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  • “The paintings come out of the memories of nights my parents would go out for the evening. They would usually tuck me into my bed and kiss me goodnight… and the animals in my wallpaper would meet with the furs of my mother’s jackets, the colours of their clothes and the smells of their perfume and cologne. I often thought about what my parents were doing as the night went on.”
    — Joel Mesler

     

    The recent subject of a resoundingly successful solo exhibition hosted by Lévy Gorvy in Hong Kong (23 June – 14 August 2021), Los Angeles-born artist Joel Mesler is widely acclaimed for his vibrant, instantly recognisable paintings that combine graphically bold print with slogans and words. Untitled (Night Out) is a prime example from his oeuvre, presenting the viewer with an assemblage of tightly cropped leaves that intermix across the entirety of the canvas in various shades of green, appearing almost three-dimensional against the raw linen background detailed with a subtle tiger stripes. Commanding the attention at the forefront of the composition are ruby-red bubble letters that spell ‘Night Out’ – the phrase both linking to the present work’s title and evoking memories of evenings of fun.

     

    Mesler achieved his Master of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999 and continued to paint through the early 2000s, until, in 2007, he followed a love interest to New York, setting up his own gallery ‘Rental’ in Chinatown shortly after. Putting a pause to his art practice, Mesler became a prominent dealer in the city, establishing a name for himself as he operated several galleries over the past 2 decades. In 2015, however, he picked up his paintbrushes again and in combining his formal training with his wide understanding of contemporary art, he soon developed his distinctive aesthetic that has since been celebrated across multiple solo exhibitions including at the David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles (23 January – 6 March 2021), Harper’s Books in New York (2020), and Simon Lee in London (2018).

     

    Memories of Banana Leaves 

     

    Drawing from his childhood memories, though Mesler’s compositions are abstract in construction, they are entirely autobiographical as he brings his private impressions into close contact with cultural touchstones of design and popular iconography. His signature motif is the graphically simplistic banana leaf pattern that populates his oeuvre, its design appropriating the famous Martinique pattern that adorns the wallpapers of the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles – a place that, for Mesler, evokes powerful childhood flashbacks. As he recalls, ‘at the beginning of my parents’ divorce we had brunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel. My father threw the brunch table over; the eggs Benedict ran down the side of the table onto my mother’s lap and he had a nervous breakdown. My mother chased him in our station wagon while my brother and I ran after him on foot. That was my point of arrested development,’ – half-jokingly adding, ‘That’s when I stopped being a normal person, I think.’i
     

     

    Leaf, Stemware, Plant stem, Houseplant, Dining room, Anthurium,

     

    The Fountain Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Los Angeles

    Photo Courtesy of The Beverly Hills Hotel

     

     

    As the spot for A-listers, financers, and studio-moguls to see and be seen, the Beverly Hills Hotel has been steeped in Hollywood history since its opening in 1912, recognised the world-over as a beacon of glamour and allure. Garnering icon status amongst guests and in the world of design, the familiar green leafy wallpaper pattern has come to be considered synonymous with Southern California style. Touted as one of the most famous prints in the world, it has inspired a multitude of creative outlets, and can be found in collections by mega brands Dolce & Gabbana and Michael Kors, on the covers of multi-platinum albums by artists such as Mariah Carey, and spotted in the background of big-screen hitters such as the cult series Friends.

     

     

    A Visual Medley of Text and Form
     

     

    For Mesler, the print stirs the imagination, transporting him back to defining moments from his youth. But through innate optimism, wit and humour, the artist engages with the motif by situating it amongst letters and phrases, engaging in a dialogue with the viewer that attains universal resonance. In the present work, the hand-painted text Night Out stands out with its chromatically brilliant red font that exudes the same glow as the neon signs or billboards that pepper urban cities, bringing to mind the gleaming text work by English artist Tracey Emin, whom too, draws from personal experiences to create her art. But whereas Emin’s radiant letters can be considered sculptural, rendered of neon moulded to match her handwriting, Mesler achieves luminosity in his writing through the gaps in the letters from which the background shines through, thereby detailing their bubble-rounded shapes through slivers of highlight.
     

