Joel Mesler - Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Friday, May 31, 2024 | Phillips
  • “I like the fact that there are many layers to my work. I enjoy knowing that there may be several interpretations of the works…many layers of truth and reality.”
    — Joel Mesler

     From Dealer to Artist


    Born in 1974, Los Angeles artist Joel Mesler’s life journey has been as colourful and vibrant as his body of work. Graduating from the Sonoma State University and receiving his MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute, he spent two decades as a successful art dealer in both Los Angeles and New York, seeking ways to make a small gallery successful from renting out his space to other galleries to going into business with more successful ones. Painting used to be a pastime for Mesler, overshadowed by his career of discovering and selling other artists. Yet, undergoing a period of personal turmoil in 2014 which precipitated his dive to the bottom, it marked his triumphant return to painting. In his journey to sobriety, Mesler filled the void with paint and soon found himself garnering much success and acclaim in the art world as an artist.


    Mesler uses hand-dyeing techniques on his linen canvases, which brings a unique vitality to his work. As seen on his canvases, they are filled with rich visual elements, drawing from the childhood memories of his affluent upbringing in the 1980s alongside cultural touchstones. His visually polished paintings are deeply rooted in the legacy of Pop Art, whilst his use of typography aligns him with the likes of artists such as Ed Ruscha and Christopher Wool. Although his works appear to be light-hearted and humorous at first through a combination of popular icons and text, Mesler delves into profoundly universal issues of identity, pain, healing, and acceptance.



    Transcending the “Eye Candy”


    Characterised by bold colours, stylised patterns, and unique text, the present lot Untitled (HUGS) is representative of the artist’s recent large-scale masterpieces that reveal aspects of his personal and artistic growth. It exudes an ‘eye candy’ aesthetic with incredible vitality through the lustrous, bold metallic red balloons as the focal point floating amidst a host of playful, free-floating motifs including the sun, the rainbow, the iconic Martinique banana leaf-like pattern, the pool, the kids pool floaties in various shapes and forms, the playball, and the signature red snake that slithers throughout.  


    Set in an imagined environment of the lush jungle and the aqueous pool, Untitled (HUGS) is at first glance a visual feast that dazzles, yet there is much more than that first ‘eye candy’ attraction on a surface level as Mesler uses his image to provide an intimate glimpse into the dichotomies of his own life – his relationship with his parents, his father’s drug abuse and his parent’s divorce. Whilst he taps into some of the joy that he experienced as a child, Mesler also recalls his pool parties during his younger days being a lot more than the gloss and the glory: “For instance, the pool party: when I was young, my mom would throw pool parties for my brother and I, but also for her friends, and I had no idea what was really going on. All I saw were noodles and floats. But really, it was an excuse for my mother to get the parents together and gossip and drink. And there was this kind of underbelly of something else.”i


    Detail of the present lot


    Similarly, the aesthetic banana leaf pattern that Mesler is so partial to employ here, reminiscent of the beautiful leafy and lush Beverly Hills Hotel wallpaper called Martinique created by CW Stockwell and introduced by decorator Don Loper in 1949, was the exact location where a volatile family episode had transpired and still haunts him to this day. He had a family Easter brunch there that ended with his father tossing the table, splattering eggs Benedict on his mother’s lap and shouting “I can’t take it anymore!ii  As the artist put it himself, “For so long that carried such heaviness, trauma and sadness. I joke about it because if I didn’t, I’d probably still be crying about it. But there is also this sense of emotional, psychological and financial profit from the trauma I was subjected to from my parents. So, I then decided to use those motifs and to reappropriate them for myself and then use them in order to create my own language.iii



    Interior of the Beverly Hills Hotel, Los Angeles, showcasing the famous Martinique wallpaper print


    It is indeed through this juxtaposition of celebration and happiness with loneliness and darkness that Mesler encourages self-knowledge, reflection and healing.



    The Power of Art for Self-Restoration


    Much of Mesler’s inspiration has derived from his “journey of presentness”, a mentality of appreciating the present moment and living by the mantra “one day at a time”. Taking inspiration from the trauma and memories of his personal life, it draws many parallels to American contemporary artist Jeff Koons, in particularly with his Celebration series that was first conceived in 1993. Like Mesler’s pictorial images, though Koons’ pieces appear simplistic and cheerful at first glance, this body of work references a darker life milestone from his own biography. Koons had a volatile relationship with Ilona Staller, Italy’s most celebrated adult actress and his wife at the time, which resulted in separation within two years of their marriage, a divorce six years later and a rather ugly custody proceeding of their son Ludwig. The creation of the Celebration series was Koons’ way to move forward and heal. It consisted of 16 monumental sculptures including his Balloon Dog, Diamond and Ribbon. Referring to his inflatable characters, Koons had said, “I’ve always enjoyed balloon animals because they’re like us… We’re balloons. You take a breath and you inhale, it’s optimism. You exhale, and it’s kind of a symbol of death.” iv

  • Despite their different approaches in the art form, both works share the power to evoke nostalgia and tackle profound issues of identity, pain, healing, and acceptance. They beckon viewers to simpler times although it might serve as traumatic memories for them, suggesting that joy can be found in the simple pleasures of self-reflection and self-restoration.


    By gazing at the playful imagery created by Mesler in Untitled (HUGS), he invites viewers to consider the ways in which art can distil the complexities of human emotion into universal symbols. He further challenges us to reconsider the objects and experiences that we hold dear, prompting us to reflect on our own human connections. In the interplay of Mesler's raw emotions laid out on his canvas, a sense of harmony comes to light through the juxtaposition of both happy and sad memories and serves as a reminder that positivity and rebirth comes at each new day.’ The present work stands as a testament to his most defining and expansive pictorial works, not only departing from his formative examples, but also bearing a myriad of insights that encourage healing and self-recovery.



    Installation view of the Untitled (Hugs) (another version) shown at Joel Mesler: Spiritual Journey, 2023.2.19-2023.4.18, Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai. Artwork: © Joel Mesler



    Collector’s Digest


    Born in Los Angeles in 1974, Joel Mesler started concentrating directly on his own art practice in 2015 after having already developed a career as an art dealer. In recent years, Mesler has exhibited internationally, including his 2022 solo exhibition with LGDR, Hong Kong. His most recent exhibition, Joel Mesler: zrikha sheqi’att hashemesh (Sunrise Sunset) was on view at David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles, took place from November 11 – December 16, 2023. He has had an institutional show, Joel Mesler: Spiritual Journey at the Long Museum in Shanghai from February to April in 2023.

    Mesler, quoted in The New York Times, 'How an Art Dealer Became an Up-and-Coming Painter,'



    i Joel Mesler, quoted in LUX Magazine, 'Joel Mesler: What Lies Beneath The Eye Candy', 2023

    ii Mesler, quoted in 'How an Art Dealer Became an Up-and-Coming Painter', The New York Times, 19 June 2018, online

    iii Mesler, quoted in LUX Magazine, 'Joel Mesler: What Lies Beneath The Eye Candy', 2023

    • Provenance

      Rental Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


Untitled (Hugs)

signed and dated 'Joel Mesler 2022' on the overlap
pigment on linen
213.4 x 165.1 cm. (84 x 65 in.)
Executed in 2022.

Full Cataloguing

HK$750,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for HK$889,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2027

Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 31 May 2024