Lot 1107
  • 1107

ROBERT COLESCOTT | New God at the Bather's Pool

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 HKD
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  • Robert Colescott
  • New God at the Bather's Pool
  • acrylic on canvas
  • 213.4 by 122.9 cm.   84 by 72 in.
signed and dated 1985; signed, titled and dated July 1983 on the reverse


Phyllis Kind Gallery, Chicago
Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Los Angeles, Blum & Poe, Robert Colescott, March - April 2018

Catalogue Note

I thought a lot about Cezanne's bathers and Matisse's bathers, and thought I would do some bathers. They're about competing standards of beauty, and also about the intrusion of the white world on a black world. It also poses the idea of a beauty parade. Robert Colescott

A radical reimagining of the age-old trope of bathers, Robert Colescott’s New God at the Bather’s Pool depicts a world of searing dichotomies – between male and female, black and white, tragedy and comedy, past and present. The first African American to represent the United States in the Venice Biennale in 1997 – and the first painter selected for the honor since Jasper Johns, over a decade earlier – Colescott is revered for his unique style of narrative figuration, and its capacity to investigate cultural stereotypes and tropes with unprecedented candor. Curator Miriam Roberts described: “Like the world they depict, Colescott’s polyrhythmic, improvisational paintings are full of surprises – in juxtapositions of forms and colors, in distortions of scale, in inventions and interplays of space and structure... Colescott’s paintings are the work of a contemporary American painter fully aware of the entire spectrum of American and African American art and culture” (Miriam Roberts, “Robert Colescott: Recent Paintings,” Exh. Cat., Venice, The United States Pavilion, 47th Venice Biennale, 1997, p. 13).

Born in Oakland, California in 1925, Colescott studied European Modernism at the University of California at Berkeley before traveling to Paris in 1949 to study with Fernand Léger; indeed, the influence of Léger’s modernist figuration is apparent within the chaotic yet gracefully structured composition of the present work. Upon returning to the United States in 1950, dissatisfied with the narrow narrative scope offered by abstraction, Colescott would spend the next several decades developing his own, highly individualized artistic syntax. While Colescott arrived at his signature figuration by the late 1960s, it was not until the 1980s that he hit upon the virtuosic painterly intensity that now defines his oeuvre. Lowery S. Sims describes, “The 1980s mark a turning point in Colescott’s stylistic development. He continues the exploration of familiar themes, but with a new assurance that renders his compositions no less pungent, but less urgent. His palette becomes richer and deeper in tonality, and these works verge dangerously close to beautiful” (Exh. Cat., San Jose Museum of Art, Robert Colescott: A Retrospective, 1975—1986, 1987, p. 7). Executed in the mid-1980s, New God at the Bather’s Pool is archetypal of the emphatic graphic force which has distinguished Colescott as amongst the most influential figurative artists of his generation.

The Bathers series in particular exemplifies the artist’s accomplishments at the height of his career; while continuing to develop his well-established strategy of appropriating themes from European art history, he ventured into a more psychological realm with these works. Colescott has said: “I thought a lot about Cezanne's bathers and Matisse's bathers, and thought I would do some bathers. They're about competing standards of beauty, and also about the intrusion of the white world on a black world”. Elsewhere the artist stated: “The subject matter has more a poetic sense…though it still generates thought about identity and makes a social statement. But the narratives are less clear, and there’s [a] psychological statement to each one”. In the present work, the variegated figures appear to be in constant motion, visually enacting the tense and tenuous relationships between genders, races, and classes which defined the cultural dilemmas and events of Colescott’s day. The characters serve as allegories for complex social issues, allowing the viewer to explore difficult, even uncomfortable inquiries via charged figuration. Typifying the finest of the artist’s oeuvre, New God at the Bather’s Pool fuses irony and sincerity, allegory and image, figuration and abstraction, bringing to sharp focus aspects of the contemporary African American experience that remain more acutely relevant than ever today.

Colescott’s highly acclaimed works are included in permanent collections of many major musueums, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Musuem, and the Whitney Museum of Art, amongst others.