Vaughn Spann - 20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Monday, December 7, 2020 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • One of the most unique voices working today, Vaughn Spann’s incredibly diverse oeuvre oscillates between figuration and abstraction. Painted in 2019, Big Black Rainbow (Deep Dive) teeters between the two, representing an arc of prismatic primary colors against a blue and violet expanse, executed on terry cloth towels, reminiscent of those he used to fold with his grandmother during his childhood. This idiosyncratic medium—an example of what he called his “very physical approach”—strikes a visual dialogue between the coarseness of the cloth and the smooth surface of the canvas, both of which are articulated further by the top layer of paint.i By employing quotidian materials, Big Black Rainbow (Deep Dive) is redolent of the pioneering sculptural language created by Arte Povera artists’ use of commonplace, humble materials.

    "[Spann is] visually bilingual, alternating between the languages of abstraction and figuration." 
    — Titus Kaphar

    Calling Titus Kaphar and Rashid Johnson his two primary mentors, Spann engages his practice with social politics, the history of art, and activism. His work coalesces the forms of personal childhood memory—in this case, a rainbow and towels, which he used to fold with his grandmother on Sundays—with communal experience. A superb example from his most renowned body of work, Big Black Rainbow (Deep Dive) is emblematic of Spann’s idiosyncratic approach that makes him one of the most exciting artists of his generation.


    Colors of the Rainbow


    First begun when he was an MFA student at Yale University, Spann’s rainbow series is a tribute to Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager who was killed while walking home from a local convenience store. The colors of Big Black Rainbow (Deep Dive) are reminiscent of the color of the Skittles (as well as the candy’s advertising slogan “Taste the Rainbow”) which Martin was eating when he died, and the splashes of polymer paint across the surface are perhaps evocative of the can of Arizona Iced Tea he was drinking.


    Vaugh Spann photographed in his studio.

    "I wanted to put blackness back into the spectrum."
    — Vaughn Spann

    Spann’s mournful rainbows—which allude to the symbol’s ubiquitous association with death—all feature at least one black arc. This pictorial decision both underscores its tragic subject matter and manifests the artist’s commentary on the Black American experience. “I was thinking about color and its complexities in the U.S.,” Spann elucidated. “I wanted to put blackness back into the spectrum.”ii


    If the black arc alludes to American race relations, the white splashes across the surface raise a multitude of questions. When seen within this context, they evoke a sense of violence—are they a reference to the brutality Black people are disproportionately victims of? Or do they symbolize a “white-washing” of the spectrum into which Spann is trying to re-insert blackness?


    Infinite Views

    "With all my iconography, it’s about trying to find a piece of myself which I can insert into that dialogue. Somehow it felt taboo as a straight Black male to enter into this conversation, to paint a rainbow."
    — Vaughn Spann

    Big Black Rainbow (Deep Dive) invites myriad interpretations, ranging from those of grief to joy and from despondence to hopefulness. Despite the heaviness of its references—and its symbolism of a moment of political outcry for Spann—some viewers have read the ebullience of the subject matter as uplifting and poignant: in fact, after showing his rainbow paintings to a gay friend, she told him she felt intense jubilance when looking at them. “This jarringly different interpretation,” according to The Wall Street Journal, “felt in sync with what he was trying to achieve as an artist.”iii


    Collector’s Digest


    •    Since Almine Rech Gallery announced its representation of Spann last year, the artist’s market has seen unprecedented demand. His works can be found in museums and notable private collections around the world.


    •    This is the second painting by the artist to go to auction. The first, another work from his rainbow series, achieved $163,800 earlier this year.


    Vaughn Spann, Big Black Rainbow (Smoky Eyes), 2019. Rubell Museum, Miami, Artwork © 2020 Vaugh Spann

    i Vaughn Spann, quoted in “The Rising Star: Vaughn Spann Has Arrived,” Justapoz, March 26, 2019, online.

    ii Vaughn Spann, quoted in Lucy Rees, “How Artist Vaughn Spann Is Pushing Boundaries with His Poetic Works,” Galerie Magazine, October 9, 2019, online.

    iii Kelly Crow, “A Boundary-Busting Artist Seeks to ‘Learn Through the Chaos,’” The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2020, online.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Vaughn Spann

      Vaughn Spann is an American contemporary artist whose practice explores the natures of space, memory, and time using the ostensibly competing languages of abstraction and figuration. Approaching his work through traditional formalistic lenses focusing on line, color, and shape, Spann locates subjects from deeply personal spaces and articulates their essences on the painted surface, using metaphysical reflections to question our experiencing of the world around us.

      Spann uses painting to recreate encounters with people and places he finds compelling, gauging their essences when viewed through in retrospect. His experimentations with unconventional materials augments his explorations of personal and historical narratives. Spann lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut, where he also received his MFA from Yale University.

      View More Works

Property from a New York Private Collection


Big Black Rainbow (Deep Dive)

signed, titled and dated "Vaughn Spann 2019 "Big BLACK RAINBOW (Deep Dive)"" on the reverse
polymer paint and terrycloth on canvas
80 1/4 x 84 1/4 in. (203.8 x 214 cm)
Executed in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

$40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for $239,400

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278 


20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 7 December 2020