the viewer’s sustained gaze.

    Presenting a subject that is at once familiar and foreign, – a deeply literary collision – Leave A Brick Under The Maple engages the viewer’s imagination, acting as a generative source for narrative projection. Culled from a variety of sources both personal and academic, Yiadom-Boakye’s imagery spans art historical allusions, found images, her own experiences, and the unknowably graceful realm of dance. Her painterly renditions eschew the physical reality of her models’ bodies and instead introduce ‘suggestions of people [who] don’t share our concerns or anxieties’, as they are ‘somewhere else altogether’ (Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, quoted in ‘Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Fashionable Eye’, The New York Times Magazine, 15 November 2010, online). The man portrayed in Leave A Brick Under The Maple exemplifies this kind of commanding yet mystifying portraiture; he is both here and there, as if embodying an interiority rather than a physical body. Yiadom-Boakye writes: ‘Maybe I think more about black thought than black bodies’ (Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, in conversation with Antwaun Sargent, ‘Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Fictive Figures’, Interview Magazine, May 2017, online). In this perspective, her portraits are akin to ‘character studies for people who don’t exist’; they are enthrallingly suggestive and irreducibly atmospheric (Zadie Smith, ‘Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Imagined Portraits’, The New Yorker, 12 June 2017, online).

    Resonating with Yiadom-Boakye’s concurrent background as a writer, Leave A Brick Under The Maple demonstrates the artist’s claim that ‘I write about the things I can’t paint and paint the things I can’t write about’ (Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, quoted in Zadie Smith, ‘Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Imagined Portraits’, The New Yorker, 12 June 2017, online). Clearly able to summon human sensibility with both a pen and a paintbrush, Yiadom-Boakye paints without the help or presence of real models, instead sourcing images from amalgamated thoughts and ideas – the same conglomerate hub that allows her to write. The present work exemplifies this beautifully: it presents a human figure that brims with internal complexities despite physical immobility. ‘When I think of the figure, I think of immortality or an otherness that is just out of this world, representing an endless possibility’ (Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, quoted in Antwaun Sargent, ‘Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Fictive Figures’, Interview Magazine, 15 May 2017, online).

    While Leave A Brick Under The Maple conjures a number of evident painterly and literary associations, including the sizeable legacy of classical European portraiture, the work also more subtly alludes to the sculptural manifestations of posing bodies - as potently materialised by the character’s carved out physique, seemingly built from a larger compound of colour and light. Erected clearly amongst sturdy broad strokes, Yiadom-Boakye’s portrayed character is one of brazen beauty, redolent of the classical heroes sculpted by the likes of Auguste Rodin. Leave A Brick Under The Maple eschews the flatness of its picture plane and instead flirts with three-dimensionality, providing riveting impressions of presence and movement, in turn exuding an arresting sense of boundlessness.

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Leave A Brick Under The Maple

signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated 'Leave A Brick Under The Maple LYB 2015' on the reverse
oil on canvas
200 x 130 cm (78 3/4 x 51 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2015.

Estimate
£250,000 - 450,000 ♠ †

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Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060
rwiden@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019