Sarah Cunningham - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Friday, October 6, 2023 | Phillips
  • “Paint behaves like it is an organic material, like water pouring down a wall, a waterfall or rain. It has a fluidity that most other mediums do not have. I often describe the act of painting as "wild swimming" or "free diving" with the body as much as the mind.”
    — Sarah Cunningham

    Born in 1993, British artist Sarah Cunningham has captured the attention of the art world, celebrated as an artistic force to be reckoned with for her gestural paintings of psychological landscapes imbued with poetic and intuitive approaches. In just two short years following her graduation from the prestigious Royal College of Art in London with a Master’s Degree in Painting, where she was awarded the Alkazzi Scholarship Award, Cunningham’s work has already been honoured with successful solo shows at leading international galleries. Most recently, this has included with Lisson Gallery in London (July – August 2023) and Almine Rech in New York (February – March 2022).


    Arresting in its stylistic virtuosity, Lunar Phase is a prime example Cunningham’s semi-abstract landscapes composed of richly vibrant colours and expressive swirls of paint. With every corner of the surface activated by writhing, protean brushstrokes, the work’s energy is palpable, conjured by streaks of burgundy and teal which intermingle with verdant shocks of olive and milky aquamarine. As the work shifts relentlessly in and out of focus between figuration and abstraction, the eye is first drawn to the upper left quadrant. There, the titular moon emits an ethereal glow onto undulating waves below, which dissolve in and out of each other and the horizon line which feels just out of reach.


    Detail of the present painting


    Cunningham's paintings, though void of literal depictions of tropical fauna, mesmerise with their portrayal of the chaotic yet balanced beauty of nature’s intricate layers. As the artist eloquently explains, ‘there's always a struggle when you think about the forest… you’d initially believe everything is working together, but all the plants are fighting to survive, fighting to get light.’i But amidst the vibrant chaos, strategically placed pockets of empty space provide a serene sanctuary, beckoning the viewer to pause, contemplate, and immerse themselves in the captivating world Cunningham puts before us.


    In fact, the influence Cunningham finds from the forest, fauna, and nature, traverses beyond the compositional, as the process in creating her paintings mirrors nature’s daily rhythms too. Using heavily loaded brushwork as well as swathes of glazing and washes, Cunningham applies and removes pigment with tools ranging from palette knives to weathered rags. Often painting late into the night, she pushes and pulls paint across the canvas using similar methods employed by Lucas Arruda or Cecily Brown. As layers of pigment are deposited, removed, and applied anew, her visceral technique exposes channels of colour and light. The result is a complex visual tapestry that unfolds itself slowly, existing as an ‘attempt to inhabit the space of an in-between, an interval between 'worlds'.


    The artist in her studio
    Image Courtesy of Fabula Images.


    Born in Nottingham and now living in London, it was during Cunningham’s 2018 experience at La Wayaka Current Artist Residency in Armila, Panama, where forests and nature started to become prominent motifs in her paintings. There, she even began adding wooden sticks and branches to her brushes as a means extend her arm’s length or alter her natural movement, as she experimented with different ways of mark making.


    Marking the artist’s debut at auction in Asia, Lunar Phase was first unveiled in 2021 at the group exhibition, Diaries of a Climate, at Baert Gallery in London. In May 2023, Phillips debuted the artist at international auction with her work, Moonlight Reflecting Petals (2020), which achieved a remarkable USD 120,650 against a pre-auction estimate of USD 20,000 – 30,000.


    Sarah Cunningham, Moonlight Reflecting Petals, 2020
    Sold by Phillips New York for USD 120,650 on 16 May 2023


    i Sarah Cunningham in Alexis Schwartz, 'Painter Sarah Cunningham Does Her Best Work at Night', Cultured, March 3, 2022, online


    • Provenance

      Baert Gallery, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in March 2021

    • Exhibited

      Los Angeles, Baert Gallery, Diaries of a Climate, 9 March - 1 May 2021

Property of a Distinguished Private Collector


Lunar Phase

signed, titled and dated '"Lunar Phase" 2020 Sarah Cunningham S.Cunningham' on the overlap
oil on canvas
179.8 x 130.1 cm. (70 3/4 x 51 1/4 in.)
Painted in 2020.

Full Cataloguing

HK$350,000 - 550,000 

Sold for HK$533,400

Contact Specialist

Anastasia Salnikoff
Head of Day Sale, Associate Specialist
+852 2318 2014

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 7 October 2023