Tunji Adeniyi-Jones - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, April 15, 2021 | Phillips
  • Overview

    'The body is a great conductor and storyteller. So, focusing my art around it makes perfect sense.’
    —Tunji Adeniyi-Jones
    In Love Ritual, Tunji Adeniyi-Jones’ recumbent sitters twist their heads toward the viewer as their bodies remain nonchalantly turned away, interlaced in a loving embrace. Like many of Adeniyi-Jones’ painted protagonists, the couple is portrayed in an abstract, leafy setting, consumed by a flurry of intense hues. Here, the host of shades departs from a deep blue — an enthralling oceanic hue that likens the two figures’ lethargic silhouettes to that of mermaids, and the floating leaves surrounding them to wild sea algae. Born in the United Kingdom in 1992, Adeniyi-Jones completed his BFA at the University of Oxford’s Ruskin School of Art in 2014 before moving to the United States, and pursuing an MFA at Yale University. Finding inspiration in West African history and mythology, as well as Chinua Achebe’s writings and his own Yoruban heritage, the artist creates unknowable, palimpsestic paintings that evoke themes of displacement and diasporic identity, propelled in fictional realms that captivate the viewer in their surreal, mostly ethereal nature. For his poetic inclusion of colourful foliage and his layering of various visual elements, the artist has been compared to his master predecessor Henri Matisse, whilst his stylised renderings of semi-abstract Black silhouettes are equally reminiscent of another painter subliming Black figures: Chris Ofili.


    The Big Blue


    Painted in 2019, Love Ritual is an enthralling example of Adeniyi-Jones’ ability to draw his viewers in, creating all-consuming atmospheres that are meant to be experienced rather than simply seen. The artist’s dense layering of colours and use of flowering patterns suggest the idea of compositional painterly space as a decorative realm to fill with otherworldly natural phenomena. Rendered with intensely pigmented oil paint, Love Ritual furthermore attests to the power of a colour — and specifically the poignancy of monochromatic blue backgrounds, which, in art history, and in specific renderings of lovers in embrace, have come to be understood as the emotional personification of the featured characters’ internal meanderings. Pablo Picasso’s Self-Portrait of 1906 is a good example of this, presenting the artist as a solemn, perhaps even melancholic character, while Marc Chagall’s Lovers in Blue, directly comparable to the present work, equally brings to the fore the element of isolation and intimacy that surrounds the interlaced couple, sheltering them in a bubble of sorts. In Love Ritual, the two figures are similarly protected from external presence, both self-possessed and absorbed in their own world, consumed to the point of rendering their surroundings entirely abstract.


    Marc Chagall, Lovers in Blue, 1914, oil on cardboard, Private Collection. Image: Scala, Florence. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021.
    Marc Chagall, Lovers in Blue, 1914, oil on cardboard, Private Collection. Image: Scala, Florence. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021.


    Tunji Adeniyi-Jones In Conversation


    Adeniyi-Jones uses figurative painting as a means to explore West African history and its associated mythology. Adeniyi-Jones renders colourful and vibrant bodies that are larger than life, taking inspiration from both his Yoruba heritage and his British upbringing.


    Destinee Ross: Why do you think you are an artist?


    Tunji Adeniyi-Jones: I’ve always known that I would dedicate my life to the creative arts in some shape or form. I was a very keen and studious musician when I was younger, and I was completely obsessed with drawing. I think it was really important to have the support of my parents and school faculty during these formative years. That encouragement and reinforcement were so crucial.


    DR: How would you describe the type of work you do?


    TA-J: I definitely strive to make paintings that are bold and authoritative. I like to use colour, line and form as my tools to achieve this.


    DR: You find inspiration for your figurative paintings in West African history and mythology , as well as your Yoruba heritage. How can one see this in your art?


    TA-J: The figures depicted in my paintings are very alluring and striking. Many of their poses invoke a sense of performance or dance. There are thousands of different dialects spoken across West Africa but one of the most unifying languages is communicated through the body. This language of dance and performance transcends all cultural boundaries and my intention is to charge the bodies in my paintings with this same vigour. Equally, one of the most impressive characteristics of any West African sculpture is the physical presence held by each object. Whether life-size or miniature, these sculptures convey a memorable sense of personality and spirit. So my hope is to translate a similar sense of physicality through my work.


    Read the rest of the interview here.

    • Provenance

      Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


Love Ritual

oil on canvas
160.7 x 190.5 cm (63 1/4 x 75 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

£30,000 - 40,000 ‡♠

Sold for £151,200

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 15 April 2021