Lot 26
  • 26

AMY SILLMAN | Purple Thing

200,000 - 400,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Amy Sillman
  • Purple Thing
  • oil on canvas
  • 203.2 by 182.9 cm. 80 by 72 in.
  • Executed in 2006.


Galerie Gebauer, Berlin Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007


Berlin, Galerie Gebauer, Person, Place or Thing (solo project), February - April 2007


Gary Garrels, Oranges and Sardines: Conversations on Abstract Painting. Mark Grotjahn, Wade Guyton, Mary Heilmann, Amy Sillman, Charline Von Heyl, Christopher Wool, Los Angeles 2009, p. 67, illustrated in colour Jens Hinrichsen, 'Gebt ihr das Rosa!', Monopol, January 2016, p. 56, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate although the overall tonality is slightly lighter and more vibrant in the original. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

“For Sillman, it is the process of painting – of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction – that generates meaning in her oil on canvas works. Forms and figures, built from layers of color and surface, simultaneously emerge from and dissolve into abstraction. This contradiction and corruption of abstraction echoes throughout the full range of mediums and strategies the artist employs.” Fabiran Schöneich, ‘Preaface’, in: Exh. Cat., Frankfurt, Portikus, Amy Sillman: the ALL-OVER, 2016, p. 15.

Amy Sillman’s works on canvas form part of an encompassing and immersive approach to contemporary artmaking that, alongside painting, employs performance, animation, diagrams, and zines. The present work is an outstanding example of Sillman’s deconstructive/reconstructive method in which the dynamic between abstraction and figuration is brought into pin-sharp focus. Belonging to the ‘couples project’ that Sillman began in 2006 – a number of works from which were exhibited in the acclaimed, Amy Sillman: Third Person Singular, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 2008 – Purple Thing illuminates a double painterly triumvirate in which the relationship between artist, subject, and viewer is met by a tripartite painterly process.

The starting point for these paintings is a graphic rendering of real people, many of whom are Sillman’s close friends. Drawing couples from life in the safe spaces of their homes, Sillman begins with first hand observation. The second stage relies upon Sillman’s memory of her sitters from which she makes a secondary drawing. After this, she uses both the from-life primary drawing and mediated memory drawing as inspiration for her works on canvas. Three times removed from her original subjects therefore, Sillman’s paintings propose a recapitulated form of portraiture. Indeed, beginning with the most traditional of painterly subjects – the human form – Sillman’s ‘couples project’ is an exercise in figuration that is abstract, aleatory, fragmentary and yet is fundamentally grounded in corporeal appearance. As outlined by Anne Ellegood, “Sillman has not removed the figure; she has not replaced representation with abstraction. Rather, she more strongly asserts her longstanding commitment to embrace abstraction without abandoning representation” (Anne Ellegood, ‘Third Person Singular’, in: Exh. Cat., Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Directions: Amy Sillman, Third Person Singular, 2008, p. 59). Executed with a palimpsest logic of layered form in which earthy pastel colours and geometric planes at once recall Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings and elicit bodily allusions, the present work distils Sillman’s boundary breaking project.

Sillman has explained her practice as inhabiting the space between intuition and empiricism: “each half sort of vexes the other. Half of my painting process is accident / chance / mistake / erasure / discovery (i.e., body!), and this is balanced by about 50 percent decisions / analysis / editing / conceptualizing / etc. (i.e. mind!). And this is where the ‘mood’ of painting really appeals to me, this crazy slippage between what we do and what we think” (Amy Sillman in conversation with Fabiran Schöneich, in: Exh. Cat., Frankfurt, Portikus, Amy Sillman: the ALL-OVER, 2016, p. 47). When creating her works on canvas, Sillman balances painterly flourish with process; she welcomes chance and accident, explores the potential of erasure as an additive painterly gesture, and yet constructs form in a manner that is undeniably architectural. For Sillman, painting is a protracted activity. Her works are built up in layers that are covered-up, scraped away, worked over, turned upside down and reworked, over and over again. Fuelling this gruelling method, however, is Sillman's love affair with painting. “Painting has taught me everything I know on this earth!”, explains Sillman; “Sensuality, depth, surface changes, the unknown, the hard-to-understand, the mysterious, the high, the love, the poetic, the intellectual, the dumb, the immediate… Painting is like a love affair. I think painting is my sexual preference” (Ibid., p. 52). Borne out of a process in which decision making is enriched by happenstance, her paintings, and the present work in particular, embody an exuberant and poetic interaction of painterly gesture, geometric mark-making, corporeal allusion, and psychological charge. Suspended within the layers of these works, it is precisely the unknowability and elusiveness of abstract/figurative form that sustains Sillman’s devotion to the practice of painting.