Sarah Cunningham - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips
  • In Moonlight Reflecting Petals, 2020, Cunningham applies broad, sweeping strokes to her canvas, permeating the boundary between representation and abstraction. The young British artist garners inspiration from the rivers, mountains and flora of tropical landscapes, depicting light and movement with vibrant hues. Each work evokes a specific story about patterns of order and disarray in nature, employing shapes that are recognizable but hard to capture in other mediums. The present example is painted with colors that bleed into one another to create a watery composition that recalls a dark, dreamy vision.


    Cunningham created Moonlight Reflecting Petals in 2020, two years after her pivotal experience at the La Wayaka Current Artist Residency in Armila, Panama in 2018. In the few years after earning her BFA from Loughborough University in 2015 Cunningham held several day jobs while her artistic practice was relegated to an entirely nocturnal schedule. The residency, located in the remote rainforest of the Guna Yala province, proved transformational. While there, she notably attended dream ceremonies with indigenous community members where they discussed their dreams communally. “The way they interpreted their dreams was so informative for me,” Cunningham recalled. “I don't have a dream then make a painting based on that, but I’ve noticed there is a dream somewhere in the painting, often halfway through or towards the end of my process.”i


    Created while Cunningham pursued her M.A. in Painting at the Royal College of Art in London, Moonlight Reflecting Petals demonstrates Cunningham’s sustained engagement with the natural world and dreamlike states of consciousness. Even after her decision to pursue painting full-time, Cunningham continues to paint most often from late at night to the early morning hours. She has described this routine as allowing her to access another dimension in her work. Deliberately structuring her working process to access altered states of consciousness, Cunningham demonstrates remarkable painterly virtuosity and sense of colors, as exemplified in the present work. Here, she employs deep purples, blues and yellows to illustrate the saturated appearance of a floral landscape under a twilight sky. The magenta petals stretch across the top of the canvas until they encounter vertical strokes of purple and splashy periwinkle in a composition that superbly demonstrates Cunningham’s ability to paint the harmony and chaos of nature, dreams and the subconscious.


    Sarah Cunningham received enthusiastic praise for her 2022 exhibition In Its Daybreak, Rising at Almine Rech Gallery. She will have a highly anticipated solo show with Lisson Gallery in July. Moonlight Reflecting Petals is the debut work at auction for the London-based artist.



    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
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


Moonlight Reflecting Petals

signed, titled and dated ""Moonlight Reflecting Petals" 2020 S. Cunningham Sarah Cunningham" on the overlap
oil on canvas
51 1/8 x 51 1/8 in. (130 x 130 cm)
Painted in 2020.

Full Cataloguing

$20,000 - 30,000 

Sold for $120,650

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig
Specialist, Head of Sale, Afternoon Session
+1 212 940 1279

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023