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Artworks by celebrated Filipino artist and key proponent of the American abstract expressionism movement Alfonso Ossorio heads to auction



Unlikely Clutch by Alfonso Ossorio (1916-1990)

Estimate £40,000-£60,000 (lot 160)

LONDON, UK — Dreweatts is to offer two exciting works by one of the key artists of the Abstract Expressionist and Art Brut movements of the 1950s, the celebrated Filipino / American artist Alfonso Ossorio (1916-1990). Close friends with the artists Jackson Pollock (1912–1956) and Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), the three shared a central passion for the arts and the exploration of abstraction.  This was demonstrated in both Ossorio’s artistic style, as well as his collecting habits, both of which helped to raise the profile of the movements in America. Two works by the artist will be offered in Dreweatts Modern & Contemporary Art sale on March 13, 2024.

Ossorio came from an affluent background, with his family making their wealth through sugar-refining industries in Negros Occidental in the Philippines. He was educated in England before relocating to Rhode Island in the USA at the age of 14. He studied Fine Art at Harvard University and held his first solo exhibition in New York with Betty Parsons in 1941. Ossorio’s interest in art reached further than just practice, he was a keen collector and whilst studying at Harvard, the Fogg Museum exhibited his early collection of works including pieces by Eric Gill and David Jones.


Janus by Alfonso Ossorio (1916-1990). Estimate £1,000-£1,500 (lot 161) 

Whilst exhibiting with Betty Parsons throughout the 40s, Ossorio became aware of Jackson Pollock’s work, another artist Betty Parsons was supporting and he was immediately drawn to his unique talent. He purchased his first Pollock ‘drip’ painting in 1949 titled Number 5, 1948. From this moment forward a strong friendship ensued between Ossorio and Pollock, both as artists but also as patron and artist.

In November 1949, Pollock encouraged Ossorio to travel to Paris to meet with his friend Jean Dubuffet. At the time Dubuffet had experienced a great deal of criticism in Europe for his highly textured Art Brut works but his reputation was growing across the pond. Ossorio returned to New York with three new purchases Robinson, Figure au site Champetre and La Dame au Pompom and most importantly a new everlasting friendship was formed.  By 1951 Dubuffet was arguably the most famous French artist in America, possibly with the help of Ossorio.

Together with Ossorio’s lifelong partner, Ted Dragon, he purchased an estate on Long Island called The Creeks. The estate became synonymous with lavish parties attended by some of the most important artists of the 20th century Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Lee Krasner. The Creeks arguably helped to further strengthen Abstract Expressionism in America.

In 1952, Dubuffet’s The Art Brut Collection which included 1,200 works by approximately 100 artists was installed at Ossorio’s estate. The collection hung on the upper floors of The Creeks alongside Ossorio’s personal collection of works by Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Lee Krasner and Willem de Kooning. In 1962 the collection returned to Paris to a purpose-made space organized by Dubuffet and from 1976 the collection was moved to Lausanne in Switzerland in the Collection de l’Art Brut, where it remains today.

The main work by Ossorio in the sale is titled Unlikely Clutch in ink, wax and watercolor (estimate £40,000-£60,000 – lot 160) with a second work, a lithograph titled Janus dates from 1969 (estimate £1,000-£1,500 – lot 161). The works represent the artist’s exploration of surrealism, which is characterised as ‘metaphysical fantasies’ and features emotionally charged expressionistic brushstrokes. Influenced by his return to the Philippines in 1949, to carry out a mural commission for the Chapel of St. Joseph the Worker in his hometown Victorias, he introduced the ‘wax-resist’ technique, inspired by Victor Brauner, giving rise to the Victorias Paintings series. This collection delved into the complexities of Catholicism, homosexuality, and racism. His early pieces depicted the emotional turmoil of a young homosexual male with a deeply rooted Catholic upbringing, set against the backdrop of World War II.

Ossorio’s collecting habits and socialite lifestyle often overshadowed his spectacular artistic capabilities. However in 2013 the exhibition Angels, Demons and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet curated by Dorothy Konsinski and Klauss Ottman at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. placed Ossorio in the centre of Pollock and Dubuffet – shining a light on the importance of his career as both an artist and collector.

Commenting on the main work Francesca Whitham, Picture Specialist in Dreweatts Modern and Contemporary Art department, said: “Unlikely Clutch encapsulates Ossorio’s early experimentation with wax resist technique justaposed against the bold black line and elegance of the blush pink peering through. An explosive work that is both spontaneous and deliberate produced at a time when Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were breaking the art world. It is such an exciting opportunity to purchase a rare work by Alfonso Ossorio who became one of the most important figures in Jackson Pollock’s life, as both friend and patron”.

The works come from the private collection of the music and film producer Robert Stigwood (1934-2016), producer of the cult classic film Grease. Stigwood bought the works in the 1980s.


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