Tschabalala Self - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | Phillips

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  •   “I really identify with my subjects, and pour a lot of my own life into theirs… When I imagine my characters together, I picture them existing in the same universe, like a pantheon. They are all different, yet together articulate one way of being and seeing.” 
    — Tschabalala Self


    Working across a range of mediums including drawing, painting, sewing, and print-making, Tschabalala Self is an American artist celebrated for her expressive, tactile artworks that explore the confluence of gender and race through a variety of forms and narratives. Composed of a jigsaw of collaged elements, her exuberant and lively ‘avatar’ protagonists are lush in their fullness, seeming to pop out from the canvas surface with an almost three-dimensionality that immediately grabs the viewer’s attention, drawing us in to her bold, graphic aesthetic. 




    The artist in her studio, 2017
    Photo Courtesy of Cyle Suesz



    Painting with Stitches and Thread

    Showcasing Self’s trademark method of art execution, the subject of KLK is composed of acrylic, fabric and painted canvas that has been sewn on to the work with a variety of coloured thread. Sourcing material from all aspects of her day-to-day life, from debris from her family home to repurposed fabric and recycled works, the process of constructing each of her collaged character’s identities acts as a powerful metaphor for the accumulation of different feelings, emotions and ideas that come to represent the multifaceted nature of the ‘self’. 


    “I love working with fabric, because it’s been in the world. It already has this energy within itself and I can build on and mould that energy when telling my own stories and use that energy towards my own narratives.”  — Tschabalala Self


    Although her working methods transcend the historical handicraft into the praxis of contemporary art, drawing comparisons to numerous prolific contemporaries including Rosemarie Trockel, Sheila Hicks and Kara Walker’s silhouette tapestry works, her choice of material, Self has explained, is a tribute to her upbringing. Inspired by her mother who would stich clothes for her family using African or African-inspired cloth, Self recalls, 'My mom would sew at home, making curtains and clothes. I use a lot of the fabric that she collected. She would also reuse things. If my sisters outgrew a pair of pants, she would turn them into skirts. I do that in my practice. Everything is a part of the space that it was created in'i. Simultaneously dynamic and delicate, in layering her subjects with various methods of execution, Self encourages the viewer to consider each distinguishing component that makes up the whole piece, just as one understands oneself. 



     Tschabalala Self in her studio, 2020

    Courtesy of Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston


    On a Bodega Run


    "Bodegas are colorful meeting places, emblematic of the urban multicultural community." 
    — Tschabalala Self


    Drawing from her upbringing in Harlem, New York, the present work comprises part of Self’s celebrated Bodega Run series, in which the artist examines the bodega corner store as a place where the community gathers, shining focus on those who own and frequent them. Having first emerged in the 1940s and 1950s Hispanic communities, the small, family-run shops have since become staples across the entire city, offering to each neighbourhood an array of grocery items, household essentials, over-the-counter remedies, lottery tickets and other amenities. Each shop is unique, boasting its own history, culture and cuisine as ownership has shifted from being Puerto Rican and Dominican to predominantly Yemeni, all whilst continuing to service primarily Black and Latino customers. Touting the romanticised charm and camaraderie of a small-town general store, the aisles of a bodega are more than just a place to shop, acting as a snack-stop, newsstand, watering-hole, and place to gossip, all in one. As such, they operate as urban sites of cross-cultural exchange that embody the city’s diversity, tracing the shifting identities of New York’s boroughs. 

    Tschabalala Self’s Bodega Run installation at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2019


    Whilst they are considered synonymous with New York, higher commercial rents and zoning changes have drastically impacted the city’s small businesses, leaving a glut of vacant bodega storefronts behind. Elaborating on this link to the series’ conception, Self explains, ‘The bodega is a nostalgic environment that takes me back to my past; in Harlem, where I grew up, you could find these neighbourhood shops almost at every crossroads. The stores are still there, but the people of the time are gone. The community has evolved - it has changed, and part of it has disappeared. I have never forgotten these stores: unlike the individuals who left, and so many other businesses that have disappeared… They are a kind of beacon in an ocean of gentrification, like a relic from the past’ii. Fuelled by her memories, Self’s invigoratingly colourful and vibrant Bodega Run works emulate the experience of walking into such a store. At the same time, in exploring the bodega from a socio-political perspective, her works can be understood as a plea to stand by the family-owned businesses as gentrification causes them to be displaced – to recognise them for offering so much more to communities than the selling of commodities. 


