Politics

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  • Provenance

    Flowers East, London
    The Saatchi Collection, London (acquired from the above in 2005)
    Sotheby's, London, 17 October 2013, lot 19
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    London, Saatchi Gallery, Newspeak: British Art Now, Part I, June 2010, p. 33 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Ratik Asokan, 'The Painting's Presence', The Nation, 11 July 2011, online

  • Catalogue Essay

    Confronted by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s characteristically sumptuous palette and thick, assured brushstrokes, the viewer is drawn into the artist’s masterful use of light, colour and composition in Politics. Assertively positioned at the forefront of the canvas and presented against a rich background, two female figures stand, staring directly at the onlooker. Both a writer and a painter, Yiadom-Boakye invites the viewer to evaluate the present work alongside its title to explore the varying dynamics and implications running concurrently between the two. Evaluating the visual syntax of painting as well as the broader associative references which emanate from the work, the present canvas is exemplary of Yiadom-Boakye’s nuanced finesse of painterly techniques as well as an adept understanding of the medium’s wealth of history.

    Primarily concerned with the medium of painting, Yiadom-Boakye employs a distinctly progressive approach, the dynamic application of oil paint revealing the painterly construction of the work. Evoking the loose impressionistic brushstrokes of Walter Sickert, Yiadom-Boakye, conveys a suggestion of a moment in time through a reduced palette, which appears fleeting and circumstantial. Unlike the named sitters of Thomas Gainsborough’s portraiture, the figures in Yiadom-Boakye’s oil paintings operate in a fictional sphere, distinct from a specific time and place. The artist has described her compositions as focussing upon ‘suggestions of people…They don’t share our concerns or anxieties. They are somewhere else altogether’ (Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, quoted in Nadine Rubin Nathan, ‘Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Fashionable Eye’, The New York Times Magazine, 15 November 2010, online). This refusal to consign characters to a particular moment in time has led Orlando Reade to suggest that her paintings are ‘portraits of society’ rather than of individuals (Orlando Reade, ‘Life Outside the Manet Paradise Resort. On The Paintings of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’, The White Review, November 2012, online). It is this indeterminacy that allows Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings to function as cultural windows, offering a momentary view into the life of the fictional sitter.

    At odds with traditional art historical considerations yet conversely referential, Yiadom-Boakye’s work is crucially concerned with the techniques of painting, eluding definition in favour of unpredictability. Consciously engaging oil paint and examining the genre of portraiture, the palette of the sumptuous background both contests and invites a dialogue with the chiaroscuro technique evident in the portraits of Rembrandt or the paintings of Caravaggio, whilst the delicately rendered folds of lavish material running through the protagonist’s dress is evocative of Gainsborough’s exquisitely painted finery. The influences of art history are further evident in Yiadom-Boakye’s eschewal of realism and her admiration for Degas’ painting La Coiffure which she regularly views at the National Gallery, London: ‘a reminder that it is possible to achieve movement, elegance, heat, and brutality with very little and that it doesn’t need to look real to feel it. Feeling rather than knowing. Feeling as believing. Painting as sensuality’ (Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, quoted in Jennifer Higgie, ‘Don’t Explain’, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Munich, 2014, p. 9). Invoking dark burgundy tones, Yiadom-Boakye’s adroit mastery of red was honed by her revisiting of Degas’ scarlet painting: ‘I’ve also learnt about red from this painting: how to make it work. And that it is possible to lay scarlet next to orange, next to deep cadmium red, next to pink, next to black and bring the whole thing to life with a few patches of bare canvas and white’ (Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, quoted in ‘Artists’ Artists’, Frieze.com, 1 October 2012, online). Ensuring that tone and form unite with and fight against the visual syntax of the past, in Politics Yiadom-Boakye suspends us in a moment of dislocation, where we are free to connect subjectively with the painting.

    With brilliant eyes glinting against the velvety background, the interplay of gazes is thematically prevalent in Politics; both figures lock eyes with the viewer in a manner that is concomitantly challenging and inviting. The power commanded by the women’s stare conveys their refusal to be objectified subjects, countering the art historical tradition of the white male painter depicting the female nude or portrait. Yiadom-Boakye examines traditional representations of women throughout the art historical canon through her illumination of the gaze and her protagonist’s ambiguous characterisation. The title of the present work invokes both gender and race politics when considered alongside the formal qualities of the present work, thus creating a biting critique of not only the traditional art historical order but present hierarchies existing today.

    In Politics Yiadom-Boakye develops the ambiguity of her painterly narratives, working with indeterminate backgrounds that refuse to link the figures to a particular place or time. This openly referential painting style allows viewers to construct their own associations; the onlooker is encouraged to expand their imagination and project their own interpretations upon the canvas. The present work resounds with an energy that is partly a result of its creation, as Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings are typically completed in a day to best capture a particular experience. Politics draws attention to the painterly processes through the expressive representations of the human figure. A hauntingly evocative and dramatic experience, Politics artfully encapsulates the artist’s uniquely poetic image-making process and holds us all under its sway.

  • Artist Bio

    Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

    British • 1977

    Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is a British painter who is a leader in the contemporary renaissance of portraiture. Her subjects are typically depicted with loose brushwork, floating against muted, ambiguous backgrounds that contribute to a sense of timelessness. Known for the speed of her work, she often completes a canvas in a single day and considers the physical properties of paint to be at the core of her practice. 

    Yiadom-Boakye was born to Ghanaian parents in London, where she continues to live and work today. In 2013, she was a finalist for the Turner Prize and she was selected for participation in the 55th Venice Biennale. In 2018, the artist won the Carnegie Prize for painting. Her work can be found in the permanent collections at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Studio Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among many others. 

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Politics

oil on canvas
183 x 167.3 cm (72 x 65 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2005.

Estimate
£70,000 - 90,000 

sold for £273,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2018