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Wishes Above Needs

Wishes Above Needs
signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated ‘LYB 2011 Wishes Above Needs’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
31 5/8 x 25 3/4in. (80.4 x 65.4cm.)
Painted in 2011
Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2012.
Cape Town, Stevenson Gallery, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, 2011-2012.
Cape Town, The New Church Museum, Subject as Matter, 2012-2013.
Cape Town, Welgemeend Manor House, Giving Direction: Figuration, Past and Present, 2022.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. 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.

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Anna Touzin
Anna Touzin Specialist, Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

Painted in 2011, Wishes Above Needs is an enigmatic work that exemplifies Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s redefinition of contemporary portraiture. Rendered in her signature nocturnal palette, it depicts an anonymous male figure sitting alone at a table, his gaze directed towards something beyond the picture plane. Hand poised on his chin, he flashes us a quiet smile, his eyes and teeth a gleaming white against a background of sepia light and shade. Through hazy, hurried brushstrokes, the work is imbued with a sense of immediacy, characteristic of an artist who frequently creates her paintings in a single day. Inspired by memories and found images, yet conjured completely from her imagination, Yiadom-Boakye’s protagonist is one whose location and history is unknown—a surreal character whose narrative remains untold. Ambiguously poetic, and completely devoid of any contextual clues, the title Wishes Above Needs further hints at a backstory beyond our reach. Speaking on the calculated mystery of her practice, the artist has stated ‘One of the reasons I made a conscious decision not to work from people I know is to get around this idea of objectifying … It’s about seeing but more than feeling. Thinking through feeling’ (L. Yiadom-Boakye, quoted in Stick to the Skin: African American and Black British Art, 1965-1915, Berkeley 2018, p. 238).

Recalling Caravaggio’s dramatic chiaroscuro, Édouard Manet’s loose brushwork and alla prima directness, and Francisco Goya’s moody colour palette, Wishes Above Needs is a painting steeped in art-historical references. However, by inserting the contemporary Black figure into her canvas, and predominantly depicting Black sitters throughout her practice, the artist simultaneously dismantles this canon. In Wishes Above Needs and other works, the artist recuperates traditionally exclusionary genres, borrowing the painterly techniques of the past, and presenting us with a new history of representation. ‘I’ve been influenced by historic painters who share a certain devil-may-care mode working,’ she says, ‘who were not so concerned with formal perfection or academic rules, but with the physicality they knew and how they could make it tangible through paint—people like Edouard Manet, Walter Sickert and Francisco Goya’ (L. Yiadom-Boakye, quoted in Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Any Number of Preoccupations, exh. cat. The Studio Museum Harlem, New York 2011, p. 20).

Since graduating from the Royal Academy in 2003, Yiadom-Boakye has taken her place as one of the leading figurative painters of her generation. Between 2020 and February 2023, she mounted her first major retrospective Fly in the League with the Night, organised by Tate Britain in collaboration with Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, and MUDAM, Luxembourg. She was the recipient of the Pinchuk Foundation Future Generation Prize in 2013 and the 2018 winner of the prestigious Carnegie Prize. In 2013, she was shortlisted for the Turner Prize. Her work is included in a number of significant permanent collections across the globe, including those of Tate, London, The Victoria & Albert Museum, London, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.

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