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  • Overview

    'At the forefront of my work is storytelling.'
    —Joy Labinjo
    Taking inspiration from what surrounds her, Joy Labinjo propels personal memories and visions in a wider conversation about diasporic and cross-cultural identities — specifically her own British-Nigerian heritage. Creating momentous paintings from this artistic intention, Labinjo displays a style that feels as contemporary as somehow informed by previous artistic movements; she melds a hodgepodge of old and new that mirrors the freshness and age-old quality of her subject matters. Hovering between figuration and abstraction, reality and fiction, Untitled portrays the artist as a young girl standing alongside her aunt, in a style that conveys a finished image just as much as it displays interwoven fragments. But more importantly, the painting does something that is of particular importance to Labinjo: it shows an ordinary familial scene where the two main and only characters are Black — a beacon of Black storytelling which, Labinjo believes, can inspire more voices to come forward upon encountering the work. ‘I think the compositions, and the gathering with family, is something that’s relatable to everyone’, Labinjo has said. ‘But it would be amazing for little Black kids to go to a gallery and think: I can do this. […] If you think about how many Black people went to see Basquiat at the Barbican or Soul of a Nation at the Tate, it shows that people are interested. They’re interested because they can see themselves in it’.1 Recently, Labinjo’s work was featured in the 2019 Focus section at Frieze London with Tiwani Contemporary; a presentation that included Untitled.

     

    Detail of the present work.
    Detail of the present work showing the artist, Joy Labinjo, as a young girl.
  • Painterly Process

    'There's also a real ambiguity of place — there are colours, motifs or clothing that might offer hints, but nothing that anchors the work anywhere.'
    —Mahoro Seward
    Graduating from her BFA at the University of Newcastle in 2017, Labinjo was awarded the prestigious Woon Art Prize that same year, granting her a 12-months studio space in the Woon Tai Jee studio at BALTIC 39 in Newcastle. Only a year later, she would be bestowed her first monographic exhibition — which spurred another three that same year — including Recollections, in which the present work was displayed. During this time, Labinjo was working from photographs. She would begin flicking through a family photo album, only to select and scan one or multiple photographs, subsequently cropping and layering areas of interest. In Untitled, this process of looking, absorbing and editing translates into a fragmented aesthetic, whereby colours shift, spaces expand or diminish, planes seem interlaced as opposed to clearly demarcated. ‘Photographs were the starting point’, Labinjo explained, ‘but I was never aiming to replicate the photograph. It was about finding ways to create a new image, a new environment’.2 A striking example of painterly prowess, Untitled seems to layer a number of discrete elements and weave them into a single, uniquely evocative atmosphere. It gives as much importance to the two depicted characters as it does to the lush plants hoisting vertically to their left; an image of foliage that recalls Jonas Wood’s green interior scenes. In Inglewood Listing of 2019, Wood imparts the interior scene's bustling greenery with a sense of life that seems to challenge the still life genre - similarly, in Untitled Labinjo makes the presence of her plants transcend mere decorativeness; they transform into cultural tokens that suggest a life of their own.

     

    Jonas Wood, Inglewood Listing, 2019, oil and acrylic on canvas, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Image: Scala, Florence. © Jonas Wood.

    Making Black Lives Visible

    'But it would be amazing for little Black kids to go to a gallery and think: I can do this. […] They’re interested because they can see themselves in it.' —Joy LabinjoAlready established way beyond her years, Labinjo most compellingly rose to prominence in 2019, with a solo show at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. In this exhibition, the artist revealed a visual language that is both immediate and mysterious, poetically lingering and thematically urgent. About her selection of work in that show, the artist said, ‘It was important to focus on normalising the Black figure and the Black family and give them space to exist on a gallery wall’.3 In Untitled, Labinjo creates that space, and presents the viewer with an encounter seldom enabled in the Western canon of art prior to the 21st millennium. In Labinjo's artistic mission, the influence of 1980s Black British Artists is apparent; she cites Sonia Boyce, Lubaina Himid and Claudette Johnson as figures who ‘similarly provide room for Black people to breathe and tell their own story, rather than perform a sensational or preconceived narrative’.4 One is also reminded of the American painter Faith Ringgold, of whom Labinjo says ‘her thoughts were big thoughts but she was able to put them in a painting’.5 Equally propelling her big thoughts on canvas, Labinjo has begun a narrative that will only continue to flourish in years to come.

     

    Faith Raingold, A Family Portrait, 1997, acrylic on canvas, painted and pieced border, private collection.  Image: © Fred Scruton. © Faith Ringgold / ARS, NY and DACS, London, Courtesy ACA Galleries, New York 2021.
    Faith Ringgold, A Family Portrait, 1997, acrylic on canvas, painted and pieced border, Private Collection. Image: © Fred Scruton. © Faith Ringgold / ARS, NY and DACS, London, Courtesy ACA Galleries, New York 2021.

     

    Painting Familiarity

     

    In this episode of BALTIC Bites, Labinjo discusses her painterly inspirations.

     

     

    1 Joy Labinjo, quoted in Mahoro Seward, ‘Joy Labinjo is setting a new benchmark for Black representation in painting’, i-D/Vice, 30 July 2020, online.
    2 Joy Labinjo, quoted in Mahoro Seward, ‘Joy Labinjo is setting a new benchmark for Black representation in painting’, i-D/Vice, 30 July 2020, online.
    3 Joy Labinjo, quoted in Rachel Spence, ‘Joy Labinjo, an artist making Black lives visible’, Financial Times, 27 November 2020, online.
    4 Joy Labinjo, quoted in Rachel Spence, 'Joy Labinjo, an artist making Black lives visible', Financial Times, 27 November 2020, online.

    • Provenance

      Tiwani Contemporary, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Tiwani Contemporary, Joy Labinjo: Recollections, 7 November - 21 December 2018

    • Literature

      Matthew Whitehouse, 'Joy Labinjo, The Fine Artist Depicting Intimate Scenes of Family Life', i-D, 16 November 2018, online (illustrated)

Property Sold to Benefit the South London Gallery

1

Untitled

signed and dated 'Joy 2018 Joy Labinjo 2018 joy' on the reverse
oil, acrylic and household paint on canvas
145 x 195 cm (57 1/8 x 76 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2018.

A portion of the seller’s proceeds of sale for this lot will benefit the South London Gallery, Peckham.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£20,000 - 30,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £69,300

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Olivia Thornton
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 April 2021