Tunji Adeniyi-Jones - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 15, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'The language of dance and performance transcends all cultural boundaries.' —Tunji Adeniyi-Jones Brooklyn-based Tunji Adeniyi-Jones draws on this his émigré status to explore the formative blend of his British upbringing, Yoruba heritage, and inter-generational diasporic experience on his work. Larger than life and pulsing with energetic colour and sensuous line, Pattern Makers presents two highly stylised Black figures in a state of ecstatic movement, their bodies thrown at elegant, athletic right angles. Uninhibited and unrestricted, they joyously celebrate music, dance, and the full range of human motion that our bodies are given over to in these moments. Backlit by an intense pink glow, the figures are placed in front of a decorative panel of tessellating teardrop shapes picked out in subtly shifting hues that recall the light effects of stained glass – a simple but dramatic setting for this vibrant and energetic piece. 




    Ritual and Repetition 


    Included in the artist’s second solo show with Nicelle Beauchene in 2019, Pattern Makers belongs to an important series of works exploring the body, ritual, and myth, and makes pointed use of the structures of repetition and variation embedded in classical West African folklore and the religious practices of Nigeria’s Yoruba traditions. Hung together, the individual works transformed the gallery space into an epic frieze, with themes and motifs echoing and repeating across the walls in gorgeous hues of midnight blues, hot pinks and boysenberry.

    Hung in this way, the immersive, absorbing qualities of the individual works are brought into high relief, something which is especially pronounced in the hypnotic rhythms of Pattern Makers. Given the exhibition’s title – Patterns and Rituals – the present work seems to be of special significance.


    Installation shots of Tunji Adeniyi-Jones' 2020 exhibition Patterns & Rituals at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York


    Music and Myth 
    '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.' —Tunji Adeniyi-Jones

    Foregrounding the expressive power of the body, Pattern Makers is dominated by an overwhelming musicality ‘pulsing, repeating, transporting us to another realm.’i Steeped in a musical background himself, Adeniyi-Jones sang in choirs and played both the piano and tuba as a child, even once contemplating a musical career. This musical sensibility is strongly communicated in Pattern Makers, the two bodies and the space around them charged with a rhythmic sense of motion.  


    Visual references also abound. While West African aesthetics and narratives are of primary importance to the artist, his bodies and forms all ‘derived from the African continent, and more specifically rooted in a mythology emanating from the West African coast’, he also reimagines European aesthetics through this prism.ii  

    Alongside references to the lithe, flattened figures and shallow pictorial space adopted by the likes of Henri Matisse and André Derain, Pattern Makers reaches back to early European representations of the body with oblique visual reference to the iconography of ancient Greek black-figure pottery. 


    Attic black-figure amphora depicting Achilles and Ajax playing dice, from Vulci, c. 540-530 BC, Vatican Museums and Galleries, Vatican City
    Attic black-figure amphora depicting Achilles and Ajax playing dice, from Vulci, c. 540-530 BC, Vatican Museums and Galleries, Vatican City © NPL - DeA Picture Library / Bridgeman Images


    With a strong sense of form and expressive narrative potential, Pattern Makers shares in certain formal elements of these ancient works. Set within a flat, shallow space, the two figures are shown in profile, rendered with a sharply defined, muscular line that shares in the economy and impassive expressivity of black-figure pottery. This appeal is narrative as much as formal for the artist, the ritualistic aspects of these objects, and their compression of sprawling mythological stories into striking visual narratives being of primary interest. Given the foundational importance of Greek and Etruscan visual culture on the formal histories of Western art, Adeniyi-Jones’s methods here are pointedly post-colonial. 

    Recalling the Greek and Roman mythology the artist was exposed to as a student, Adeniyi-Jones describes how he uses that lens to think about West African history, and its absence within European cultural contexts:
    'These ancient kingdoms all ran parallel to each other, but because of reductive concepts like primitivism, we rarely see ancient West African history being taught outside of the continent. Every notable Greek myth and fable that we know of has an equally compelling African counterpart.' —Tunji Adeniyi-Jones In this too, Adeniyi’s reclamation of a visual language that we might associate with early 20th century Expressionism and Cubism is consciously revisionist, highlighting the influence of West African visual culture on European modernist aesthetics.


    Henri Matisse, La Danse, 1910, State Hermitage Museum. Saint Petersburg

    Citing the influential writings of Nigerian novelists Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, as well as the work of the pioneering West African modernist Ben Enwonwu, Adeiyi-Jones takes this Nigerian lineage into the 21st century, while using these works as critical frameworks  through which to explore his own experience of cultural hybridity and exchange. 


    Collector’s Digest


    •    After receiving his BFA at Oxford University, Tunji Adeniyi-Jones undertook an MFA in Painting and Printmaking at Yale School of Art. 


    •    With a solo show just having opened at Charleston, East Sussex, Adeniyi-Jones has also been the subject of recent solo exhibitions with Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York; Hunter Harrison, London; and The Cabin, Los Angeles. His work can be found in the permanent collection of the Dallas Museum of Art, Texas.


    •    After recently announcing representation of Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, White Cube will also be presenting a solo exhibition of the artist’s work at their Bermondsey location in November this year. 


    •    In 2020 Adeniyi-Jones was named a Forbes 30 Under 30 Artist and just this year Love Ritual, 2019 achieved a new record price at Phillips, London. 

    i ‘Tunji Adeniyi-Jones’ Patterns and Rituals’, The Editorial Magazine, 23 January 2020, online 
    ii Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, artist’s statement in advance of Astral Reflections, 18 September 2021 – 13 March 2022, Charleston, East Sussex, online

    • Provenance

      Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, United States of America
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, Tunji Adeniyi-Jones: Patterns & Rituals, 19 December 2019 - 26 January 2020


Pattern Makers

oil on canvas
198.1 x 132.7 cm (78 x 52 1/4 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

£30,000 - 50,000 ‡♠

Sold for £302,400

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+44 7391 402741


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021