    The Layered Self

    Created in 2017, KLK presents the viewer with a large-scale figure set against a black-and-white checkered linoleum tiled floor. When examining the complex construction of the subject’s depiction in closer detail, Self’s multidisciplinary talent truly comes to the fore. This is conveyed not only in her skilful manipulation of each contributing component, but also in her adroit understanding of how the materials complement and challenge each other once collaged together. His face has been painted onto a layer of canvas with soft contours, establishing a sense of structure through highlight and shadow. Texture then follows, as when this layer is stitched onto the base canvas beneath, the gentle creases and folds in the fabric not only work to gently wrinkle and age the man, but also to introduce narrative as we trace the indentations that could be equally interpreted as laughter lines or scars. The sewn thread piecing these features together too, contributes to the overall picture, as loose stitch-ends take on the form of scattered facial hair. 


    Jean Dubuffet, Beard Garden, 1959
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


    It is Self’s character’s full beard, however, that is most fantastical in form –a constellation of drips that immediately recall the repleteness of Jackson Pollock’s paintings or, more acutely, the celebrated Barbes (Beards) series of Jean Dubuffet. Fashioned from torn up and recomposed patterns of ink on paper, the maze-like terrain of Dubuffet’s bearded characters of 1959 marked the culmination of his fascination with matter and texture. Self's protagonist, too, bears a lively, highly contrasted beard shaped by an assemblage of components; however, whereas Dubuffet’s monochromatic approach immediately directs his viewer’s focus to the riot of tangled texture, Self masterfully balances this element with adjacent areas of detailed form, bold line, and vibrant colour. 



    Although the KLK man exudes an air of coolness with his stylised beard, fashionable green jacket, and red and blue New Balance sneakers, the character is non-confrontational. Instead, we find a charisma in his ordinariness, his kind eyes reaching out to us as if an acquaintance in passing. Moreover, alluding to the work’s title, he greets us with a friendly ‘KLK’ –  a short-form used in texting for the Spanish phrase “Que Lo Que?”, meaning ‘What’s Up?’


    Kerry James Marhsall, De Style, 1993
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


    Working in a dialogue with the history of figurative painting and the depiction of Black identity, Self examines in her oeuvre where and how in the primary place of artistic experience do we encounter Black representation. Like the acclaimed painter Kerry James Marshall’s lifelong contribution to the depiction of non-stereotypical Black life, Self purposely chooses not to portray heroes or celebrities. Rather, her protagonists are simply people whose everyday lives, she argues, are worthy of representation. As exemplified by the present painting where we encounter Self’s character out on his bodega run, Self’s commitment to representing the Black figure as liberated, poised, and confident reclaims that history, allowing them to just exist and be. 


    Collector’s Digest

    In the years that have followed her 2015 graduation from the Yale School of Art with a M.F.A in painting and printmaking, Self has garnered acclaim in the art world at a meteoric trajectory. Her distinctive style and captivating characters have graced the walls of notable venues who have honoured her with solo exhibitions. Most recently, this has included at Galerie Eva Prensenhuber in New York (7 November 2020 – 23 January 2021); the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (20 January – 12 July 2020); Pilar Corrias in London (2019); and the Yuz Museum in Shanghai (2018). Her works can be found in the permanent collections of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Perez Art Museum Miamai; Rubell Family Collection, Miami; and the Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo. 



    Tschabalala Self, quoted in 'An Individual Is Made of Many Parts: Tschabalala Self Interviewed by Sasha Bonét', BOMB Magazine, 20 November 2018, online
    ii Tschabalala Self, 'Tschabalala Self by Herself', L’Officiel Art, 20 April 2018, online



    • Provenance

      Pilar Corrias, London
      Private Collection, Europe
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Tschabalala Self and L'Officiel Art Editorial, 'Black bodies matter: Tschabalala Self', L'Officiel Art, no. 25, May 2018, p. 41 (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      Tschabalala Self

      American • 1990

      Harlem-born artist Tschabalala Self combines sewing, printing and painting in a singular style that speaks to her experience of contemporary black womanhood. Despite her extensive use of craft methods, Self considers herself to be a painter above all else. Her work is known for exaggerated colors and forms, allowing the personages within to “escape” from society’s narrow perceptions.

      Explaining her practice, the artist stated: “I hope to correct misconceptions propagated within and projected upon the Black body. Multiplicity and possibility are essential to my practice and general philosophy. My subjects are fully aware of their conspicuousness and are unmoved by the viewer. Their role is not to show, explain, or perform but rather ‘to be.’ In being, their presence is acknowledged and their significance felt. My project is committed to this exchange, for my own edification and for the edification of those who resemble me.”

      View More Works



signed and dated '2017 Tschabalala Self' on the overlap
acrylic, fabric and painted canvas on canvas
243.8 x 213.4 cm. (95 7/8 x 84 in.)
Executed in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for HK$3,150,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 8 June 2021