2 More

Clay Court

Clay Court
signed ‘Honor’ (upper right)
oil on canvas
72 x 84in. (182.9 x 213.4cm.)
Painted in 2020
Timothy Taylor, New York.
Private Collection, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
A. Nelson, ‘Meet Honor Titus, the Punk Survivor With the Sold-Out Art Shows’, in GQ, 3 March 2021 (illustrated in colour).
N. Vanamee, ‘The Artist at Leisure’, in Town & Country, Summer 2021 (illustrated in colour, p. 79).
C. Waddington (ed.), Honor Titus, London 2023 (installation view at Timothy Taylor in 2021 illustrated in colour, p. 26).
New York, Timothy Taylor, Honor Titus: For Heaven’s Sake, 2021.

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Unveiled in Honor Titus’s New York debut For Heaven’s Sake in 2021, Clay Court is a dazzling large-scale work devoted to one of his most celebrated subjects. Spanning more than two metres in width, it depicts a solitary tennis player against a luxuriant red backdrop, evoking the clay court of its title. A pale green ball hurtles across the net towards the viewer, cinematically poised as if about to burst through the canvas. Painted in 2020, the year that Henry Taylor hosted Titus’s first ever solo exhibition at his studio, the work captures the evocative, jewel-toned language that has since propelled him to critical acclaim. Inspired by nineteenth-century French painting, modernist literature and American jazz, Titus paints scenes of leisure and decadence that harken back to a halcyon era. His tennis paintings draw upon his own love of the sport, which he played avidly during lockdown in Los Angeles. A product of this period, Clay Court is suffused with wistful longing and nostalgia, its match frozen in eternal suspense.

Titus was born in Brooklyn in 1989, and originally rose to prominence as the lead singer of a punk rock band. He also gained early recognition for his poetry, performing readings of his work around New York City. After a period working for the artists Raymond Pettibon and Dan Colen, he relocated to Los Angeles in 2016, where Taylor became a close friend and mentor. ‘When I saw his paintings for the first time, I remember I had to sit down’, Taylor recalls. ‘I just thought, this is real. He’s a poet, and I see that in his art’ (H. Taylor, ‘Foreword’, in Honor Titus, London 2023, p. 5). Titus, indeed, approaches his paintings with a writer’s sensibility, admiring J. D. Salinger, Evelyn Waugh and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Many of his works have prompted comparison with The Great Gatsby, invoking strains of roaring twenties opulence. A subtle social commentary, however, flickers in their depths: his Black subjects, often dressed in vintage-style tennis whites, inhabit worlds from which they would once have been excluded.

Titus’s canvases fuse together personal memories, found images and myriad historical references. He was particularly inspired by the artists of ‘Les Nabis’, admiring Edouard Vuillard and Felix Vallotton for their flat chromatic planes and decorative surfaces. The present work skilfully plays with the distinction between foreground and background, while its tennis net’s intricate patterning—resembling a wrought iron bedstead—lends it a surreal, otherworldly flavour. Equally, the work captures Titus’s admiration for Alex Katz, its crisp, Pop-inflected lines rooted in the legacy of advertising. There is a musicality, too, to the work’s bold chromaticism, invoking the jazz harmonies of Bill Evans which inspired the exhibition’s title. Its rhythmic composition, moreover, seems to conjure the very lilt of tennis itself, which Titus describes as ‘beauty in motion’. If his paintings are ‘postcards to another world’—as he puts it—Clay Court tells of the richness and vibrancy of our own, every inch of its surface alive with synaesthetic magic (H. Titus, quoted in video for Honor Titus: For Heaven’s Sake, Timothy Taylor Gallery, New York 2021).

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

View All
View All