Wes Lang - New Now London Thursday, December 9, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'There’s nothing morbid about what I’m doing. I intend for my paintings to be joyful reminders of how lucky we are to be alive and to make the most of it while we have the opportunity to do so. The symbols are representations of the freedom we all strive for.'  —Wes Lang 

    In recent years, Los Angeles-based artist Wes Lang has been honing an iconography of post-pop Americana. Often featuring totemic images of Native Americans, skulls, plants, and animals, alongside carefully studied art-historical references to Cy Twombly, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Franz Kline, Lang’s imagery is deeply rooted in personal biography and questions related to contemporary American mythology and identity. 


    Tellingly, the American West looms large in Lang’s imagination, itself an over-saturated symbol of the nascent American Dream where ‘going west’ represented the chance to reinvent oneself, to manifest a destiny of one’s own making. Such ideas resonate deeply with the Taoist-reading Lang, who frequently reiterates the affirming power of self-motivation and self-belief, having always ‘thought hard about what he’d like the world around him to look like and worked harder to make it a reality.’i


    Bringing together fragments of text, snatches of song lyrics, Taoist mantra, and pop culture figures including Chet Parker and Mickey Mouse, Living by Being creates a palimpsest of references that are strikingly literal and transparent. Indeed, as autobiographic records of what the artist is reading, listening to, and preoccupied by, Lang describes these paintings as ultimately optimistic and affirmative, despite – or, indeed because of – the pervasive presence of death. As the artist explained to fellow artist and avid Lang collector Damien Hirst recently, ‘I am fighting my battle on the side of truth. We’re here with a purpose, to live and make the most out of this complicated and wonderful world while we can. That’s solely and completely what my work is about.’ii 


    Philippe de Champaigne, Vanitas Still Life with a Tulip, Skull and Hour-glass, 1800s, Musée de Tesse, Le Mans, Image: Bridgeman Images
    Philippe de Champaigne, Vanitas Still Life with a Tulip, Skull and Hour-glass, 1800s, Musée de Tesse, Le Mans, Image: Bridgeman Images

    Belonging in this respect to the rich tradition of memento mori painting, Lang’s works encourage a deeper, more contemplative engagement with the fragility of life and the transitory qualities of the present moment, ideas that the artist himself strives to live by. In this sense the repetition of certain words, phrases, and motifs across Lang’s paintings and works on paper operate like life-affirming mantras, reminders to ‘remain constant’ or ‘be here now’. Such thinking is embedded in the title of the present work, compounded by Lang’s adept sampling of the richly evocative iconography of memento mori painting such as Philippe de Champaigne’s Vanitas Still Life with a Tulip and Hour-Glass. Borrowing the familiar motifs of skulls and flowers in this way, Lang establishes a direct dialogue with art history, one that offers a compelling comparison to musical composition in its emphasis on repetition, sampling, and remixing. 


    Perhaps unsurprisingly, musical collaborations feature prominently in Lang’s career, including prominent projects with The Grateful Dead and Kanye West. In addition to the publication of a new monograph, Everything, Lang has also recently exhibited a suite of new paintings with Almine Rech in Aspen. After making his international debut in 2014 at the ARoS Arhaus Museum of Art, where Living by Being was exhibited, Lang has gone on to show works in Los Angeles, New York, Brussels, Stockholm and Copenhagen. His work belongs to the permeant collections of The Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Denmark, and the DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art.


    Wes Lang discusses his practice ahead of the 2014 ARoS exhibition Wes Lang – The Studio 


    i Zach Baron, ‘Meet Wes Lang: Kanye Collaborator, Taste God, and World’s Most Badass Artist’, GQ, 22 August 2016, online
    ii Wes Lang, quoted in ‘Damien Hirst chats with friend and fellow artist Wes Lang about life, death, and his new show in Aspen’, Artnet News, 19 August 2021, online

    • Provenance

      V1 Gallery, Copenhagen
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Copenhagen, V1 Gallery, Life and How to Live It, 14 October - 12 November 2011
      Aarhus, ARoS Kunstmuseum, Wes Lang: The Studio, 29 March - 7 September 2014, pp. 26 - 28 (illustrated)


Living by Being

oil, graphite, coloured pencil, watercolour, oil stick and paper collage on paper
81.5 x 295.5 cm (32 1/8 x 116 3/8 in.)
Executed in 2011.

Full Cataloguing

£25,000 - 35,000 

Sold for £94,500

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey
Specialist, Head of New Now Sale
+44 20 7318 4084

New Now

London Auction 9 December 2021