Michael Armitage - New Now London Thursday, December 9, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'Painting is a way of thinking through something, trying to understand an experience or an event a little better, and trying to communicate something of the problem to others.' —Michael Armitage

    Painted circa  2006, Untitled presents two figures in motion within a landscape outlined through a mosaic of muted colours. This scene exemplifies Michael Armitage’s ongoing exploration of art and the importance of visual representation within the canon. Living and working between London and Nairobi, Armitage questions Western cultural assumptions by confronting them with East African sources to explore contemporary social and political issues. Only the third work on canvas to be offered at auction, Untitled is a compelling display of fluidity and movement where a bear lies submissive under its captors. The tension established here by overt displays of power and dominance is part of the artist’s repertoire of themes exploring society, politics, sexuality and religion. His dreamlike paintings act as a conduit to raise discussion on civil unrest and to provoke challenging thought in the assumed narrative.


    El Greco, The Disrobing of Christ or El Expolio, detail, 1577-1579, Toledo Cathedral, Castilla y Leon. Image: Luisa Ricciarini / Bridgeman Images
    El Greco, The Disrobing of Christ or El Expolio, detail, 1577-1579, Toledo Cathedral, Castilla y Leon. Image: Luisa Ricciarini / Bridgeman Images

    Armitage pays ode to history of art from influences such as Titian, Francisco de Goya, and Paul Gauguin. He admitted that one of his most important exhibition experiences that shaped his practice was a show centred around El Greco where he had little background behind the religious paintings. He notes, ‘Paintings just don’t have any meaning. They are what they are, unless you allow them to have that for you. And then they can be extraordinarily profound.’i He thus focused on the pure imagery set before him and drew inspiration from the powerful sentiments he felt. This coupled with his frustration with art historical traditions of colonialism and naïve primitivism fuelled him with the cultural leverage to engage with a creative continuum.

    'Artists have been exploring, basically, the same ideas for thousands upon thousands of years, and it’s the "human experience."' —Michael Armitage

    The son of a Kenyan mother and an English father, Armitage grew up in Nairobi– relocating to the United Kingdom when he was sixteen. Later undergoing training and receiving a BA from the Slade School of Fine Art, London, Armitage completed a postgraduate diploma at the Royal Academy of Arts. Eleven years later, he was celebrated at a solo show in the Royal Academy itself. The critically acclaimed exhibition, Michael Armitage: Paradise Edict ran from May to September in 2021. Exhibited alongside fundamental canvases to his oeuvre were East African artists who were pivotal in his evolution. Michael Armitage has also founded the Nairobi Contemporary Art Institute (NCAI), a non-profit visual arts venue committed to the development and conservation of East African contemporary art. By shaping the landscape of the present whether through visually charged creations or through the establishment of an institutional space true to his heritage, Michael Armitage solidifies his legacy through values he promotes and through the opportunities he brings to fellow artists.

    Michael Armitage: Paradise Edict at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

    i  Martin Hebert, ‘History and Homeland in Michael Armitage’s Luminous, Opaque Paintings,’ Art Review, online

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner




oil on canvas
168 x 243 cm (66 1/8 x 95 5/8 in.)
Painted circa 2006.

Full Cataloguing

£50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for £226,800

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey
Specialist, Head of New Now Sale
+44 20 7318 4084

New Now

London Auction 9 December 2021