Titus Kaphar - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 20, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Overview

    'I was so focused on art history because so much of what was being told to me —'the canon'— had so many glaring absences that were very loud to me. So my work, from the beginning, really looked at those absences.' —Titus Kaphar 


    Depicting a black man standing next to the silhouette of a seated other, Alternate Endings is a magnificent painterly manifestation of Titus Kaphar’s diverse oeuvre, focusing on the long-overlooked presence (or absence) of black figures in the Western canon. The image, drenched in meandering cobalt blues, reveals Kaphar’s idiosyncratic portrayal of presence and absence, whereby what is shown is as essential as what is concealed. Fully discernible to the viewer in comparison to his meekly delineated counterpart, the protagonist in the composition wears an attire that is suggestive of a servant’s uniform in 16th century Netherlands, thereby addressing themes of dislocation, colonialism, and thorny Western legacies. Having come into the limelight soon after Time magazine commissioned him in 2014 to make a painting for one of its ‘Person of the Year’ finalists, Kaphar has since accumulated an impressive array of solo presentations, including, most recently, a highly acclaimed exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, in 2019.


    Having taught himself how to paint by going to museums and studying historical paintings, Kaphar has been known to utilise visual strategies employed by European classicists – Rembrandt, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet – to rewrite antiquated narratives of cultural empowerment. Specifically, he has mentioned the importance of Frans Hals’ iconic sense of composition in his oeuvre, which focuses on preeminent, wealthy white subjects, with the occasional timid inclusion of a black servant. However, ‘It becomes quite obvious’, he remarks, ‘that if I'm going to learn how to paint a self-portrait by studying those [classicists], I'm going to be challenged when it comes to mixing my skin or mixing the skin of those people in my family. There's literally formulas written down historically to tell me how to paint white skin -- what colors I should use for the underpainting, what colors I should use for the impasto highlights. That doesn't really exist for dark skin’.i Blurring out the physical specificities of certain subjects to highlight the presence of frequently omitted others thus not only became Kaphar’s trademark strategy to enable Black visibility; it furthermore became a tool to challenge traditional readings of a picture. 


     'The only real thing that exists in the painting is the absence, the hole.' —Titus KapharThrough distinct methodologies of shredding, overpainting, and erasing both subject and support, Kaphar has, since graduating from his MFA at Yale University in 2006, built new artistic formulas apprehending Black visibility in figurative art. In Alternate Endings, the obscuring of the seated figure to the left of the composition not only serves as a self-referential element tied to Kaphar’s eclectic practice -- in which he literally cuts human-shaped silhouettes from large paintings and installations -- but also points to the systemic erasure of Black experience from historical narratives. In other words, the two characters in the composition -- one hidden and one almost palpable in verisimilitude -- together account for the diminished or dislodged identities that were either produced or deliberately forgotten by colonialist legacies for centuries. Indeed, Kaphar utilises both realism and abstraction ‘to either emphasise their absence or to get you to focus on the other folks in the composition’.ii The painting process itself, alternating between unfilled contours and complete objects and figures, becomes the embodiment of the ongoing struggle for visibility, while the saturated, artificial coloration running over the expanse of the composition adds further tension to the iconographic battle between what is there and what is not.  


    Titus Kaphar in His Studio



    i Titus Kaphar, quoted in ‘Can beauty open our hearts to difficult conversations?’, TED.com, June 2020, reproduced online.
    ii Titus Kaphar, quoted in ‘Can beauty open our hearts to difficult conversations?’, TED.com, June 2020, reproduced online.

    • Provenance

      Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Titus Kaphar

      Titus Kaphar’s work questions the nature of history and its representations in the past and today. By altering the materiality of his paintings, sculptures, and installations, Kaphar subverts conventional understandings of historical representations and exposes the uncomfortable and troubling realities of the racism in America’s past. Kaphar’s examinations of historical representations and the omissions of such representations encourage viewers to question their own relationships to history and understandings of the past. He strives to dislodge history from the past and to promote its relevance in the world today. 

      Kaphar’s work has received considerable acclaim, and his paintings have graced two covers of Time magazine. He is the recipient of a 2018 MacArthur Fellowship and his work is represented in such institutions as the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, and the Perez Art Museum Miami. He lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.

      View More Works


Alternate Endings

signed and dated 'Kaphar 16' on the reverse
oil on canvas mounted on panel
199 x 121.9 cm (78 3/8 x 47 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

£60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for £466,200

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020