Lucy Bull - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Thursday, December 1, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “I think that the most interesting paintings are the ones that are disruptive, confusing, and show something of the psyche that you’re not aware of.”
    — Lucy Bull

    Otherworldly and fantastical, Bull's visionary paintings are dazzling fields of shape and colour that form vivid tessellations of synaesthesia. Her abstract works play with dynamic texture, weight, and space, creating canvases that overflow with detail, forming an entrancing viewing experience that titillate the senses.


    Highly evocative, Bull’s kaleidoscopic visions constantly change before your eyes. Alluding to a poignant children’s tale of the same title, Giving Tree emits an ethereal glow from within, its neon colours resplendent in contrast with deeper shades of pine greens and Prussian blues. As one grapples with various associations in their minds for the work – whether it be gentle branches hanging from a mossy tree trunk, or a phoenix about to spread its glowing wings – each image seems to concretize; yet like fleeting mirages, its true identity is impossible to decipher. 


    Defying definite interpretations, Bull’s works morph into an infinite number of new transformations as they shapeshift under every angle. These fantastical landscapes exist outside of time and space in its own universe, where transience and infinitude coexist.



    Installation view of the current work at 
    Los Angeles, Smart Objects, Lucy Bull: Squall, 10 May - 16 June 2019
    © Lucy Bull

    Interplaying Layers


    Bull’s paintings are a dance between impulse and constraint. Ripples of hypnotic waves reveal discernible traces of planning and negotiations with the medium itself, leaving remarkable layers of colour that oscillate between physical imprints of the paintbrush and a psychedelic vision.


    “Every impulsive layer of mark-making is countered with a more calculated response. It goes in waves.”
    — Lucy Bull


    Meticulously applied, each of Bull’s paintings comprises somewhere between four to twenty layers of paint. Painting with great speed and wispy wrist gestures, Bull gradually creates a build-up of colours, yet returns to remove and scratch away at the surface. This additive and reductive creative method showcases the artist’s unmatchable prowess in manipulating her medium. With each twisting and dabbing movement of the brush, gestural marks and scratches intermix, coalescing into an overload of visual sensation.



    Details of the present work


    Starting with a base, such as a shade of rich green in Giving Tree, Bull begins a process of ‘breaking it down’ with a variety of tools, thereby ‘activating the older layers’i, yet one is unable to discern which layer came first and last. Swaths of colour engage in a psychedelic interplay of tones where vibrant hues combine and separate, congeal and thin out, each swirl vying separately for the spotlight all at once. 



    Buzzing with Colour


    Bull’s distinct, layered construction of impasto forms illusionistic shapes that seem to swiftly slip away between one’s fingers at a moment’s notice, giving way to new layers of phantasmagorical colour underneath. This visual depth is constructed through a tension between clashing colours and form, layered and selected carefully: 


    “I’m choosing a lot of complementary colours that create a static buzz on the surface. There’s a fair amount of optics at play. I’m trying to draw people in.”
    — Lucy Bull


    However, hesitant to characterise her work as purely abstract, Lucy Bull prefers to reference the late Howard Hodgkin’s famous quote: ‘I am a representational painter, but not a painter of appearances. I paint representational pictures of emotional situations.’ii 



    Left: Howard Hodgkin, Red Bermudas, 1978-80
    Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
    Image: © The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence, Artwork: © Howard Hodgkin

    Right: The present lot


    Indeed, Hodgkin and Bull share their interest in the interplay of gesture, colour, and ground. Famed for his abstract canvases that often continue onto the frame, Hodgkin’s works break from the traditional confines of painting, reaching beyond the picture plane in an effort to immerse the viewer within his reverie of intangible thoughts and feelings, an objective that Bull wholeheartedly shares:


    “I’m interested in creating a scenario where people can feel their way through a painting. I want the reaction to be more visceral than logical, and colour is the best tool for provoking the viscera.”
    — Lucy Bull