     

     

    More Passion

     

    Tracey Emin, More Passion, 2010

    Collection of the Government Art Collection, London
    © Tracey Emin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


     

     

    Mesler’s emphasis on words with wry surrealism further places paintings such as Untitled (Night Out) in dialogue with the work of artists including Christopher Wool and Ed Ruscha, who explore the relationship between text and image in their renowned oeuvres. Inspired by the deadpan irreverence of the Pop Art movement, Ruscha became well known in the late 1950s when he began creating small collages using images and words taken from everyday sources, such as advertisements seen in the cityscape of his adopted home Los Angeles. Unlike Ruscha’s depiction of language in a strong typographic font juxtaposed against cinematic or seemingly wry imagery from day-to-day life, Mesler’s slogans are situated within tightly cropped, abstract formations, as he weaves in themes and motifs from his own personal sources.
     

     

     

    God Knows Where

     

    Edward Ruscha, God Knows Where, 2014

    Sold by Phillips London on 23 February 2020 for £3,375,000
    © Ed Ruscha 

     

     

    Untitled (Night Out)

     

    As an exceptional work that marks a significant moment in the genesis of Mesler’s artistic evolution, Untitled (Night Out) showcases a matured development away from the entirely raw linen backgrounds of his earlier works as in the present painting, the canvas has been softly detailed with orange and black stripes reminiscent of those of a tiger. Revealing another link to dreamscapes of his childhood, Mesler alludes to the motif in expressing: ’The paintings come out of the memories of nights my parents would go out for the evening. They would usually tuck me into my bed and kiss me goodnight, my mom leaving red lipstick residue smudged on my cheek. As I would fall asleep, all these elements would swirl through my mind as I hit REM. Their parting words to me, “Honey, you deserve great things” and “The world is yours,” and the animals in my wallpaper would meet with the furs of my mother’s jackets, the colours of their clothes and the smells of their perfume and cologne. I often thought about what my parents were doing as the night went on. I knew they did things, but I didn’t really have the language yet to describe them.’ ii

     

     

    A picture containing tree, plant, palm

Description automatically generated

     

    Henri J.F. Rousseau, Fight between a Tiger and a Buffalo, 1908

    Collection of the Cleveland Art Museum, Ohio

     

     

    As nocturnal animals who favour to hunt at night, tigers rely on the camouflage their stripes provide to stalk their prey, as explored in works by artists such as French painter Henri J.F. Rousseau’s imaginary jungle scenes that convey a sense of the surreal. Mesler captures this characteristic in Untitled (Night Out), stylising his tiger stripes underneath the banana leaves and shining text. Whilst this can be seen as an innocent connotation of the animal-themed wallpaper of the bedroom from his youth, it also can be read as a metaphor for danger, adventure and mystery, and of things that lurk in the dark. Contrasting nostalgic ideas that imprint upon the psyches of many young children, including the artist himself, Mesler imbues his work with sharp wit, conjuring a multitude of possible narratives to emerge. 

     

     

    Collector’s Digest 

     

    When Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction were the second to offer a work by Melser at auction in Asia, in June 2021, Untitled (Tony Chang Goes to Hollywood) (2019) soared above its pre-sale estimate range of HK$400,000 – 600,000, achieving a staggering HK$1,638,000.

     

     

     

    Untitled (Tony Chang Goes to Hollywood)

     

    Joel Mesler, Untitled (Tony Chang Goes to Hollywood), 2019

    Sold by Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction on 8 June 2021 for HK$1,638,000
    © Joel Mesler

     

     

     

    Joel Mesler, quoted in ‘The Alphabet of Creation (For Now) Press Release’, Simon Lee Gallery, 2018, online

    ii Joel Mesler, quoted in ‘JOEL MESLER: IN THE BEGINNING press release’, Lévy Gorvy, June 2021, online

     

11

Untitled (Night Out)

signed, inscribed and dated 'The Estate of Joel Mesler Joel Mesler 2019' on the overlap
pigment on linen
178.1 x 127.3 cm. (70 1/8 x 50 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
HK$500,000 - 700,000 
€56,600-79,300
$64,100-89,700

Place Advance Bid
Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026
CharlotteRaybaud@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021