Julie Curtiss - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  •  "Hair itself is amorphous, but you can shape it; it's inert and alive at once....What I like about hair in painting is the pattern and repetitiveness, which is hypnotic and attractive.” 
    — Julie Curtiss


    Painted in 2018, shortly before French-Vietnamese artist Julie Curtiss’ launch to the height of critical success following her first solo exhibition at the Anton Kern Gallery in Spring the following year, Escargot is a marvellous painting from her distinctive body of work. Playfully alluding to the work’s title, the protagonist is spotlighted against a rosy mocha background, her hair tightly twisted into two spiralling buns reminiscent of coiling snail shells. Drawing an instant comparison to Gerhard Richter’s famed Betty (1988), the subject of the present work turns away from us, evoking an air of mystery through the concealment of her face - a signature feature of Curtiss’ compositions explored by the artist to ‘point to the elusively of the self’. As she explains, ‘I can allude to a character’s personality and internal life by dropping clues here and there, and leave to the viewer the task of piecing the puzzle together.’i



    Gerhard Richter, Betty, 1988
    Collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum, USA

    The Subversive Power of Hair


    Born in Paris in 1982, Curtiss obtained her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Fine Arts from l’École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Art. It was not until she commenced her formal training at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005, however, that Curtiss cites a critical turning point in her perception of the world. Immersing herself into the city’s thriving art culture and subculture scenes, she simultaneously found inspiration in the works of the Chicago Imagists – alumni of her college including Jim Falconer, Gladys Nilsson, and Christine Ramberg– the latter of whom Curtiss’ work is often compared to for their shared interest in the portrayal of hair to explore perceptions of identity and femininity.



    Fall', Bridget Riley, 1963 | Tate

    Bridget Riley, Fall, 1963, Collection of the Tate, London
    © Bridget Riley 2021. All rights reserved. 


    Indeed, like Ramberg, Curtiss transforms tangible elements into abstract entities on her canvas, rendered with dramatic shadow that helps to add a curious sense of shallow depth also preferred by the likes of KAWS, whom Curtiss worked for between 2014-2018. This nods to her interest in popular culture imagery, comic books and Japanese manga – which perhaps can also be seen in the Princess Leia space-buns the subject of the present work dons.


    Contributing to this aesthetic is Curtiss’ distinctive technique as she uses paints ‘that have a matte finish and that are highly pigmented’ii to achieve a similar effect to gouache. And yet, despite the fact that her works are instantly recognisable for their graphic-like, flattened aesthetic– which immediately caught the eye of artist Loie Hollowell who ‘had to see [Curtiss’ work] in person because Instagram lies’iii– there is a Bridget Riley-esque hypnotic haze evoked by the repetitive details, such as the vivid, linear contrasts that feather the Escargot girl’s coiling buns. Conveying twisted presentations of life’s familiar visuals, Curtiss masterfully balances the vague with the precise, and the representational with the surreal, to form dreamlike compositions that are at once fantastical and unsettling.


     Princess Leia's Defender Sporting Blaster: specs & cosplay | Star Wars Amino

    Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, Star Wars, 1977



    “As long as I’ve made art, there’s always been hair… I’ve always been really interested in the artificial vs. the natural and this has been a constant theme in my work.” 
    — Julie Curtiss  

    Hair as a defining feature of one’s identity has been explored throughout art history, from the flowing locks of Sandro Botticelli’s goddess of idealised beauty in The Birth of Venus (1485-1486), to the stylised coiffeurs of 18th and 19th century portraits, to Edgar Degas’ famous little dancer with her sculpted braid tied with a ribbon-bow. For Curtiss, the fascination with the motif began when, as a teenager, she ‘discovered old braids of hair belonging to [her] mother and [her] aunt in [her] attic,’ as she ‘realised there was this part of us that would remain long after we are gone.’iv



    Left: Edgar Degas, The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer (detail), 1922 (cast), ​​​​​​Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
    Right: Domenico Gnoli, Curly Red Hair, 1969
    © 2021 Domenico Gnoli / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome


