Ouattara Watts - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, June 30, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'The basis of my work is spirituality, meditation carried by music as a motor for painting. For me, music is like the sun, it is light and energy. She puts the receptors on edge.' —Ouattara Watts

    Executed in 1997, 1.For Miles is an exemplar of Ouattara Watts’ acclaimed painterly practice that explores themes of spirituality, music, and universalism through his unique brand of Pan-Africanism. In the present work, Watts collages the cover of the 1965 album ‘My Funny Valentine: Miles Davis in Concert’ over a painted pattern of black-and-white squares set against an expansive field of green and orange field, uniting the disparate elements into a coherent whole with a red cross that runs through the composition. Nodding to some of his greatest artistic and musical influences,  1For Miles. For Miles arrives to auction amidst the artist’s critical rise on the international art scene with a recent show at Karma, New York this past April and his new representation by Almine Rech announced in May 2022.


    Ouattara Watts in his Brooklyn studio. Photo: Robert Lakow
    Ouattara Watts in his Brooklyn studio. Image: © Robert Lakow

    Best known for his large-scale canvases that incorporate found objects and photographs, cryptic signs and symbols, and painterly vibrancy, Watts draws inspiration from a range of influences as wide as his visual vocabulary—from Jean-Michel Basquiat to Pablo Picasso, Kazimir Malevich to Mark Rothko, jazz to polyphonic pygmy music, African mysticism to Egyptology—channeled through his singular sensibility and cross-cultural identity. Born in the Ivory Coast and based in New York, Watts studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 1980s before moving to New York in 1989—where he is based to this day—upon the insistence of Jean-Michel Basquiat, with whom he formed a brief but pivotal friendship before the American artist’s tragic death the year before. Watts and Basquiat met in January 1988 at the latter’s exhibition Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris, soon after which Basquiat would begin purchasing the artist’s paintings and convince Watts to relocate to America. The two painters bonded over their shared interest in African culture, spirituality and philosophy, and music above all, and traveled together to New Orleans where Basquiat showed Watts the voodoo museum and jazz festival, which would have a profound impact on the artist and materialises in  1. For Miles


    Jean-Michel Basquiat, Trumpet, 1984. Image: Adagp Images, Paris / Scala, Florence, Artwork: © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022
    Jean-Michel Basquiat, Trumpet, 1984. Image: Adagp Images, Paris / Scala, Florence, Artwork: © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022

    'His paintings are sonorous, they make noise, they generate rhythms but they also produce silence, contemplation, meditation. As do the musicians that the painter listens to.' —Gaya Goldcymer

    Here, the black-and-white squares in a checkerboard pattern recalls those frequently seen on the planks of West African masks symbolising the division of light and dark, good and evil, knowledge and ignorance. Painting over the image of Miles Davis, Watts appears to render him with an elongated headdress and beard as if to situate the jazz icon as an ancient Egyptian deity. Embodying the three M’s that curator Stéphane Vacquier posed to characterise Watts’ art—'the Music, the Medium, the Matter’—the present work also captures how the act of painting is critical to the artist’s programme.i ‘Body to body, with the painting, always with music in the ear or in the head, Ouattara paints. He paints and paces his gesture as the composer and the musician punctuate their ca­dences,’ as Gaya Goldcymer observed. ‘The paintings of Ouattara unfold like immense parchments where images are drawn, they are read like immense partitions where are written silences, quarters of silences, pauses, triples and quadruple quavers. As many signs that are as many sounds. It is this link that one experiments when one is faced with the paintings of Ouattara: the unwavering link between image and sound, between figure and rhythm, between grapheme and colour’ii In  1 For Miles, splashes of white paint echo improvised syncopation, while the stretch of red vibrates a sonorous ring that reverberates throughout the composition.


    Kazimir Malevich, Red Cross on Black Circle, 1920-1927. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Image: © Fine Art Images / Bridgeman Images


    Watts’ incorporation of a red band recalls the influence of Kazimir Malevich on the artist’s work. ‘Malevich had a huge effect on me; he is one of the artists who helped me spiritually. There is something beyond religion,’ the artist explained. ‘My influences come from around the world. The very notion of African spirituality is what helped me.’iii The present work epitomises Watts’ words, as the green-and-orange ground recalls the colors of the Ivory Coast flag, while his inclusion of the red cross at once further recalls other flags of the world and materialises the notion of universalism so paramount to the artist’s practice. As Watts expressed, ‘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.’iv


    Collector’s Digest


    • Watts’ work resides in institutional collections around the globe, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C., Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, among others.


    • The artist’s world record was recently achieved in May 2022 in New York at $781,2000, soaring and surpassing 14 times over the previous record set in 2019.

    i Stéphane Vacquier, quoted in Jean-Paul Sportiello, ‘Ouattara Watts, the voodoo child of painting at the Rebeyrolle space in Eymoutiers’ (‘Ouattara Watts, l'enfant vaudou de la peinture à l'espace Rebeyrolle d'Eymoutiers’), Le Populaire, July 6, 2019.
    ii Gaya Goldcymer, ‘Ouattara: Master of Fire,” trans. Jonathan Taïeb, in Ouattara Watts: Before Looking at This Work, Listen to It, (exh. cat.), Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, Abidjan, 2019, online.  
    iii Quattara Watts, quoted in Olivia Anani, ‘Quattara Watts: Interview,’ Something We Africans Got, no. 6, November 2018.
    iv Quattara Watts, quoted in Thomas McEvilley, Fusion: West African Artists at the Venice Biennale, (exh. cat.), The Museum for African Art, New York, 1993, p. 81.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


№ 1 For Miles

signed, titled and dated ‘№1 FOR MILES OUATTARA WATTS Ouattara 1997’
oil, paper and tape on canvas
214.6 x 151.4 cm (84 1/2 x 59 5/8 in.)
Executed in 1997.

Full Cataloguing

£80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for £113,400

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
+44 7391 402741
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Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 30 June 2022