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The Magic is in You

The Magic is in You
signed twice and dated ‘Winston Branch 1982-4 Winston BRANCH’ (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
78 1⁄8 x 56in. (198.5 x 142.1cm.)
Painted in 1982-1984
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner.
London, Whitfield Place, Artist’s Open Studio, 1985.
Jersey, Bernie Gallery, Jersey Arts Council, 1987.
Castries, Alliance Française, 1992.
Castries, National Commercial Bank, 1993.
Castries, Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, 1994.
Roseau, Alliance Française de Roseau, 1994.
Belmopan, Department of Museums, 1994.
Belize City, Belize Arts Council, 1994.
Castries, Dunnottar School, 1996.
London, Clink Wharf Gallery, 1997.
Castries, Alliance Française Castries, 150th Anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery in the French Antilles, 1998.
Berkeley, University of California Berkeley, Townsend Center for the Humanities, 1999.
San Francisco, Alliance Française, 2000.
Manhattan, Kansas State University, Willard Hall, 2001.
Los Angeles, Alliance Française, 2003.
San Francisco, Alliance Française, 2004.
Napa, Robert Mondavi Gallery, 2009.

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

A shimmering expanse of light and colour, The Magic is in You (1982-1984) is a spectacular work from a pivotal moment in Winston Branch’s abstract practice. Alongside the major painting Zachary II (1982, Tate)—lately on prominent display as part of the recent rehang of Tate Britain’s permanent collections—it belongs to a group of works that heralded Branch’s arrival at fully-fledged abstraction at the start of the 1980s. Vibrant, staccato layers of brilliant yellow, sky blue, vermillion and green dance across the surface, creating a scintillating chromatic atmosphere that recalls Monet’s Nymphéas. Working in fast-drying acrylic, Branch builds a sense of space through deft tonal contrasts: brilliant flashes float before cooler, darker passages like plumes of mist or reflections on water. Sumptuous and immersive, the work captures Branch’s ongoing mission ‘to explore the magic of paint: the way a total amorphous substance is transformed into an illusory subject’ (W. Branch, quoted in R. J. Parker, ‘A Long Road Home’, Tate Etc, Issue 56, Autumn 2022, p. 57). Previously in the artist’s personal collection, it has been widely exhibited throughout its lifetime, in venues from London to Los Angeles, Belize, Saint Lucia, California and New York.

Branch was born in Saint Lucia in 1947 and left for England when he was twelve years old, encouraged by his parents to pursue his artistic talents. At nineteen, he was awarded a place at the Slade School of Fine Art, where he studied under painters including Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews and Euan Uglow. He was also influenced by the surreal, dreamlike works of the Cuban painter Wifredo Lam and the Chilean Roberto Matta, who inspired him, he later said, ‘because they came from my part of the world’ (W. Branch, quoted in C. Popovic, ‘Winston Branch: The Precarious Life of Art’, B.W.I.A. Caribbean Beat, November–December 1995). By the time Branch graduated, his work had been shown internationally. He had also spent a year in Italy after winning the 1970 British Prix de Rome, beginning a career of near-constant travel that would see him live, work and exhibit across Europe, on both coasts of the United States, and back in the Caribbean.

The Magic is in You dates from a period when Branch was based in London, and painting in a warehouse studio off Tottenham Court Road. While his work had become non-representational towards the end of the 1970s, it was now, thinking deeply of Monet’s water-lilies and the palette-knifed compositions of Nicolas de Staël, that he began working in the luminous abstract mode he is best known for today. ‘The series deals with the language of painting’, Branch explains. ‘I was interested in light, and colour; the humanity of colours. I was also interested in space … I was following Tintoretto and Titian, juxtaposing one colour upon another to create an illusion of movement and depth’ (W. Branch, quoted in R. J. Parker, ibid., p. 58). Branch does not conceive of his works in the mystical terms of the Abstract Expressionists, but as products of all the knowledge he has distilled by studying his favourite artists over the decades. The ‘magic’ of the present work, in all its ethereal, shifting splendour, is that of the artistic consciousness.

Branch made these works at a time when the influential British Black Arts Movement, founded in 1982, was shifting perceptions of race, gender and the politics of representation in art. Like the African-American painter Sam Gilliam, who emerged in Washington, D.C. during the 1970s, Branch stood out for his commitment to abstraction at this cultural moment. Rather than making declarative, explicitly political works, he forged his own path, opting for an imaginative and formal independence that was its own statement of identity. ‘I am not about illustration,’ he has said; ‘I am about painting’ (W. Branch, quoted in C. Popovic, ibid.). The Magic is in You is an affirmation of creative freedom, and of the endless, mercurial potential of colour on canvas.

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