Trey Abdella - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Thursday, December 1, 2022 | Phillips

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  • The American Icon


    Following on from great American portraitists such as Grant Wood, Edward Hopper, and John Currin, whose art portrays the ideals of the American Dream, Trey Abdella’s own renditions of Americana equally distilled the essence of quotidian life. The father and daughter duo depicted in Wood’s famed American Gothic provided a snapshot into rural America during the turning tides of modernisation during the Great Depression; Hopper’s serene scenes of bars and gas stations encapsulated the everyman’s frequented locales; Currin’s intimate portraits of party scenes and domestic life provided valuable insight into the American psyche. Similarly set against the ‘picket fence’ notion of a plain white house, New York based Virginia-born American artist Trey Abdella skilfully creates a complex web of contrasting symbology in Sunny Days, while knitting in the ideals of the American Dream. He crafts the story of the painting through his exquisite painting techniques, layered use of space and a whimsical play in style that exists between Realism and Surrealism laced with the verisimilitudinous effects of photography.



    Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930 
    School of the Art Institute of Chicago
    Image: Art Institute of Chicago, Friends of the American Art Collection, 1930.934

    Real or Surreal - A Love Story in Virginia?


    Abdella stages the social gathering in front of a white house in Sunny Days, where the group gathers outdoors to have a good time around a table of refreshments. In the blurred background, the excited crowd sides on the left with man-made objects, which juxtaposes with the tranquillity of nature that is left untouched by men on the right. Estranged from this public gathering, a blurred embracing couple centres the midground in a balanced pyramidal structure. Also set in nature, the intimacy of the veiled Lovers I painted by Surrealist master René Magritte comes to mind as a close reference in their positioning. Like the couple in Sunny Days, they have a similar type of indifference to their surroundings, only with awareness towards one other. By veiling the couple, Magritte’s pair become a symbol for mysterious love. Similarly, Abdella also symbolically draws parallels between the couple and the tulips in the present work.



    René Magritte, The Lovers I, 1928
    National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
    Image: © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra / Purchased 1990 / Bridgeman Images
    © 2022 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    In the middle foreground of Sunny Days, two black vases display two red tulips each on a hyper realistic wood-grained table. Red tulips carry the artistic connotations of the declaration of love and symbolises passionate love and romance. The side-by-side arrangement of the detailed two vases and contrasting states of the flowers encourage comparison between them. The vase on the left features two wilting, unhealthy tulips, and the form echoes the sloping shoulders of the male figure. Comparatively, the vase on the right features two upright, healthy tulips that pierce through the male’s side profile. The way they are both positioned is suggestive, and this surreal organisation of the vases brings to mind the two opposing outcomes for the couple right behind them - a love that will either last or wither. Fittingly, the artist grew up in Virginia, which is famous for their tulip fields, perhaps even suggesting a love story set in Virginia.



    The Impact of Photography


    At the moment of passionate embrace, time stops for love. Similarly, photography captures frozen moments in time. Renowned Contemporary German master painter Gerhard Richter explores the fading effects of photography in paintings, as illustrated in Lillies. Richter uses a blurring effect to undermine binaries and fade the boundaries between abstract and figurative. With a similar exploration, Abdella sets Sunny Days in a rectangular frame like a photograph. The artist brings the foreground into focus in high resolution while blurring out the hazy background, and the mid-ground grass remains texturally painted in between. This layering resembles the effect of photos taken by a professional camera and demonstrates the skilful painting techniques of the artist and his mastering of pictorial space. To stimulate the viewer’s eye, the current work is an exquisite demonstration of Abdella’s mastery in conveying multiple messages and narratives simultaneously within one glance.



    Gerhard Richter, Lilies, 2000
    National Gallery of Canada, Canada
    Image and Artwork: © 2022 Gerhard Richter (0226)

    Estranged American Dream

    “I think my work is autobiographical, so most of the paintings are about me in some way. Kind of like a weird diary entry from different days in my life.”
    — Trey Abdella

    Living in a complex cosmopolitan city in New York, Abdella gains inspiration from contemporary American culture and utilises simple universal iconography referenced from internet memes, movies and cartoons. Similar to American female artist Jamian Juliano-Villani, Abdella also uses the projector as a tool for layering different symbols into his compositions. His art strives to resonate with human experiences and feelings, as he blends different scenarios encountered in daily life, taken from his personal experiences or stories that he hears from his friends into his art. The current work was exhibited in Berlin, König Galerie’s Abdella solo show Growing Pains in 2020 alongside other comical works that featured the small daily grievances encountered in everyday American life. The estranged couple alludes to the alienated and hidden emotional life that one experiences in America, and the contrast between the fading and thriving tulips symbolise success and failure of the great American Dream. Taken in this context, the present work is a frozen image of the state of Contemporary America that is both a departure but also continuation of American Gothic.



    Installation view of the current work (left) at Berlin, König Galerie
    Trey Abdella: Growing Pains, 25 September - 18 October 2020
    Courtesy the artists and König Galerie

    Collector’s Digest


    Born in 1994 in Manassas, West Virginia, Trey Abdella graduated from School of Visual Arts, New York for his BFA in 2016 and furthered his studies with a master’s degree at New York Academy of Art.


    During summer this year, the artist debuted a solo exhibition in China, Almost Heaven in X Museum, Beijing (July, 2022). Additionally, Trey Abdella held solo exhibitions internationally at KÖNIG GALERIE, Seoul (2021); KÖNIG GALERIE, Berlin (2020); T293 Gallery, Rome (2021, 2019), amongst others. Next year, the artist will be having solo shows at Vito Schnabel Gallery, New York (2023) and David Lewis Gallery, New York (2023). His work has been included in recent group shows at Vito Schnabel Gallery, Los Angeles (2022) and Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles (2021). He also joined the Chubb artist fellowships at the New York Academy of Art (2019-2020). His art is included in important collections such as the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; Perez Museum, Miami; Albertina Museum and X Museum, Beijing. The current work was included as part of the Trey Abdella: Growing Pains exhibition at König Galerie Berlin in 2020.

    • Provenance

      König Galerie, Berlin
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Berlin, König Galerie, Trey Abdella: Growing Pains, 25 September - 18 October 2020



Sunny Days

signed and dated 'TREY ABDELLA 2020' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
198 x 218.5 cm. (77 7/8 x 86 in.)
Painted in 2020.

Full Cataloguing

HK$700,000 - 900,000 

Sold for HK$3,024,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 1 December 2022