Firenze Lai - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale Hong Kong Thursday, July 9, 2020 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I make figurative work, not portraits. This kind of figurative work is universal. I don't stress the gender of the figure—sometimes it's there, but it's not very important. I want to capture that figure's empathy.” Firenze Lai

    Francis Bacon
    Seated Woman, 1961
    Private Collection
    Born and raised in Hong Kong, Firenze Lai worked as a freelance book designer after graduating from the Hong Kong Art School in 2006 and she has been painting and drawing professionally since 2011, turning largely to figuration in her body of work. Refusing to coin her works as “portraits”, she examines the collectiveness of individuality through skillfully rendering anonymous subjects in seemingly localised surroundings, creating a psychological landscape that moves past the surface of human faces and into the realm of raw feelings and expressions. Resonating with Francis Bacon’s emotionally-charged canvases, she takes to the life of Hong Kong as her main source of inspiration and meticulously ponders on the details in our everyday life, from the houses we live in, to the streets, the weather and the physical experience we encounter on a day-to-day basis, capturing the very essence of the spirit of the city through the intimate spaces she creates – “we move fast, incredibly fast, being adaptive immediately is in our blood, the faster the better... We lose ourselves and then we pick ourselves up again in the blink of an eye.” (Firenze Lai in conversation with Hera Chan, Ocula, 23 March 2019, online.)

    Installation view of the artist's work in
    Viva Arte Viva, Venice Biennale 2017.
    Revealing the hidden dynamics between the human psyche and our surrounding environment, the artist perfectly encapsulates this delicate relationship in Folding Arms (2012) and The Army (2014). In the earlier work Folding Arms, she uses an array of acrylic paints from salmon pinks to mustard yellows and cool turquoises to present an isolated figure with folded arms and places her seemingly unfinished lower limbs toward the bottom edge, putting an emphasis on the confinement of space of the individual. In contrast, she conjures up a black-and-white world using ink in The Army, rendering her figures side by side in disproportionate forms merged into the neutral barren background, alluding to the profound impact the social transformation in Hong Kong had on her the same year. As Lai explores the states of psychological distress experienced when attempting to adjust to contemporary life, with individual freedoms and societal rules in tandem, both works are at once whimsical and dark with a specific sense of empathy magically captured.

    Presenting her works for the very first time at auction, Lai’s defined practice had found its place in various international solo and group exhibitions, including the Tai Kwun Center for Heritage and Arts in Hong Kong (2019); as part of Viva Arte Viva at the Venice Biennale (2017) and the New Museum Triennial in New York (2015). Most recently, she is exhibiting at the Musée d'art moderne et contemporain (MAMC) in Saint-Étienne until August 2020.


Folding Arms

acrylic on paper
30 x 20 cm. (11 3/4 x 7 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2012.

HK$60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for HK$200,000

Contact Specialist
Danielle So
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 9 July 2020