Michaela Yearwood-Dan - Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Tuesday, May 14, 2024 | Phillips

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  • Executed in 2021, Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s Freedom don’t come for free is the British artist’s largest work to come to market and explores the costs of liberty, both material and emotional. Through a diverse mix of acrylic, oil, gold leaf, and Swarovski crystals, Yearwood-Dan creates a visually striking representation that merges expressionism with contemporary mixed-media techniques. Both deeply personal and distinctly political, the present work embodies the artist’s expansive vision that reflects her own experience as a Black queer woman. 

    “My practice is oriented towards self-historicization, primarily through large-scale abstract painting… I create works that reference plants and poetry, and explore themes ranging from political dissection to personal narrative.”
    —Michaela Yearwood-Dan

    Yearwood-Dan’s statement that her practice is "oriented towards self-historicization” reflects the artist’s commitment to exploring a range of themes: from political and collective to personal histories, she employs painting as a means to navigate and question the socio-political landscape and delve into the intimate corners of individual experience. Her preference for large-scale abstract painting, as evidenced in the present work, speaks to her ambition to confront and engage with vast topics, both spatially and conceptually. The sheer size of such works creates an immersive experience for the viewer, while also acting as a metaphor for the magnitude of the themes she tackles—here, the nature of freedom and the sacrifices it entails.


    Cy Twombly, The Rose (Part V), 2008. The Broad, Los Angeles. Artwork: © Cy Twombly Foundation

     The references to plants and poetry within Yearwood-Dan’s works indicate a synthesis of the natural world with the literary.  She merges the organic with the constructed to foster a dialogue about the transient nature of life and the quest for meaning. This intersection is particularly resonant in Freedom don’t come for free, where the presence of flora—as evinced by floral hues and sweeping brushstrokes that curve and swirl into organic shapes reminiscent of leaves, petals, and lush blossoms—connects to discussions around beauty and impermanence, as well as to natural cycles of growth and decay. These elements serve as metaphors for human experience, while the extracts of poetry inscribed within speak to the human longing for liberation and the complexities of emotional expression. Like a call and response, fragments of loopy, disjointed handwritten cursive text question, “When will I finally figure out what it is to be free?” while others declare in capital letters “I’M STILL ME // MAYBE MORE SO THAN BEFORE / BUT I REFUSE TO / LEAVE ANY OF MY / IDENTITIES AT THE DOOR.”


    The scattered lines of text, seemingly reflective and personal, introduce a narrative element and provide a glimpse into the artist's internal dialogue and emotional state. This textual component transforms the painting into a multidimensional expression, where the rhythm of twisting, spreading, swirling colors take on subtextual nuance in the context of language. Moreover, Yearwood-Dan’s use of contrasting colors and forms creates an almost landscape-like feel, offering a sense of depth and layering that one might associate with a densely packed garden or a crowded rose bush. This is turn contributes to the suggestion of plant-life and floral forms that is discernible through organic shapes and the way colors bloom and intermingle on the canvas, much like the natural growth patterns of flora.


    Hilma af Klint, The Ten Greatest, No. 3, Young Age, Group IV, 1907. The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Stockholm.

    The addition of Swarovski crystals as surface elements serves as a form of what the artist calls “accessorization,” a technique that harkens back to Yearwood-Dan's upbringing in South London and her exposure to gold-inflected religious iconography within a Catholic educational setting. The embellishment is a nod to a broader art historical context that commenced with religious iconography and has since persisted across various cultures. Here, they signify affluence but also connect to a deeper history of spiritual and artistic expression. As seen in the present work, her compositions frequently feature a distinct void at their core, resembling a gateway. In a manner reminiscent of “grand frescoes and the Sistine Chapel and the movements of big skies and unearthly visions,” as she describes, her work echoes these majestic art forms while conveying a far more intimate and personal sentiment. She articulates this personal aspect as the “diaristic, self-historicization of the emotions and feelings I’m going through.”i


    Yearwood-Dan’s Freedom don’t come for free possesses a Renaissance-like opulence. Her nuanced lines and sumptuous color evoke shades of Sandro Botticelli, while also revealing the influence of Black artists like Chris Ofili. In fact, it was her first encounter with Ofili’s work that inspired her to begin her journey as an artist. "Everyone talks about representation, but there are some moments of representation that do shake you to the core, and for me, it was discovering Chris Ofili at age 16 or 17," she explained.ii


    Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach 2 Quilt, 1990. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania. Image: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by W. B. Dixon Stroud, 1992, 1992-100-1, Artwork: © 2024 Faith Ringgold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

    Freedom don’t come for free is not only a spectacle of visual and textual narrative but also a sophisticated interplay of the artist's personal and political insights, her cultural heritage, and her technical prowess. It is a vivid portrayal of the intrinsic, often exorbitant cost of freedom, both in a metaphorical sense and in its literal embodiment through the materials and labor that constitute the artwork. It challenges the viewer to introspect about the value of freedom in a world that often sees it as a commodity rather than an inalienable right. Through the layered abstraction and complex composition of this painting, Yearwood-Dan prompts us to contemplate the nature of freedom and the sacrifices made in its name, as conveyed by the visual stream of her consciousness.

    Collector’s Digest


    • In October 2022, Coping Mechanisms, 2021, sold through Phillips in London for £239,400 GBP, setting an auction record for the artist at the time of sale.
    • Recent solo exhibitions include the 2023 presentation Some Future Time Will Think of Us at Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York and The Sweetest Taboo, staged in 2022 at Tiwani Contemporary in London.
    • In Summer 2022, Yearwood-Dan created the site-specific installation Let Me Hold You for QUEERCIRCLE charity in London, which provides a dedicated space for the LGBTQ+ community to gather.
    • She has been awarded with and participated in a range of fellowships and residencies, including the third annual Great Women Artists Residency in 2021 at Palazzo Monti in Brescia, Italy, and Bloomberg New Contemporaries in Partnership with Sarabande: The Lee Alexander McQueen Foundation, London, in 2019.
    • Yearwood-Dan's work is in the permanent collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami, and the Columbus Museum of Art.


    i Tess Thackera, "Cultured | Beyond Their Lavish Aesthetic, Michaela Yearwood-Dan's Paintings Make You Feel," Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York, online.

    ii Boesky, Ibid.

    • Provenance

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

    • Exhibited

      Nottingham, New Art Exchange, Laced: In Search of What Connects Us, October 30, 2021–January 8, 2022

    • Literature

      Hannah Clugston, “Burps, branches and bold exploration – Laced/Cut & Mix review,” The Guardian, November 1, 2021, online (detail illustrated)
      Lauren Dei, “The Black Feminine and Black Masculine Principles of Selfhood,” Black Blossoms, December 9, 2021, online (New Art Exchange, Nottingham, 2021, installation view illustrated)
      “‘Laced: In Search of What Connects Us’ at New Art Exchange in Nottingham,” TSA Contemporary Art Magazine, December 13, 2021, online (illustrated)


Freedom don't come for free

signed, titled and dated ""freedom don't come for free" 2021 Michaela Yearwood-Dan" on the reverse of the left canvas
acrylic, oil, gold leaf and Swarovski crystals on canvas, diptych
each 86 1/2 x 71 in. (219.7 x 180.3 cm)
overall 86 1/2 x 142 in. (219.7 x 360.7 cm)

Executed in 2021.

Full Cataloguing

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $381,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206

Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 May 2024