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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION


signed, inscribed and dated 'HURVIN ANDERSON FEB 98' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
68 1⁄8 x 100 1⁄8in. (175.5 x 254.2cm.)
Painted in February 1998
Norwich Gallery, Norwich.
Acquired from the above in 1999, and thence by descent to the present owner.
M.J. Prokopow, Hurvin Anderson, London 2021, pp. 25 and 27 (illustrated in colour prior to completion, p. 26).
Norwich, Norwich Gallery, Pictures of Pictures, 1999, p. 48 (illustrated in colour prior to completion, p. 13).
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Lot Essay

Painted in 1998, and unseen in public since its acquisition the following year, Audition is a rare and remarkable rediscovery that captures the virtuosic flourishing of Hurvin Anderson’s early practice. A vast, cinematic panorama viewed from a staggering elevated vantage point, it offers a glistening depiction of a public swimming pool, its waters alive with human activity. Divers and bathers punctuate the shimmering blue waters, every splash, ripple and conversation choreographed with near-audible precision. Spectral rows of spectators flank the scene, their costumes and caps picked out with electric flashes of colour. Towering angular windows reflect and augment the spectacle, creating a dazzling chamber of light; beyond, the landscape surges forward like a mirage, as if threatening to engulf the fragile web of drama within. A triumph of narrative and formal tension, the work sets the stage for Anderson’s celebrated paintings of leisure sites, where the dialogue between abstraction and figuration is used to explore themes of memory, identity and belonging. Here, viewer and subjects are poised between inside and outside, simultaneously observing and participating in Anderson’s painterly theatre. As the artist explained in a letter to the work’s original buyer, he was ‘continually adding and removing figures until something revealed itself. With this in mind I thought each figure was being auditioned for a place in the painting, hence the title.’

The notion of finding space for oneself speaks directly to Anderson’s own story. Born in Birmingham to Jamaican émigré parents, the artist grew up keenly aware of his dual heritage. Drawing upon memories from his childhood, and later photographs taken during a residency in Trinidad, his work blurs the boundary between the real and the imaginary, infusing everyday scenes with layers of reverie, longing and nostalgia. Indeed, though based on photographs of a British municipal swimming pool taken by Anderson’s brother, the present work is ultimately a fluid, misremembered space: an earlier version featured trees resembling palms, ‘auditioned’—like the painting’s characters—before being consigned to the realms of fantasy. Hints of tropical climes remain, nonetheless, in the work’s sparkling waters and lush vegetation, suspended in a curious oneiric realm. Indeed, Anderson would return to aspects of the work’s imagery and technique in his subsequent Caribbean-inspired paintings: the net-like web that coats the pool is prophetic of the chicken wire fences in his Country Club series, as well as his depictions of grilles and beaded curtains, while the architectonic abstraction of the building would inform the geometric structures of his Barbershop paintings. There are overtones, too, of the childhood parks that populate his Ball Watching and Lower Lake works, each infused with dreams of unknown shores.

More broadly, however, it is the work’s dialogue between immersion and exclusion that sets the tone for Anderson’s subsequent practice. In later paintings of tennis courts, shops, beaches and other sites of human congregation, the artist would explore conflicted feelings of belonging and alienation, using abstract visual devices that positioned the viewer just outside the parameters of the scene. Here, he plays with these ideas on multiple levels. Though the work’s god’s-eye perspective seems to place the observer in a position of all-seeing power, any attempt to take in the painting as a whole is thwarted by Anderson’s compositional drama. The interaction of nature and architecture serves to confound the work’s sense of perspective, with strong vertical lines intercepted by horizontal swathes of abstract painterly texture. The piercing blue ‘V’ of the diving board seems to draw the eye to the centre, only to send it plummeting downwards into the deep, cavernous shadow below. The abstract struggle to find one’s place is played out in figural terms, too. Though wrought with the slightest of strokes, each of Anderson’s cast members exists in a uniquely-characterised state of tension, either halted mid-action or poised on the brink of motion. Some float in the shallows, while others propel themselves in joyous backstroke; a woman swims underwater below the central splash, while others linger uncertainly on the edge. Everyone, including the viewer, is held in suspense; a sense of nervous anticipation hangs heavy in the air.  

The concept of ‘auditioning’ extends beyond the painting’s psychological friction. Art history itself is sounded out in Anderson’s memory-chamber: from the ghosts of Impressionism and Pointillism, to the lessons of Op Art, Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. There are echoes of Barnett Newman’s ‘zip’ paintings and Donald Judd’s pristine ‘stacks’; strains of Georges Seurat flicker in the work’s subject matter and surface, while its optical pyrotechnics conjure the legacy of Bridget Riley. The painting’s composite structure and elevated viewpoint, meanwhile, invoke the photographic panoramas of Andreas Gursky, who similarly captured vast tapestries of human activity. Though the spirit of David Hockney undoubtedly looms large, perhaps more palpable is the influence of Anderson’s mentor Peter Doig, under whose tutelage he graduated from the Royal College of Art that year. Similarly informed by his experience of geographic dislocation, Doig uses paint to dramatise the mechanics of memory, capturing its slippages, lapses and ruptures. His teachings are borne out in Anderson’s treatment of the medium, which contrasts fluid washes of colour with precise lines and hard-edged strokes. At times it seems to hover directly upon the surface of the canvas; elsewhere it dissolves into tangled, marbled layers that cascade down the length of the canvas. Paint is rigorously put through its paces: it, too, becomes part of Anderson’s role-play.  

Ultimately, the work’s title may also be understood in relation to Anderson’s own predicament as a young artist at the dawn of his career. The year after its completion, it was selected for the 1999 group exhibition Pictures of Pictures at the Norwich Gallery; a sister painting, Skinny Dipping—one of three other variations on the subject, including Audition II and Audition III—was shown concurrently at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol. In his discussion of the present work some years later, writer and curator Mark Beasley suggested that ‘Perhaps what we are really privy to is the introduction of Anderson the painter, from the perfectly executed sheen of the water to the shadowy half figures suggested with the touch of a brush. It’s Anderson as painter who is on display, stepping from the platform into the world of paint’ (M. Beasley, ‘The Social Physics of Platform Diving’, ArtEast, 2004, n.p.). It is a showcase of technical and conceptual ambition, capturing the multiple directions in which Anderson would take his practice over the following years. In Audition, the artist announces his arrival, and plunges effortlessly into the role.

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