Denzil Forrester - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Wednesday, November 15, 2023 | Phillips

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  • It was amongst the rhythmic dancing and flashing strobes of London’s dub clubs in the early 1980s that Denzil Forrester perfected his career-defining subject. A definitive example of Forrester’s work, Dub Salute, 1983, encapsulates the syncopated movements of the dance hall while visually reflecting the sounds of the electronic reggae subgenre. Imbued with the energy of the crowds, Forrester’s works are immediately recognizable for their lushly colored depictions of the era’s nocturnal scenes.


    Born in Grenada, Forrester emigrated to England in 1967 in the final years of the Windrush Generation, settling in Northeast London’s Stoke Newington. The neighborhood, a hub of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora, became a center of the dub music scene in which Forrester was immersed. While earning a BA the Central School of Art (now Central Saint Martins) and an MA from the Royal College of Art, Forrester spent his evenings in the dim and smoky dance halls, sketching for hours a night but having only moments to capture any one scene. Dub Salute was painted the year Forrester finished his graduate studies and began a two-year stint in Rome in what has come to be a defining year for his work. The present example was exhibited at White Columns in an important 2016 show focused on works from the early 1980s curated by Peter Doig and Matthew Higgs, both major champions of the artist. 

    “I just wanted to draw movement, action, and expression. I was interested in the energy of the crowd, particular dance movements, and what the clubbers wore. In these clubs, city life is recreated in essence: sounds, lights, police sirens, bodies pushing and swaying in a smoke-filled room.”
    —Denzil Forrester

    Dub Salute synthesizes the subculture associated with the genre, capturing the fashion and social lives of the music’s followers. With a relative scarcity of photographs and videos from dub clubs, it is also an important record of the era, documenting the interior scene of dancers clad in sweaters and caps. While Forrester mainly attended the clubs during a period in the early 1980s, he developed an archive of thousands of drawings that have formed the basis for much of his later paintings. Dub Salute, painted while Forrester was still active on the dub music scene, brilliantly captures his contemporary environs in an electric composition. Rendered in rich jewel tones, the work draws artistic influence from German Expressionists like Franz Marc and the Cubism of Pablo Picasso. Even the cathedral-like atmosphere and strobes of the dancehall draw visual analogy to the stained-glass windows common to Catholic churches like those Forrester attended during his early upbringing in Grenada. 

    “Within the history of British painting of the post-war era, I think there will be a corrective where Denzil’s name and his work is introduced into the art historical narrative.”
    —Matthew Higgs
    For Forrester, the dub clubs provided venue for communion and spiritual experience. Within the crowds he depicts an unexpected intimacy forged amongst the dancers. Comparing the vivacity and social connection provided by clubs to the Carnival celebrations of his youth in Grenada, Forrester reflected: “the clubs gave people a sense of their history. It’s an exciting part of your life, because there isn’t anything else, anything tangible – like when I was a kid, going round all the big museums in London, I couldn’t see anything to do with my identity there. But in the clubs you realise, it’s in the music and the sound that people make – it gives you that feeling of belonging.” 

    TateShots with Denzil Forrester



    Collector’s Digest

    • This year, the ICA Miami held an important survey of Forrester’s works dating 1978–1985.
    • Forrester was honored a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in December 2020.
    • Forrester’s Three Wicked Men, 1982, was donated to the Tate, London by Peter Doig in 2017.
    • There has been a surge of interest in the artist later in his career, including representation by Stephen Friedman in 2018.
    • This work was notably included in Forrester’s 2016 White Columns exhibition curated by Peter Doig and Matthew Higgs.
    • Provenance

      White Columns, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, White Columns, Denzil Forrester, November 2–December 17, 2016


Dub Salute

signed "D Forrester" lower right; signed and inscribed "DENZIL DENZIL FORRESTER CHANT D Forrester" on the reverse
oil on board
48 x 72 1/8 in. (121.9 x 183.2 cm)
Painted in 1983.

Full Cataloguing

$50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for $63,500

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig 
Specialist, Head of Sale, Afternoon Session
+1 212 940 1279 

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 15 November 2023