Noah Davis - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Wednesday, November 13, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “My paintings just have a very personal relationship with the figures in them. They’re about the people around me. I want people to read them like this whilst taking a meaning of their own from each work.” – Noah Davis

    Although his life and career were tragically cut short by a rare form of cancer at the age of 32, artist Noah Davis made a powerful and lasting impact on the art world. Remembered for his psychologically-driven figurative paintings which strived to convey the everyday lives of African Americans outside of popular stereotypes, Davis honed his signature aesthetic through an informal education in art. After dropping out of Cooper Union, New York, Davis moved to Los Angeles where he forged relationships with fellow artists, gallerists and collectors. In 2010, he and his wife Karon established the Underground Museum, a non-profit exhibition space in the Arlington Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, where he fulfilled his vision of creating compelling and challenging installations and establishing a cultural hub in an area of the city previously lacking this type of access. Former MOCA curator Helen Molesworth describes the late artist’s influence: “Noah is an important artist because he occupies the term 'artist' in the largest possible way: an incredibly accomplished painter, he is also a profound visionary—dreaming up the idea of the Underground Museum and then physically enacting that dream against all odds" (Helen Molesworth, “Noah Davis dies at 32; L.A. painter and installation artist”, Los Angeles Times, August 30, 2015, online).

    Painted in 2007-08, Single Mother with Father out of the Picture is an intimate portrait of a mother and daughter in an interior setting, going about their everyday lives. Though the artist’s subjects are African American, Davis remarks, “Race plays a role in as far as my figures are black. The paintings aren’t political at all though. If I’m making any statement, it’s to just show black people in normal scenarios” (Noah Davis, quoted in Dazed Digital, February 9, 2010, online). Poignantly capturing the banality of everyday life, Davis’ paintings convey a depth of emotion precisely because the scenes he chooses to portray are so personal. While the artist depicts a family at home, the father is notably absent. Yet, to the right of the composition, a frame resting on a table alludes to a picture of a male figure, potentially a father, which the artist has purposefully chosen to obscure through his cropping of the composition. In this way, his paintings stand in as narrator for forgotten or suppressed moments in American history as told through a distinctly modern lens.

    Davis’ varied source imagery includes photographs, art historical references and his own imagination. He has described his works as “instances where black aesthetics and modernist aesthetics collide,” and, indeed, this composition pays homage to modern master Henri Matisse’s signature interior scenes like Intérieur aux aubergines, 1911, with its flattened space and fantastic colors and patterns, which highlight the conditions of everyday living in their emotional rendering (Noah Davis, quoted in ARTnews, August 30, 2015, online).

    A paradigm of Davis’ far too-short career, Single Mother with Father out of the Picture is a quintessential representation of the artist’s aesthetic and social concerns. Eschewing easy categorization, Davis functions simultaneously as historian, surrealist, storyteller, comic and sentimentalist in this intimate portrait, which challenges stereotypical cultural classifications.

Property of an Important Californian Collector


Single Mother with Father out of the Picture

signed and titled "Noah Davis Single Mother w/ father out of the picture" on the reverse
oil and acrylic on canvas
40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm.)
Painted in 2007-08.

$40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for $168,750

Contact Specialist
Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York
+ 1 212 940 1250

20th C. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 13 November 2019