    Enigmatically Rorschachian

    “Every interpretation is valid. The paintings kind of function like Rorschachs. If someone were to tell me they see a certain thing in them, it's telling me more about their psychology than about the work itself.”
    — Lucy Bull

    The original children’s story by Shel Silverstein, Giving Tree, follows the lifelong relationship between an apple tree and a boy. Initially having a close friendship with the tree during his childhood, the boy enjoyed playing around the tree and swinging off its branches. As he grew up, the boy gradually spent less time with the tree, only returning when he needed material items from the tree. The tree happily gave him apples, branches, and even her trunk to the boy for money, a house, and a boat, until only her stump remained. In his old age, the boy was now too weak to swing from the tree and his teeth too weak for apples; he only wanted a quiet place to sit and rest. The tree – who by now was just a stump, and could provide him with a comfortable resting place. With this final stage of giving, the tree was happy.


    Despite the connotations of the original tale, Lucy Bull’s enigmatic compositions are open ended puzzles with seemingly limitless interpretations available; decoding her work is like roaming through a magical dreamscape of brushstrokes as one cycles through a myriad of possible associations. The essence of Bull’s works lies in the experience of the viewer’s interaction with the canvas itself – a Rorschach-like encounter between artwork and spectator. As such, this theological focus on one’s stream of consciousness draws comparisons to Surrealist works such as those by Max Ernst.



    Max Ernst, The Nymph Echo (La Nymphe Écho), 1936
    Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York
    © Museum of Modern Art/ Licensed by SCALA/ Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris


    Similar to Bull’s current example, Ernst often features flora and fauna in his enigmatic works, as seen in The Nymph Echo, 1936. Ernst famously employed his ‘frottage’ technique, where he rubs the surfaces of works against floorboards, twine, wire mesh or crumpled paper as a way to probe the subconscious mind. Bull herself had drawn comparisons between her own technique and that of Ernst’s, emphasising on how this process allows the artist to explore new avenues within the subliminal mind: ‘The scratching feels like excavation; older marks in the beginning layers get pulled to the foreground. It’s similar to Max Ernst’s technique of frottage. I relate to how he talks about being a spectator to the making of his own work. When things finally open up and click, it feels like magic.’iii

    “I hope to transport people. That’s all I want to do is be transported and I hope people can get lost in them and take pleasure in looking at them. [...] I hope that they are as enigmatic to others as they are to me.”
    — Lucy Bull 

    Collector’s Digest 


    Born 1990 in New York, Lucy Bull received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012, and has gained major traction since her auction debut in May 2022. Phillips Hong Kong debuted the artist’s work, 8:50, at auction in Asia in June 2022. The artist’s recent solo exhibition, Lucy Bull: Piper, had just closed in October in New York with David Kordansky Gallery. 




    Lucy Bull, 8:50, 2020
    Sold by Phillips Hong Kong for HKD11,382,000, 22 June 2022
    Artwork: © Lucy Bull



    Lucy Bull lives and works in Los Angeles, and is represented by David Kordansky, Los Angeles & New York. Her work is in the permanent collections of MAMCO Geneva; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego; Dallas Museum of Art; and Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami.



    i Lucy Bull, quoted in Stephanie Eckardt, ‘In the Studio With Lucy Bull, the Painter Bringing Back Abstraction’, W Magazine, 2 April 2021, online 
    ii ibid.
    iii John Garcia, ‘Getting Lost in the Brushstrokes: Lucy Bull Interviewed by John Garcia’, BOMB Magazine, 26 April 2021, online 

    • Provenance

      Smart Objects, Los Angeles
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Los Angeles, Smart Objects, Lucy Bull: Squall, 10 May - 16 June 2019


Giving Tree

signed with the artist's initials and dated 'LB 19' on the reverse
oil on linen
152.4 x 122 cm. (60 x 48 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for HK$4,662,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 1 December 2022