Derek Fordjour - Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Saturday, June 1, 2024 | Phillips
  • “I’m accumulating those layers through additive processes, the meticulous gluing of all the bits and portions of paper that create sub-layers and sub-sub-layers…But that’s so that I can beat the surface up and literally chip away and enter a technique of repair and disrepair. The surface is what really gives indication of use and reuse.”
     — Derek Fordjour


    Derek Fordjour’s One Up Two Down depicts three female figures, resembling sports players or cheerleaders, demonstrating the artist’s favoured theme of unbalanced power dynamics. One stands on the knees of the other two while they lean back towards the ground, pushed to the sides while she takes the centre: she also towers over them, but can only do so with their voluntary support, brought about by established routine. Though the twelve bright pink-and-white stripes behind them create a circus or big game-like atmosphere, they also make the work resemble an upturned American flag: specifically, the part denoting its thirteen initial colonies. Even in the upbeat sanctuaries of athletics and performance, inequality, and the history behind it, is inescapable.



    Georges Seurat, La Cirque, 1891, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
    Image: CBW / Alamy Stock Photo


    Fordjour is especially fond of using athletes to express this theme, coupled with a deep interest in game theory. Though not personally invested in sports, he developed a strong visual obsession with them while considering his own sense of vulnerability, which he came to feel was also his power in a similar way: ‘They’re vulnerable to the game. There will be a winner. There will be a loser. Something can go wrong' i. As the son of Ghanian immigrants and a Black man in contemporary capitalist America, he found resonances of this in multiple corners of his life -in ‘society and race and power and economics’- and has been using it ever since to critique a world where some are systematically placed above others ii.


    This incisive mindset dovetails with a brilliantly individual artistic method, which combines painterly rigour with practical resourcefulness. Not simply relying on standard oils and acrylics, he applies glued carboard tiles to the canvas on top of them and below layers of newspaper, which he partially scrapes away before adding more paper and paints. As both a support and a distinctly rough-hewn touch, he also uses charcoal, creating diverse layers for every painting as well as an ‘embedded history’ for him to cut through iii. The lush pink newspaper colour comes from the Financial Times, in which he sees ‘the desire to distinguish oneself in the face of being stereotyped or grouped’, and it also creates the kinds of minute, spectacular tonal contrasts which distinguish Seurat and Bonnard iv. Both also painted acrobats and number among his favourite artists, but his colours are made richer still through the multiplication of words, paints and rough-hewn materials.



    Pierre Bonnard, Circus Rider, 1894, Phillips Collection
    Image: Maidun Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

    This nuanced combination of artistic virtuosity and social commentary has brought Fordjour great renown: appointed the Alex Katz Chair at Cooper Union in 2020 and a core critic of Yale’s School of Art, he has executed prestigious large commissions for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Whitney Museum’s Billboard Project, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York, where he created a series of mosaics for its historic 145th St station. His work appears in first-rate public collections including the Whitney in New York, Britain’s Royal Collection, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and he has enjoyed popular solo exhibitions at the Pond Society in Shanghai, Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis, and Sugar Hill Museum in New York, where he also served as artist in residence. 



    i Derek Fordjour in conversation with Paul Laster, ‘Derek Fordjour’s Vibrant Interactions’, Ocula, 23 June 2021, online.

    ii Ibid.

    iii Ibid.

    iv Ibid.

    • Provenance

      Luce Gallery, Turin
      Private Collection
      Sotheby's, New York, 30 June 2020, lot 405
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Turin, Luce Gallery, Derek Fordjour, Agency & Regulation, 7 October - 2 November 2016


One Up Two Down

signed and dated 'FORDJOUR '16' on the reverse
charcoal, oil pastel, acrylic, spray paint and newspaper on canvas
190.5 x 121.9 cm. (75 x 47 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

HK$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for HK$2,540,000

Contact Specialist

Anastasia Salnikoff
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2014

Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 1 June 2024