    And whilst her tightly cropped framing further recalls the strategy of Italian painter Domenico Gnoli, whom too, imbues the banal qualities of hair with character and edge, it is not the depiction of hair itself that drives her concepts. As Curtiss explains: ‘it’s about all the things attached to it: intimacy, identity, culture, the concept of beauty, animality, primordiality. Hair is called an ‘accessory organ’. How weird is that! It’s alive and dead at once. I think a lot of my art is about the inside and outside, and hair grows in that direction. Covering objects with hair is a way for me to remind people that what we perceive from the outer world is suggestive, is tainted by our inner world.’v


    Perfectly exemplifying Curtiss’ reworking of female representations through a surrealist sense of the uncanny, the protagonist of Escargot’s curling tendrils mesmerise in their repetitive, abstracted figuration. With no defining characteristics revealed by their turned away face, Curtiss powerfully reappropriates what she terms the ‘tools of communication and seduction’vi to explore the disharmony between the layered female psyche the objectified female form.




    Julie Curtiss in the studio, 2020 

    Video Courtesy of White Cube


    Collector’s Digest


    Now based in Brooklyn, New York, Curtiss has mounted numerous exhibitions in recent years. This includes at the White Cube Gallery in London (2021), and Anton Kern Gallery in New York (2020, 2019). She has an upcoming solo show scheduled to open next year in New York at the Anton Kern Gallery.


    Curtiss’ work is represented in a number of museum collections around the world, among which are the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Maki Collection, Japan; Bronx Museum, New York; Columbous Museum of Art, Ohio; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Yuz Museum in Shanghai.


    Her top auction result was recently achieved by Phillips New York in June 2021 when Three Widows (2016) hammered down for US$466,200 plus Premium, against pre-sale estimates of US$110,000 – 150,000.



    Julie Curtiss, Three Widows, 2016
    Sold by Phillips New York on 23 June 2021 for US$466,200



     Julie Curtiss, quoted in Maria Zemtsova, ‘Piecing the Puzzle in Julie Curtiss’ Paintings’, Art Maze Mag, 15 February 2019, online

    ii Julie Curtiss, quoted in Emily Burns, ‘Q&A with Julie Curtiss’, Maake Magazine, online

    iii Loie Hollowell, quoted in Dodie Kazanjian, ‘How Artist Julie Curtiss is Making Waves with Her Quirky, Macabre Neo-Surrealism, Vogue, 16 April 2020, online

    iv Julie Curtiss, quoted in Evan Pricco, ‘Julie Curtiss: Where the Wild Things Are’, Juxtapoz, 2019, online

    Julie Curtiss, quoted in Marina Pérez, ‘Julie Curtiss: Visual Complexity’, Metal Magazine, online

    vi Julie Curtiss, quoted in ‘Julie Curtiss artist profile’, White Cube, online


    • Provenance

      T293, Rome
      Private Collection, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Julie Curtiss

      Born and raised in Paris, France, Julie Curtiss (b. 1982) now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Curtiss studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts, Paris.

      The artist draws on a history of figurative painting including 18th- and 19th-century French painting, as well as the Chicago Imagists and the ‘pop’ imagery of comic books, manga and illustration. Frequent subject matter focuses on the deconstructed female body and symbols of stereotypical female aesthetics. There are similarities between Curtiss’ work and the painters of the female Surrealist movement of the early 20th century in the use of distorted perspectives, dreamscapes, and humor to reflect upon the female experience.  

      Curtiss’ work is represented in a number of museum collections, among which are Bronx Museum, New York; Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; High Museum, Atlanta; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Maki Collection, Japan; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Yuz Museum, Shanghai.


      View More Works

Property from an Important Collection



signed, titled and dated 'Julie CuRTiSS "Escargot", 2018' on the reverse
vinyl paint and oil on canvas
45.7 x 35.6 cm. (18 x 14 in.)
Executed in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

HK$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for HK$1,449,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

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

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021