Tunji Adeniyi-Jones - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • "There are so many compelling cultural crossovers between European art and West African art, and my work is an exploration of this exchange, especially seeing as I can claim ownership over both sides of this transaction." 
    — Tunji Adeniyi-Jones


    Born in London in 1992, New York-based artist Tunji Adeniyi-Jones has rapidly gained art world recognition for his use of figurative painting to explore West African history, its associated mythology, and his own Yoruba heritage and diasporic experiences. His paintings dazzle as celebrations of his ancestors’ ceremonies and rituals, featuring contorting limbs that are slammed up to the very surface of the canvas with astounding authority, and masks with eyes aglow and gazes magnified. 



    The present work exhibited at New York, Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, Patterns & Rituals, 19 December – 26 January 2020


    Marking the artist’s auction debut in Asia, Blue Ancestor immediately commands attention with its deep, oceanic shades of blue intercut with ivory and ruby red. Painted in 2019, the work was first unveiled at the artist’s solo show Patterns & Rituals at the Nicelle Beauchene Gallery in New York (19 December 2019 - 26 January 2020), alongside other large scale oil paintings that assess methods of worship, idolatry, and myth. 




    In 2014, Adeniyi-Jones received his Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from the prestigious Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University, and in 2017, his MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale School of Art. With beginnings in sculpture and photography, Adeniyi-Jones’ transition to painting was spurred by encounters with the works of artists such as Francis Bacon, Eileen Cooper, Peter Doig, and David Hockney, amongst numerous others. Such influences are clearly traceable in the curving silhouettes and ritualistic repetition of motifs and figures throughout Adeniyi-Jones’ oeuvre, as well as in his fluid, swirling linework rendered in a bright, bold colour palette. 



    Francis Bacon, Seated Figure, 1961
    Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom
    © 2021 Estate of Francis Bacon/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London


    At the same time, caught in between locales, Adeniyi-Jones also uses his art to reclaim his roots, drawing significant inspiration from artefacts of Yoruba rituals such as royal Asante stools, Ife heads and sculptural masks. Expanding on themes elucidated by the likes of Ben Enwonwu, whom Adeniyi-Jones has cited as an important reference point, he firmly centralises himself within modern African diaspora to highlight the rich substance of Nigerian and West African visual, spiritual, and social history.



    A Synthesis of Tradition with Modernity 


    “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.”
    — Tunji Adeniyi-Jones


    The current work, Blue Ancestor, is an enthralling example of Adeniyi-Jones’ synthesis of tradition with modernity, and abstraction with figuration. At the centre of the composition is a stack of patterned blocks, within which a face appears below the wide smile of a serpent. The gaze of the face is striking, with upturned eyes that glower with a menacing domination that is at once sneering and seductive. It slices through the surface of the paint into the space of the work's audience, confronting the viewer amongst the rapture of eddying contours of red and white line. 



    Nwantantay plank masks, Bwa artist, 1983
    Photo Courtesy of Christopher D. Roy


    Adeniyi-Jones’ paintings are both documentation and resurrection, speaking to contemporary audiences from a time long past whilst channelling the very essence of his ancestors. The tall shape at the centre of Blue Ancestor takes from the image of African ceremonial masks, traditionally worn during performances and celebrations to honour lineage ancestors or embody supernatural forces through reenacting mythic events. In particular, the symmetrical design resembles plank masks from the Bwa, which are believed to possess spiritual powers whose energies are echoed in the rhythms generated by the external geometric markings. But with arms and legs that stretch from the column at the centre of the composition, departing from a point of tradition, the infinite potential for spiritual expansion is revealed in the present work as contours dissolve into the Chris Ofili-esque blue, assimilated and at one with the cosmos.




    The curvaceous body of the elegantly posed, monochromatic subject in Blue Ancestor recalls the decorative designs of Henri Matisse, notably his Blue Nudes series of figures who too, are snugly condensed within the perimeters of each work. In Adeniyi-Jones’ paintings, however, the figure is a fulcrum of contemporary diasporic identity, acting as a tool for both communication and narration. And whilst Adeniyi-Jones’ works visually slot into the historical canon of Western painting, suggestive also of Colour Field paintings, they resist any exoticising, fetishising tendency. Instead, the figure is made sublime through style, ritual, and colour as the dualities of Western and African influence coalesce and synthesise in a process of ‘cultural addition, combination and collaboration’. i


     “The bodies and forms depicted in these works can all be derived from the African continent, and more specifically rooted in a mythology emanating from the West African coast [...] The figures in my work are expressions of my identity and there is something very rewarding about using the body as a vehicle for storytelling” 
    — Tunji Adeniyi-Jones 

    Collector’s Digest


    In April 2021, a work by Adeniyi-Jones titled Love Ritual (2019) far exceeded its pre-sale estimates when it was sold by Phillips in London, setting the artist’s current auction record. Testament to his position as a rising star within the world of contemporary art, Adeniyi-Jones has mounted numerous solo exhibitions in recent years, including at 39 Great Jones Street, New York; White Cube, London; The Cabin, Los Angeles; Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York; amongst others. The artist is currently presenting his first solo exhibition in the United Kingdom, hosted by the historic Charleston house. Titled Tunji Adeniyi-Jones: Astral Reflections, the exhibition opened on 18 September 2021 and will run until 13 March 2022.


    In 2019, Adeniyi-Jones was selected for Kehinde Wiley’s Black Rock Senegal residency program, and a year later was named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Artist Class of 2020. Work by Adeniyi-Jones has been acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art, Texas, and the Perez Art Museum in Miami.



    i Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, quoted in White Cube, ‘Tunji Adeniyi-Jones artist page’, White Cube, online

    • Provenance

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

    • Exhibited

      New York, Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, Patterns & Rituals, 19 December 2019 – 26 January 2020

Property of a Distinguished Private Collector


Blue Ancestor

oil on canvas
198.4 x 132.2 cm. (78 1/8 x 52 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

HK$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for HK$1,071,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

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

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021