Rebecca Ness - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 14, 2022 | Phillips
  • "I felt a responsibility to document our time"
    —Rebecca Ness
    Executed in 2020, at the height of the first wave of the global Covid 19 pandemic, the richly painted Pencil Flipper belongs to a body of work produced by American artist Rebecca Ness documenting this strange time. Diaristic and deeply personal, these paintings nevertheless communicate universal feelings of isolation and the comfort of the quotidian that have been especially acute during this period of our recent history. Working from photographs that ‘allow me to create a backbone and architecture to the piece that is based on actual perspective’, Ness works up her images with remarkable attention to detail and inventive additions.i Included in Pieces of Mind -  the artist’s 2020 exhibition with Nino Mier Gallery in Los Angeles - the present work is a playfully reflective piece that records our shared historical moment, and the conflicting sensations it brought with it.


    Painting, Interrupted


    Representing the artist’s major debut, when Ness started working on the paintings that would be included in Pieces of Mind she had initially envisioned canvases full of people and activity, documents of our public lives as fundamentally social creatures. As the artist explains though, ‘once the pandemic hit, these paintings started to feel forced and didn’t match the reality of the world outside the studio.’ii Turning instead to her immediate environment, Ness created quietly intimate works of her domestic everyday; portraits of herself and her partner, their shared home and the artist’s empty studio space and the ephemera of domestic lives including piles of tea cups, group video calls, newspapers, and art materials. Executed on a large scale, these works capture the strange duality between the sudden contraction of our world to the size of our living room and the expansive sense of time stretching out before us.


    Detail of the present work
    Detail of the present work

    Unlike other works from the series which take a wider angle on the interior spaces of her home and studio and document the material objects that took on a new resonance as our world got suddenly much smaller, Pencil Flipper is a closely cropped portrait of the artist absent-mindedly passing a pencil from one hand to the other, an otherwise unremarkable diversion that is afforded special attention here. Set against an empty, shifting blue background detailed with rapid cross-hatchings the portrait speaks poignantly to the highly relatable feelings of boredom, introspection, and isolation that have defined this period for so many, while also introducing an optimistic note of newly discovered joy in the simplest of pleasures. For Ness, whose partner is a surgery resident at New Haven Hospital, these paintings also bring to light certain anxieties provoked by the pandemic, especially for loved ones who might be put at risk. In this context, the perpetually flipping pen acts like a metronome, counting down the hours until her partner returns to the safety of their home.


    Giacomo Balla, Dynamism of a Dog on a Lead, 1912, Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo
    Giacomo Balla, Dynamism of a Dog on a Lead, 1912, Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo. Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: DACS, London 2022

    Visually referencing the chronographic experiments of Eadweard Muybridge, Pencil Flipper captures the arc of a pencil tossed from one hand to another simultaneously representing the successive phases of motion on a single picture plane. Finding ways of visually capturing the speed and dynamism of the modern age emerged as a central preoccupation of early 20th century avant-garde groups such as the Italian Futurists, who introduced techniques such as blurring, strong diagonal lines, and multiplication to generate a sense of rapid movement. While Pencil Flipper draws close to the playful decomposition of movement into moments in time animating paintings such as Giacomo Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Lead, Ness also introduces a note of irony here, adopting visual references typically used to describe the bustling urban metropolis in order to explore the experience of lockdown. Held within our homes, the small movements of our bodies became suddenly monumental, a sense of which Ness captures in the scale and awkward cropping of her work.


    A document of its time which, in turn, deconstructs our experience of time, Ness’ densely layered and boldly detailed painting elevates small gestures, deconstructing the seemingly insignificant or fleeting moment into a powerful visual document of our times. Like contemporaries including Jonas Wood and Doron Langberg, Ness’ paintings offer tender and careful observations of intimate spaces and the objects we share our everyday lives with.


    Collector’s Digest


    • Since completing her MFA with Yale School of Art in 2019, Rebecca Ness has been gaining critical attention for her large-scale works focused on moments of everyday life and personal experience.


    • Representing the artist’s evening sale debut, the present work was included in her major 2020 presentation Pieces of Mind with Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles.


    • More recently, Ness has presented work in solo exhibitions with Galerie Marguo in Paris and Carl Kostyál Gallery in London.


    i Rebecca Ness, quoted in ‘Pieces of Mind: Rebecca Ness’ Detailed Stunners @ Nino Mier, Los Angeles’, Juxapoz, 10 July 2020, online
    ii Rebecca Ness, quoted in ‘Pieces of Mind: Rebecca Ness’ Detailed Stunners @ Nino Mier, Los Angeles’, Juxapoz, 10 July 2020, online.

    • Provenance

      Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Los Angeles, Nino Mier Gallery, Rebecca Ness: Pieces of Mind, 10 July – 31 August 2020


Pencil Flipper

signed, titled and dated ‘“PENCIL FLIPPER” Rebecca Ness R. Ness 2020’ on the reverse; titled ‘Pencil Flipper Pencil Flipper’ on the stretcher
oil on linen
229.9 x 210.2 cm (90 1/2 x 82 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2020.

Full Cataloguing

£30,000 - 50,000 

Sold for £119,700

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 14 October 2022