2 More
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION

Listening to a conch

Listening to a conch
signed and dated 'LOUIS FRATINO 2017' (on the reverse)
oil and oil pastel on panel
10 x 8in. (25.3 x 20.1cm.)
Executed in 2017
Galerie Antoine Levi, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Paris, Galerie Antoine Levi, Louis Fratino: Heirloom, 2018.
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Interim Head of Department

Lot Essay

Unveiled in Louis Fratino’s solo European debut in Paris in 2018, Listening to a conch is one of the artist’s very first self-portraits. Made two years after his move to New York, following a Fulbright Research Fellowship in Berlin, it is rendered on the concentrated, jewel-like scale that characterised his early output. Using oil and pastel, the artist depicts himself in warm, luminous tones. A conch shell—a motif that features elsewhere in his art—is held to his ear, like a landline to another world. Light dances across his features and burns brightly behind his eyes. Subtle tones of blue, peach and crimson pick out the modulations of his flesh; every inch of his hair and skin is alive with sensual texture and clarity. Shot through with references to art history, Fratino’s practice explores themes relating to his own queer identity. In Listening to a conch, echoes of Pablo Picasso, Lucian Freud and David Hockney are spun into a vision of tender, intimate self-reflection.

Born in Annapolis, Fratino studied at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, and is now based in Brooklyn. His paintings, consisting largely of portraits, still lifes and narrative scenes, are drawn from his own experiences and desires. Informed by a love of Persian and Indian miniatures, as well as the intimate canvases of Johannes Vermeer, Fratino’s embrace of small-scale formats is deeply connected to his ideas about queer art. ‘I think about a queer gaze being an unknown gaze’, he explains. ‘It’s a way of seeing something that hasn’t been seen before. The history of painting can feel so masculine and so monumental, so it felt like a queer thing to do—to make something small and ask you to give it legitimacy, even though they didn’t occupy very much space in the world. And I think that’s a queer mentality, in a way’ (L. Fratino in conversation with R. Tovey, Document, 15 June 2020). In the present work, the grand traditions of self-portraiture—along with the ghosts of its towering patriarchs—are condensed into minute brushstrokes, intricate tactile textures and microscopic threads of colour, forcing the viewer to look closer.

The work’s intimacy is heightened by Fratino’s inclusion of a conch shell. Recalling the sensual curves of Georgia O’Keeffe, or the exoticism of Paul Gauguin, the motif imbues the work with a sense of quiet attentiveness. It is, at heart, a portrait of listening: of waiting, and watching, for stories and feelings to unfold. Fratino’s own process is very much in line with this approach, allowing his paintings to reveal themselves to him over time. ‘I make a lot of drawings on paper and I probably spend most of my time drawing in my sketchbook or on papers in the studio’, he explains. ‘If I feel that a drawing has certain qualities that I am interested in translating into painting then I just start painting on the canvas … I think it’s good for me to step back and let the painting show something to me that I didn’t think it was going to do’ (L. Fratino, quoted in S. Pirovano, ‘Rising artists to watch: Louis Fratino’, CFArts, 13 January 2021).

More from 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale

View All
View All