Ouattara Watts - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Wednesday, June 22, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “My vision is not bound to a country or a continent; it extends beyond borders and all that can be found on a map. While I use identifiable pictorial elements to be better understood, this project is nevertheless about something much wider. I am painting the Cosmos.” 
    — Ouattara Watts


    In a world of compromise, Outtara Watts has not. Boasting a prolific career spanning five decades, his practice is distinguished by monumental canvases, alongside watercolours, gouaches, drawings, and collages, that connect West African aesthetics with Western modernist sensibilities, a consummate melange of his native graphic traditions with Neo-Expressionism. Naturally, he draws inspiration from the indigenous arts of Africa, but also draws from the pool of post-war abstraction — in particular the work of Rothko, who Watt says ‘touches upon the omniscient, unfolds life, death, man’s place with regards to the deepest of realities’ i.


    Mark Rothko, White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender), 1950
    © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Born Bakari Outtarra in the Ivorian capital Abidjan (referred to all as simply Ouattara), he would study at the esteemed l'École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, in Paris, before a chance encounter with Basquiat would take him to New York, where he has lived and work since. The two quickly became close friends; one could even call them kindred spirits, separated by only 4 years and with their backgrounds intertwining as Ouattara was born in the Ivory Coast, and Basquiat to a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother in Brooklyn. It of course would be Basquiat who gave him his start in New York, introducing him to his network of friends, curators and collectors and crucially landing him the infamous dealer, Vrej Baghoomian.


    A Powerful Constellation


    Intercessor is an accomplished later work by Watts, where we see his diverse practice mature into an assemblage of chromatic variations and a diverse lexicon of geometric shapes and symbols balanced by biometric figures: an intoxication of colour, line and form. Here he departs from the more obvious African iconography of his earlier work — tribal masks, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics — and establishes the vocabulary that would become paramount in his late stage career: mathematical equations (where Basquiat’s influence begins to emerge), diagrams of atoms, earthly tones balanced with brighter accents, and intricate cosmic bursts. Indeed, it is the latter in this compositional agenda, Ouattara’s oneness with the divine, that makes the present lot so bewitching. Bearing the stigmata of this spiritual maximalism, the artist leaves the door open in Intercessor for its audience to draw their own conclusions from its universal consciousness.


    Music forms a considerable component of his artistic process, listening to the likes of John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Fela Kuti to seek out new modes of expression and enabling him to enter a meditative state while painting. Like the notes of a song, Watt then demarcates an analogy of sequences on the canvas, an automatic interaction between artist and medium.


    Ouattara works quickly in his replete Bushwick studio, often on multiple pieces at once in relentless explosions of his creative drive. ‘It’s a kind of dance with the canvas all night in the studio’, he explains ii

    Ouattara’s Time Is Now 


    Like Ernie Barnes (Lot 18), Ouattara is an artist who is undeserved a passing over in the canon of art history. Eschewing strict association with groups or institutions, his story has not been told from the auction lectern nor the lofty white cubes of museum retrospectives, but rather from the principled and virtuous works of a creative ethos that has always marched to the beat of its own drum. Anti-colonial, pure and showered with the mantle of cultural memory, the artist bends for no man or movement. As with all his compositions, Intercessor is a defiant battle cry against the assumed pre-eminence of the Western world, one that rips through the cosmos with a mastery over colour and form, and a profound spirituality.


    Collectors Digest 


    Watts has been involved in notable exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (2021); Espace Paul Rebeyrolles, France (2019); Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, Abidjan (2018); Dakar Biennale of Contemporary African Art, Dakar, Senegal (2018); Venice Biennale, Venice (2017); La Villette, Paris (2017); National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.(2006); Documenta 11, Kassel, Germany (2002); and the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial, New York (2002), among others.


    His work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York; Smithsonian National Museum of African American Art, Washington, D.C.; The Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire; Collection Mohammed IV, Morocco; Fondation Dapper, Paris, France; Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Saratoga Springs, New York; and the UC Berkeley Museum of Art and Film Archive, Berkeley, California, among others.


    Currently, Watts has a solo show at Karma Gallery, who he is represented by, Paintings, in New York.


    Outtara Watts, quoted in Hafida Jemni, ‘Sounding Out Painting: A Conversation with Ouattara Watts’ for Ouattara Watts: Before Looking at This Work, Listen to It, Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, Abidjan, 2019, online

    ii Outtara Watts, quoted in ‘Maximum Impact: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie on the art of Ouattara Watts’, Artforum, September 2021, online

    • Provenance

      Karma, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner



signed, titled, dated and inscribed '2003 N.Y. OuattARA WAttS NEW YORK "iNTERCESSOR" OuattARA WAttS Ouattara 2003' on the reverse
mixed media on canvas
181.6 x 151.1 cm. (71 1/2 x 59 1/2 in.)
Executed in 2003.

Full Cataloguing

HK$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for HK$1,134,000

Contact Specialist

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 22 June 2022