Lot 408
  • 408

Wade Guyton

700,000 - 900,000 USD
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  • Wade Guyton
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated 05 on the reverse
  • Epson UltraChrome inkjet on linen
  • 31 5/8 by 19 3/4 in. 80.3 by 50.2 cm.


The Artist
Private Collection, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above


This work is in excellent condition overall. There are no apparent condition issues with this work. Under Ultraviolet light inspection there is no evidence of restoration. Framed.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

“I’ve become interested in when something starts as an accident and then becomes a template for other things, or reproduces itself and generates its own logic until something else intervenes to change it.” Wade Guyton, in conversation with Scott Rothkopf, New York, September 2005

Wade Guyton has redefined what it means to paint. Executed in 2005, the present lot is one of five unique variants in a series of Wade Guyton’s most iconic works emphatically known as the Flaming U’s. The most unique element of each variant in the series is the way that the black drips, counterintuitively, up the canvas. The use of chance is typical of Wade Guyton’s work, as is his attempt to gain control over such accidents. Guyton opens up painting to chance by running the canvas through a printer whose struggles with the thickness of the canvas create random ‘failures’ in the application of paint. In conjunction with the use of accidents, Guyton reasserts his control through his own manipulations of the canvas as it reluctantly squeezes through the printer. In his allowance of the haphazard dripping of paint after it has been applied to the canvas, Guyton again opens up the process of painting to the laws of chance. By inverting the canvas, Guyton re-assumes some control over a motif symbolically associated with the accidental in painting: the drip. 

The push and pull between mechanized control and unbridled chaos is what makes this painting so alluring, so radical, and yet so engaged with the history of art. There is a mechanization of the act of painting process through his use of an industrial sized printer to create ‘imagery’ originating from a file on his computer. This pushes the possibility of what a painting can be and how it can be made to the logical extreme that artists such as Pollock and subsequently Richter instigated in their own redefinitions of painting. As Ann Tempkin writes, “You tap a keyboard with one finger and this very large painting emerges. It’s gone against everything we think of as a painting. Pollock flung it; Rauschenberg silkscreened it; Richter took a squeegee; Polke used chemicals. Wade is working in what by now is a pretty venerable tradition, against the conventional idea of painting.” (Ann Temkin cited in "Painting, Rebooted," The New York Times, September 27, 2012)

Despite this radical mechanization of the application of paint onto canvas, Guyton’s paintings are anything but formulaic and precise. The Epson Stylus Pro 11880 inkjet printers he uses are not built to deal with the thickness of the canvas nor is the ink used created to be applied to canvas. This pushing of his process and tools to the extreme leaves the work open to chance interactions between the canvas and printer that cannot be fully controlled. In order to complicate the collision of chance and order even further Guyton pulls and wrenches the canvas as it struggles through the printer in order to push the process to even greater extremes. In the stuttering lines reverberating through the surface of Untitled, we can imagine the stops and starts of Guyton wrenching the heavy linen through the printer. In this violence against the printer and canvas Guyton regains some control over the entire act of creation whilst allowing the chance elements to flourish within the process of ‘painting’.

The conceptual rigor and revolutionary nature of Untitled and Guyton’s work in general takes nothing away from the magnificent visual impact that his works provide. The smoldering flames, originating from a JPEG file of a book he scanned long ago, seduce and impress the viewer. The inflamed ‘U’ is reverberated by a spectral white duplicate which hovers above the black surface of the canvas. On his choice of fire as the dominant imagery in paintings such as Untitled Guyton explains: “Fire is always captivating. I thought of it as romantic, but camp. Destructive, but also generative. And of course hot. There’s a great interaction between the image and the material in the fire paintings, which I didn’t predict, in the way the ink drips and runs. The first time I printed the fire on linen was one of those brutally humid New York summer nights. No AC in the studio. I was sweating, and the paintings were melting.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Wade Guyton OS, 2012, p. 204)  

Guyton, whose work is now held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, first moved to New York from a small town in Tennessee in 1996. While studying at Hunter College under the tutelage of the revered minimalist sculptor Robert Morris, the artist worked for seven years as a guard at the Dia Art Foundation in Chelsea, surrounded by the work of Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Dan Graham. Guyton’s importance as both an exceptional student of the art of the past and a father figure for the artists of today was cemented with his critically acclaimed mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 2012.