Henry Taylor - 20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Afternoon Session New York Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Having a zeal for exploring the stories of people from various walks of life, Henry Taylor is known for his particular skill in unraveling his subjects’ personal character through an idiosyncratic painterly aesthetic. In Noah Was Here and Obviously Thelma Too, the artist portrays two subjects that have played a particularly intimate role in his life and career — Noah Davis, a close friend, fellow artist and significant creative influence and Thelma Hudgins, a patron of Taylor’s work. Having many odd jobs before pursuing his career as an artist, Taylor’s first paintings depicted family members and patients he met while employed at a mental hospital in Camarillo, California and later began inviting local waitresses, cashiers and homeless people into his studio to sit for portraits. The present painting is an exquisite example of Taylor’s larger body of work focused on relationships, history and the contemporary human experience. 
    "If I’m painting, I’m feeling good. So what inspired me? Just being allowed to paint. I don’t need a lot of inspiration, I just need time. Because there’s always something for me to paint."

    Noah Davis and Henry Taylor, Palm Springs, 2014 © Photo by Andrea Bowers
    Noah Davis and Henry Taylor, Palm Springs, 2014 © Photo by Andrea Bowers

    Painted in 2014, just one year before Davis’s death, the present work highlights his omnipresence in Taylor’s life and work. Commenting on Noah Davis and their relationship, Taylor says “He wasn’t passive at all; he was animated, passionate, and always spoke intelligently and with enthusiasm about art and artists. He even put me up on game. He would talk to me about things I never thought about.”1

    The collapsed and chaotic imagery in Noah Was Here and Obviously Thelma Too is indicative of Taylor’s loose and gestural style. While Thelma is carefully rendered in the center of the work, Noah is left fragmented and faceless. They are both situated in what appears to be a house turned on its side, indicating that Taylor may have sporadically changed the orientation and subject matter of the work midway through his process. Working in tandem with the puzzling subject matter, the background consists of a flattened landscape made up of pink, brown and green opaque color blocks and gesturally painted trees. Taylor also scribbles “Larry Rivers” to the left of Thelma, possibly indicating that the fellow provocative portraitist may have been an inspiration in the making of the piece. The unfinished and obscured nature of the present work speaks to Taylor’s unique ability to paint with visual ambiguity, while still conveying a tangible intimacy and developed narrative. 

    Taylor is an observer and lover of life and people, which reveals itself through the raw and emotive qualities of his paintings. His practice is highly informed by his unique experiences and how he interacts with those around him, welcoming all people into his life. Whether they are close friends or strangers from the street, Taylor paints them with equal care and empathy. Paintings such as Noah Was Here and Obviously Thelma Too relay the artist’s fluid and spontaneous style and is an engaging example of Taylor’s desire to capture contemporary life in all its energetic richness and nuance.


    The Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr.

    The present work arrives at auction from the collection of pioneering Virginia-based philanthropists Pamela and William Royall, prominent collectors of 20th century and contemporary art in the American South. The collection reflects their broad interests, from well-known artists from the 20th century to emerging and established Black artists. Committed arts patrons and forces of change in Richmond, the Royalls spearhead the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’s recent acquisition of Wiley’s sculpture Rumors of War as board members of the institution and were instrumental to the museum’s expansion of the diversity of its collection. Believing in a vision of greater inclusivity for Richmond, the Royalls established a non-profit art gallery for the collection, Try-me, which was open without charge to the public, which fostered a space for local artists and education.

    1. Henry Taylor, “Remembering Artist Noah Davis (1983 –2015)”, Hyperallergic, September 16, 2015, online

    • Provenance

      Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
      Feuer/Mesler, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owners

    • Exhibited

      New York, Blum & Poe, Henry Taylor, March 1 - April 4, 2015
      Richmond, VCUArts FAB Gallery, Virginia Commonwealth University, Human After All, Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Painting + Printmaking Group Show, March 1 - 21, 2016

Property from the Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr.


Noah was here and obviously Thelma too

acrylic on canvas
75 1/2 x 62 5/8 in. (191.8 x 159.1 cm)
Painted in 2014.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $315,000

Contact Specialist

Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York

1 212 940 1250

20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Afternoon Session

New York 8 December 2020