Francis Alÿs - New Now: Modern & Contemporary Art London Friday, April 19, 2024 | Phillips
  • “[Painting is] about entering a situation that could not exist, only on the paper or canvas.”
    — Francis Alÿs


    Through his interdisciplinary and conceptual art practice, ranging from performance to painting, Francis Alÿs often uses action as means of intervention. The present work is an intriguing rendition of small precise movements and physical relationships. A suited man is shown at the breakfast table engaged in an elegantly sequential balancing act between his body, kitchen utensils and food. Each element relies on one another in a series of sensitive and deliberate tensions. For example, the light touch of his finger against a spoon stops a falling slice of bread. Alÿs renders a quiet rhythmic moment which, against the backdrop of a dreamlike plane of lime green that enriches the energy of the painting, invites the viewer to reflect on the meditative potential of the quotidian.


    "Art provokes a moment of suspended meaning, a sensation of senselessness.”


    Much of Alÿs’ work has been influenced by his home, Mexico City. The present work was inspired by the abundant use of hand-painted advertisements in the urban landscape. The bright flat colour and stylised suited gentleman, a reference to a stock-character used to promote tailoring services, evoke this aesthetic to honour the city's sign-painting craft and speak to a collective visual memory shared by its community.


    Within this context, the harmonising of chaotic elements in the painting, notably the purposefully spilt coffee, could be a subversive symbol against the strife for perfection perpetuated through commercial advertising. Meticulous, suggestive, and beautiful, the work speaks to the enduring nature of Alÿs’ idiosyncratic and imaginative ability to shed new light on place, time, and action.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner circa 1997-98

    • Exhibited

      Basel, Schaulager, Tacita Dean / Francis Alÿs, 13 May - 24 September 2006

    • Literature

      Francis Alÿs, Juan García, Emilio Rivera, Enrique Huerta, Theodora Vischer, Francis Alÿs: Sign Painting Project, Göttingen/Basel, 2011, no. L03.6, p. 69 (illustrated, with date of execution as 1997)

    • Artist Biography

      Francis Alÿs

      Belgian / Mexican • 1959

      Born in Belgium, Francis Alÿs traveled to Mexico in 1986 as part of a French program to assist in the aftermath of the tragic 1985 earthquake, and has lived there ever since. Throughout his career, the artist has analyzed facets of everyday urban life using a variety of media including video, drawing, installation and public action. Sign Painting Project (1993-'97) is a prime example of the artist's interest in the sprawling urbanization of Mexico City. In this early series, Alÿs drew inspiration from professional Mexican sign painters (rotúlistas) who painted large billboard advertisements throughout the city. In response to these large colorful compositions, Alÿs employed a similar style in creating small-scale paintings of familiar objects and places.  Alÿs asked various rotúlistas to copy and enlarge his paintings, displaying his work and that of the rotúlista side-by-side. This series, like many of Alÿs' other works, illustrates the artist's concerns with such themes as collaboration, banality and originality.

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numbered 'III' lower right; signed and dated 'F. Alÿs 1995' on the reverse
oil on canvas laid on panel
19.8 x 22.5 cm (7 3/4 x 8 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1995.

Full Cataloguing

£40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for £120,650

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Gibbs
Head of New Now: Modern & Contemporary Art
+44 20 7901 7993

New Now: Modern & Contemporary Art

London Auction 19 April 2024