Toyin Ojih Odutola - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

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  • "When I draw the skin of my subjects, I really want people to travel throughout them. The surface isn’t something I trifle with. In the making of the work, skin is the geography I travel in order to discover each individual and his/her story. With every line I mark up, I map out the territory of their realities."
    —Toyin Ojih Odutola

    Thomas Eakins, Thomas Eakins and John Laurie Wallace on a Beach, ca. 1883. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    An exquisite drawing presenting an intimate portrait of two nude figures in posterior view, Quality Control is a breathtaking example of Toyin Ojih Odutola’s critically acclaimed oeuvre. Celebrated for her reinterpretation and reinvention of traditional portraiture and narrative figuration, Ojih Odutola is best known for her works on paper that that explore the topography of skin through a range of materials such as markers, pencils, pens, and charcoal. Through the artist’s meticulous attention to line, palette, form, these figures—likely adapted from a photograph by Thomas Eakins—transform into a kaleidoscopic study of the relationship between context and perception, mark-making and material. Executed in 2015, the present work was exhibited in Ojih Odutola’s solo show, Of Context and Without, at Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, in 2016. 

    "The act of drawing for me is a cultivating act…Each drawing I create is my way of crafting a home for myself."
    —Toyin Ojih Odutola

    [left] Pablo Picasso, The Embrace, 1903. Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, Image: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Pippo Rizzo, Adam and Eve, 1932. Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome, Image: © Alinari Archives / Art Resource, NY

    Influenced by a vast range of artists including Lucian Freud, John Singer Sargent, Wangechi Mutu, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Ojin Odutola’s work is also informed by her personal history. Born in Ife, Nigeria, in 1985, and raised in Alabama, Ojih Odutola developed a view of the self as inherently multivalent. Investigating the malleability of identity and perception as a recurring theme in her oeuvre, she employs the skin as her vehicle of exploration. On her body of drawings including the present work, the artist explained, “[It] is a play on perception with mark-making, or the “line,” as an agent of identification, and how our attempts at demarcation create more obfuscation than clarity. The central component is the marks that are made to delineate and create singularities within an image...How far could I push it to create something “Other” that felt simultaneously familiar?”i In the present work, the skin of figures are rendered in varying tones of gray, at once evoking unveiled flesh and a topographic map. “In Quality Control,” Ian Bourland observes, “musculature is rendered gelid and orphic, as luminescent washes of cool blues and purples. Race seems suspended here, but that may be incidental—Ojih Odutola’s stunning formalism transports the viewer to invisible somatic topographies beneath and beyond the flesh.”ii

    "The style I employ for the skin is riddled with tensions inherent in the mark-making, and I always like to tease those tensions out slightly, playing with the planes and crevices of the skin’s form—for the skin is a bit of a puzzle I’m trying to solve."
    —Toyin Ojih Odutola

    Michelangelo, Male Nude Seen From the Back With a Flag Staff, ca. 1504. The Albertina Museum, Vienna

    Pushing the possibilities of line and form, Quality Control exemplifies how Ojih Odutola investigates the self through skin while reflexively discovering the skin through her complex mark-making and engagement of materials. “The marks aren’t placed automatically, nor repetitively; they only seem to be,” she elucidates. “When I am drawing the skin, I am mapping out a territory, which seems familiar to me but is always strange and foreign whenever I engage with it. So, I am discovering it as I am drawing out the figure. The tensions that arise and reveal themselves become so in the process of the making.”iii Here, the modulations of tone from the tensional pressure of the marker themselves render the striations of the musculature, while the artist’s attentive touches in graphite render the hair of the figures. Showcasing Ojih Odutola’s remarkable fluidity with the economy of line to realize lavishly detailed form, the present work exposes the layers under the surface of the skin to capture a tender picture of humanity.


    Toyin Ojih Odutola, quoted in Emory Lopiccolo, “Toyin Ojih Odutola’s ‘Of Context and Without’ at Jack Shainman,” Whitewall, January 26, 2016, online.

    ii Ian Bourland, “Critics’ Picks: Toyin Ojih Odutola,” Artforum, 2016, online.

    iii Toyin Ojih Odutola quoted in Kristin Farr, “Toyin Ojih Odutola: Infinite Possibility,” Juxtapoz Magazine, November 2017, online.


    • Provenance

      Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Jack Shainman Gallery, Off Context and Without, December 11, 2015 – January 30, 2016
      Toronto, MCA Gallery, The Mecca, April 1 - May 1, 2016

Property from an East Coast Collection


Quality Control

signed, titled and dated “Toyin Odutola 2015 QUALITY CONTROL” on the reverse
marker and pencil on paper
64 3/4 x 42 in. (164.5 x 106.7 cm)
Executed in 2015.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $340,200

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021