Robin F. Williams - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Friday, October 6, 2023 | Phillips
  • "I've been painting women that I like to think of as zombie nudes. They are reanimations of nudes from art history or pop culture."
    — Robin F. Williams



    Sentient Portraiture


    Renowned for her vividly cerebral portraits of commanding female figures, Robin F. Williams' paintings explore the complex interplay between gender and power in American visual culture. After discovering Édouard Manet's infamous Olympia in high school, the Ohio-born artist swiftly produced her own rendition, feeling compelled to defend its virtue in an accompanying essay. This formative experience planted the seeds for Williams' decades-long examination into representations of womankind. Throughout her practice, Williams has sought to challenge ingrained assumptions of gender and sexuality through depictions of cultural female icons she terms 'readymade nudes.' Renditions of characters like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Ariel, and Farrah Fawcett examine the objectification and limited narratives imposed on these familiar faces. As the artist explains, her zombie-esque subjects exude an almost manic self-awareness in contrast to the oblivious availability of traditional nudes. i



    Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Grande Odalisque, 1814
    Collection of the Louvre Museum, Paris



    "I feel like [traditional] nudes, by definition, are not aware or if they are aware, it’s of no consequence. How they function for us culturally is that their persona—their nakedness—is an outfit. Their availability to us is a skin that they’re wearing."
    — Robin F. Williams


    Now based in Brooklyn, the 39-year-old Rhode Island School of Design graduate continues to draw inspiration from her youthful fascinations - from French masters like Manet to vintage advertisements to the male gaze's ubiquity across high and low realms. Fusing representational painting with commercial aesthetics, Williams deftly maps the pervasive objectification of the female form across institutional and consumerist landscapes. Her layered references and stylistic mashups invite the viewers to simply enjoy her dramatic compositions and textures on a visual level. She relishes uniting seemingly disparate elements into compelling new hybrids. For Williams, the idea is 'to paint a disturbing or subversive affect, something hard to interpret, and making that what draws the viewer in.' ii Many of her current pieces appropriate and re-contextualize found photographs and media images, yet alter them in thought-provoking ways.



    Britney Spears’ Performance


    Britney Spears I'm a Slave 4 U at the 2001 VMAs


    As exemplified in the present lot, Leave Britney Alone is based on Britney Spears’ captivating performance of 'I’m a Slave 4 U' at the 2001 VMAs, where she slinked across the stage flourishing a yellow serpent named Banana, cementing the ritualistic, animalistic overtones of the spectacle. It is this charged VMA moment that forms the basis of this painting, unveiled at Frieze London in 2019. Deriving its title from YouTube celebrity Chris Crocker’s 2007 viral video 'Leave Britney Alone', the painting depicts Spears locked in an ophidian embrace, flashing the artist's signature ghoulish grin while her body is rendered in blue and red polka dots. She wears the snake like a scaly couture gown, its lurid green and yellow hues matching the pop star's own slinky performance look.


    In portraying Spears, Williams focuses on her power and complexity at the height of her celebrity. The portrait blends Spears' femme fatale VMA persona with a Paparazzi-facing fury from later that same year. Williams also integrates craft techniques from amateur YouTube tutorials, which she used to achieve the marbling effect on the snake, linking Spears' own creative pursuits with quotidian domesticity. Williams deftly channels these layers into a singular portrait, a nuanced reflection on Britney Spears as both cultural construct and fallible human. As the artist says, her aim is to add to the conversation, not simply extract another piece of the pop star. iii Through her adept integration of digital and analog elements, Williams manifests 21st century figures that compellingly straddle the threshold between human and artificial construct.



    i Samuel Anderson, ‘At Frieze, “Leave Britney Alone!”’, Garage, 6 October 2019, online

    ii Robin F. Williams, quoted in Megan N. Liberty, ‘Robin F. Williams: Model Behavior’, Juxtapoz Magazine, online

    iii Robin F. Williams, quoted in Samuel Anderson, ‘At Frieze, “Leave Britney Alone!”’, Garage, 6 October 2019, online

    • Provenance

      P·P·O·W Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Robin F. Williams

      Robert F. Williams (b. 1984) received her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2006. She draws inspiration from popular culture, trends from major social media platforms, advertising, and cinema to challenge societal stereotypes and expectations, particularly around the representation of women.

       She has presented solo exhibitions at P·P·O·W, New York, NY; Various Small Fires, Los Angeles, CA; Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington, MA; and Jack the Pelican Presents, Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions nationally and internationally including Present Generations, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; Bitter Nest, Galerie Perrotin, Tokyo, Japan; XENIA: Crossroads in Portrait Painting, Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York, NY; Nicolas Party: Pastel, Flag Art Foundation, New York, NY; SEED, curated by Yvonne Force, Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, NY; and more. Her work is currently in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Collection Majudia, Montreal, Canada; Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, FL; X Museum, Beijing, China; among others. Her work was recently on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, FL in Fire Figure Fantasy: Selections from ICA Miami’s Collection.

      View More Works


Leave Britney Alone

signed with the artist's initials, signed and dated 'RFW Robin F. Williams 2019' on the reverse; further signed and inscribed 'Robin Williams 276 Greenpoint Ave' on the stretcher
oil on canvas
109.2 x 152.4 cm. (42 7/8 x 60 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,700,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for HK$2,286,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 6 October 2023