Henry Taylor - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 20, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Overview

    In Ari and the Deer, Henry Taylor fuses two human bodies —one male, one female — with the truncated head of a deer, emulating the playful constitution of a matryoshka doll. Forming part of a body of work that the art historian Sarah Lewis associates to 'thought pictures', the present composition incorporates elements from real life and subsequently undergoes subjective alterations, responding to the artist’s very own blend of reality, memory and imagination. 'Taylor compositionally renders an impossible present through figurative dislocation and imagined realism', explains Lewis; 'his figures coexist with scenes from an interior landscape'.i Ari and the Deer similarly forges a platform for internal mental meanderings. Conflating several visions that would have appeared to the artist into a single totemic construction, the resulting image straddles uncanniness and familiarity, fractions of truth and fiction. Completed in 2017, Ari and the Deer notably coincides with a moment of extreme visibility for Taylor, when the artist brandished a monumental self-portrait on the side of a building for the New York High Line, and concurrently participated in the Whitney Biennial for the first time.

    'While Taylor works from photographs and at times from life, much of the work is about the projection of memory as if to ask, in the face of the unspeakable, are not our internal images true enough to be represented?'
    —Sarah Lewis
    Devising a threefold portrait against a largely abstract grey background, Ari and the Deer requires a layered visual analysis. At the top of the composition emerges the upper half of a woman’s body, progressively morphing into a furry head, which itself slowly converts, at neck level, into a male torso. Through this bizarre construction, Taylor conjures a centaur-like creature that propels the depicted scene within the realm of the fantastical. Despite Ari and the Deer’s inherent distance from traditional portraiture, the composition exudes, like Taylor’s best work, the intimate potentialities located in a person’s gaze, silhouette and overall presence. 'It’s his practice to seek people out [...] and figure them in paint, but each person is configured differently, sometimes hewing closely to verisimilitude, sometimes ignoring it; sometimes attending to the proportion of limbs, other times leaving them out entirely', elucidates Zadie Smith.ii 

  • It’s All In The Eyes

  • '[Taylor’s] greatest subject is human personality, although, in his portraits, personality is not a matter of literal representation but rather a vibe, a texture, a series of vertical block colors laid out on a horizontal plane.' 
    —Zadie Smith
    Specifically, the woman’s clear blue eyes in the upper quadrant of Ari and the Deer bear a distinctly Taylor-esque quality. 'Taylor has a way of painting peoples’ eyes with such a deepness that they appear personal, and highly emotional', writes Antwaun Sargent.iii In the present work, it indeed seems that the anonymous protagonist stares deeply into the soul of the viewer, as if this remote ocular dialogue could prompt a mutual understanding of both participants’ deep internal complexities, constituting a human bond beyond the confines of the canvas. When asked why he paints eyes the way he does, Taylor answered 'I probably went for 10 years starting with the eyes. I just stare so much at people, maybe that’s why'.iv Juggling introspection, imperfection, anxiety and self-assurance, Taylor’s idiosyncratic gazes distinguish his portraiture from that of his peers. In Ari and the Deer, the tiered protagonist is endowed with eyes only through its constitutive female form – blurring out the surrounding environment, as if the force of her gaze could nullify the world’s peripheral movements.


    Henry Taylor in Conversation


    In a 2019 interview with Laura Hoptman, Henry Taylor discussed his distinctive mode of portraiture, influenced by his childhood, his human encounters, and his love of drawing.


    The Brooklyn Rail: May I ask you about “portraiture”? I know that there’s a question about whether you call yourself a portraitist or not. How do you choose your subjects?


    Henry Taylor: I liken myself to something like a junkie. [Laughs] You know, I just need to do it. Sometimes I have a desire, I have a need; on the train with Paul, my studio manager, I said, “hey Paul, look at these noses.” I just had to point them out, I don’t know why I was looking at noses.


    TBR: It could be anyone then?


    HT: Yeah, everybody on the train, and I insisted that we take the train. I said, “let’s take the train and look at people.”


    TBR: That was my next question: do you only pick people you like? I guess not.


    HT: Not necessarily. A lot of people think that, but I painted strangers off of skid row.


    Read the rest of the interview here.


    i Sarah Lewis, ‘Henry Taylor: The Impossible Present’, Henry Taylor, New York, 2018, p. 15.

    ii Zadie Smith, ‘Henry Taylor’s Promiscuous Painting’, The New Yorker, 23 July 2018, online.

    iii Antwaun Sargent, ‘Examining Henry Taylor’s Groundbreaking Paintings of the Black Experience’, Artsy, 16 July 2018, online. iv Henry Taylor, quoted in Antwaun Sargent, ‘Examining Henry Taylor’s Groundbreaking Paintings of the Black Experience’, Artsy, 16 July 2018, online.

    • Provenance

      Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
      Private Collection, U.S.A.

Property from a Private Collection, U.S.A.


Ari and the Deer

signed, titled and dated ‘“Ari” and the Dear 2015-2017 Henry Taylor’ on the reverse
acrylic and paper collage on canvas
182.2 x 119.1 cm (71 3/4 x 46 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2015-17.

Full Cataloguing

£100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for £113,400

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020