Henry Taylor - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 23, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    UNT/TLED, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    At the heart of Henry Taylor’s oeuvre is the artist’s innate ability to relay narratives: drawing from a wide web of social, political, and cultural issues, his subjects form a cross-section of America, capturing topics as challenging as classism, poverty, and racism, to the intricacies of familial relations and kinship. It is with this attention to the quotidian and the everyman that the veritable storyteller has risen to international renown: Taylor has most recently exhibited within the Venice Biennale in 2019 and also at the Whitney Biennial in 2017, solidifying his position within the canon of American art history.

    Painted in the same year as the artist’s solo museum exhibition at the MoMA PS1 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) in 2012, Her Name is Elle M is a potent expansion on Taylor’s lexicon of American portraiture and painting, one that is rooted in his immediate surroundings. In the present work, a blonde woman reclines on a vermillion arm chair, her red jacket casually draped loose across her shoulders to reveal her bare chest as she looks unwaveringly onwards. As if frenetically rendered, the feathery hand with which the artist has depicted Elle M injects a lightness to her characterisation, and the expressionistic use of line and colour furthermore intensifies the mystery surrounding the anonymous figure. Her Name is Elle M immediately calls to mind Picasso’s sleeping Marie-Thérèse, sensually executed with Cubist flare in the 1932 Le Rêve, in which the visage and resting hands of the artist’s mistress have been taken as cues in connoting the artist’s licentious relations with his muse. The sensuous Her Name is Elle M—though perhaps not betraying any underlying clandestine encounters, sexual or otherwise—equally presents a singular person captured during a particular encounter, an intimate collaboration in which the sitter has unveiled herself to Taylor. In this way, the present work aptly echoes paintings by the late American artist Alice Neel, whose own oeuvre was also far from esoteric and which had a confessional quality: ‘Alice Neel knew the difference between self-presentation—the self one showed to the world, or the self the world saw first and inevitably judged, based on skin colour, sex, whatever—and what the soul looked like to itself’ (quoted in Hilton Als, ‘Alice Neel, Uptown’ exh. cat. published on occasion of the exhibition bearing the same title, David Zwirner, New York, 23 February — 22 April 2017).

    It is perhaps due to his many years as a psychiatric technician that Henry Taylor possesses a unique ability to navigate through the porous notions of truth and self-characterisation in order to imbue his pieces with a confrontational starkness that is both gripping and disarming. Insisting on remaining ‘real’, he explains, ‘Being honest and real is the most important thing because it’s hard to be honest’ (quoted in Dorothée Perret, ‘Interview with Henry Taylor’, Purple Magazine no. 30, September 2018, pp. 212-217). His portraits reveal his interpersonal acumen and a genuine fascination with all his sitters, thus breaking down the physical and psychological implications of public and private: even in his most private scenes such as in the present work, Taylor is able to beckon his viewer into the tight spaces he creates in order to shed a sentimental light on often nuanced moments.

    Her Name is Elle M also demonstrates the depth of Taylor’s influences—one which sees the artist drawing from a rich tapestry of nude portraiture stretching from Titian, Manet, Modigliani, all the way to contemporary counterparts such as Elizabeth Peyton and Eric Fischl. Reinvigorating the classical mode of the nude by way of disarming his viewer, Taylor presents to his audience pithy vignettes of his storybook characters with the astuteness of a biographer, but with the familiarity of a close friend. Such as in the present lot, Elle M has been reproduced with a renewed fervour for the traditional nude: Taylor has shifted her away from glorified Hellenistic perfection, and has instead transformed her into an accessible figure. It is this democratisation of all his characters that has lent the artist monikers such as documentarian, storyteller, biographer, and the reason behind his success as a painter of the people.

    A major retrospective will be presented by the Geffen Contemporary art at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in the Winter of 2020 surveying 25 years of Henry Taylor’s oeuvre.


Her Name is Elle M

signed, titled and dated '"Her name is Elle M" NY Henry Taylor 2012' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
246.4 x 165 cm. (97 x 64 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2012.

HK$1,200,000 - 1,600,000 

Sold for HK$1,875,000

Contact Specialist
Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 24 November 2019