Tschabalala Self - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'I try to communicate with my characters a sense of complete freedom [..] They are free bodies, and they have total control over who has access.' —Tschabalala SelfAt once grounded and ebullient, Tschabalala Self’s Chandelier 2 is a statement and a celebration of Black female embodiment; of subjectivity defined on its own terms and in its limitless capacity for growth, change, and self-determination. Occupying the centre of the composition, a woman stands beneath the narrow shaft of light cast by the titular chandelier. Casting a striking shape against the canvas, her raised leg and pointed toes are elegantly counterbalanced by the exaggerated arch of her back as she throws her head back in abandon. Framed by a rhythmic series of overlapping squares boldly executed in a controlled palette of yellows, off-white, and a vibrant slice of orange, the composition takes on a highly dramatic quality that is further emphasised by the painting’s impressive scale and the figure’s contorted pose outlined by a heavy shadow.


    What the artist has described elsewhere as a ‘phantom appendage’, the prominent shadow here embodies something of the character’s personality rather than her physical reality. A vibrant example of Self’s tendency to treat her figures as ‘icons’ or ‘avatars’, it dramatically emphasises and works with the figure ‘to hold and retain overarching ideas about particular lived experience.’i


    Directly drawing on a visual language of performance, Self seems to be making a more nuanced point here about the politics of self-representation and the historical objectification of Black women in visual culture and beyond. Exaggerating certain features including the figure’s hair, breast, and buttocks, Self uses this shadow form to draw attention to the ideas and expectations projected onto the Black female body, radically resisting this objectification through the figure’s joyous reclamation of her body and her image on her own terms. As the artist elucidates: ‘My work does not comment on stereotypes and generalizations about the black female body, my practice absorbs these fantasies. The work is celebratory because one must thrive despite destructive rhetoric.’ii


    Just as the small and humble light fitting can be reimagined as a grandiose chandelier or theatrical spotlight so too - Self seems to be suggesting - can women step out of the narrow identities ascribed to them and reimagine themselves in bold new configurations of their own design. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this performative element has only intensified in Self’s practice, most recently in the debut of her first theatrical piece, Sounding Board, at Performa 2021 to widespread critical acclaim.


    Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach 2, 1990, Philadelphia Museum of American Art. Image: Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with funds contributed by W. B. Dixon Stroud, 1992, 1992-100-1, Artwork: © Faith Ringgold / ARS, NY and DACS, London 2022


    Making and Mothers

    'I feel like my relationship to making, both formally and conceptually, are both inspired by my mother.'
    —Tschabalala Self
    Born in Harlem, New York in 1990, Self works across a range of media, creating compositions that combine painting and drawing alongside more non-traditional materials. Charged with autobiographic significance, the materials that she uses include hand-printed and sewn scraps of found textiles, pieces of her own canvases cut up and recombined, and – most poignantly – pieces of patterned fabric that had belonged to her mother. A seamstress during her lifetime, Self’s mother amassed an enormous collection of patterned fabrics, a resource that the artist turned to after her death. Using her mother’s old sewing machine, the artist began to layer these different materials and textures on the canvas, a practice alluded to here in the vibrant collaged elements and the patchwork quality that they generate.


    Poetic parallels can be drawn between the cutting, shaping and stitching together of these disparate materials and the complex intersections of identity itself, something that the artist deliberately draws on as certain material elements reappear like echoes across canvases that might be separated by years. Deftly interweaving the personal with the political, Self draws on her own history and the entrenched associations of textiles to women and ‘women’s work’ in order to create highly charged objects that eloquently explore attitudes to race and gender in the 21st century. In this respect, her highly textured paintings recall Faith Ringgold’s painted story quilts, and their powerful combination of personal narratives, politics, and history – an artist who Self cites as a particular formative influence growing up in Harlem.


    Jacob Lawrence, Builders #1, 1972, Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri. Image: © Saint Louis Art Museum / Eliza McMillan Trust / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation / Art Resource, New York / DACS, London 2022
    Jacob Lawrence, Builders #1, 1972, Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri. Image: © Saint Louis Art Museum / Eliza McMillan Trust / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation / Art Resource, New York / DACS, London 2022

    The youngest of five children, Self was exposed to the arts at a young age, absorbing a wide range of visual influences, including that of pioneering American modernist Jacob Lawrence. Known for his visionary paintings focused on celebrations of Black creativity, labour, and craftsmanship, Lawrence focused his attention on exposing and celebrating the lives of those pushed to the margins of mid-century American society. This is particularly apparent in a work like the 1972 Builders #1, which bears comparison to Chandelier 2 not only in its pronounced narrative force, but also in its compositional structure and the large, flat zones of bold colour so characteristic of his distinctive pictorial language. As Self explains in more detail: ‘I call the works painting because they’re using a painting language. They’re on canvas, they’re stretched, and, also, I think my understanding of a painting is one of color relationships or the relationship between different objects on a pictorial plane. If you’re using actual paint or using objects or items that have embedded colour and assembling them like an assemblage, I think that it can still constitute as a painting. It’s conceptually brought up as a painting, and it’s using the same materials that are traditionally used in painting.iii

    Bristling with a highly compelling sense of feminine machismo and self-possession, Self’s unnamed figure takes on a more universal identity, a celebration of self-embodiment that chimes with Self’s desire to develop a more robust and celebratory rhetoric around identity. As the artist succinctly describes ‘It is the space I occupy in the world, that is the body I came from. It is who I am and who my mother was. The more sincere a story you can articulate, the more people have access to it.’


    Collector’s Digest


    •    Having exhibited works in major international art centres including London, New York, Berlin, and Los Angeles, in 2020 Self was the subject of a major solo exhibition – her largest to date – at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Boston.


    •    Examples of her work can be found in the collections of the Ruebell Museum, Miami, the Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo, and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.


    •    In 2020, Phillip’s also introduced Tschabalala Self to auction in our 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in March 2019.


    Tschabalala Self discussing her studio practice ahead of her solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Boston in 2020.


    i Tschabalala Self, discussing her studio practice ahead of her solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Boston in 2020, online
    ii Tschabalala Self, quoted in ‘5 Questions with Tschabalala Self, Elephant, 16 January 2017, online 
    iii Tschabalala Self, ’On not being afraid of hard work:  in conversation with Brandon Stosuy’, The Creative Independent, originally published 30 June 2017, online

    • Provenance

      Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      '10 Female Artists To Watch', Elle Magazine, 9 May 2017, online (illustrated)
      Brandon Stosuy, 'On not being afraid of hard work', The Creative Independent, 30 June 2017, online (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

Property from a Private European Collection


Chandelier 2

signed and dated ‘Tschabalala Self 2017’ on the overlap
gouache, pencil, Xerox, paper, plastic, oil, acrylic and Flashe on canvas
173 x 128 cm (68 1/8 x 50 3/8 in.)
Executed in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

£100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for £138,600

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+ 44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 3 March 2022