Patrizia Koenig tends to be conservative in her estimates, and the arrival of a Jason Boyd Kinsella painting for consignment at Phillips some four months before the auction house’s spring sale was hardly an exception. She judged that as the artist’s thaw Portrait would sell for a maximum of $10,000, a desirable upper limit for a two-year-old painting by a newcomer without much market success.
What happened next, said the veteran contemporary art specialist, was “really unexpected.”
Within seconds, bidders had surpassed the lofty estimate of $10,000. Nearly 30 people competed for the Canadian artist’s painting: a collection of colourful, voluminous forms arranged in the familiar pose of a portrait model. That Final Price, including auction house fees, came in at $441,000. Koenig’s rating was down 4,310 percent.
For his part, Kinsella, who returned to painting full-time in 2019 after 30 years in advertising, would rather not discuss such acts of humiliation. During an interview, the painter declined to answer questions about the sale, aside from saying he simply wasn’t watching.
“They assume something like this would happen,” he said. “You try not to pay much attention.”
At 52 and with a busy career in another industry, Kinsella may be an unlikely art star. But he shares similarities with auction favorites like Javier Calleja, Huang Yuxing and Allison Zuckerman, all of whom have thrived with bright color palettes and graphic imagery that translates well to a computer screen.
In just over two years, Kinsella’s art has garnered him a growing audience, particularly in Asia, where affluent millennials have made a sport of speculating about the ultra-contemporary crowd, a term used to describe artists who were born after 1974. Although Kinsella has technically aged out of that designation, his prices reflect characteristic hilarity: earlier this week his painting Summer (the Elder)Manufactured just last year, it sold at Phillips Hong Kong for HK$1.6 million ($208,658) – more than six times its already high estimate of $32,100.
A late start
Kinsella was born in Toronto in 1969 and grew up participating in after-school programs at the Art Gallery of Ontario. He earned an arts degree from Bishop’s University in Quebec and studied painting and sculpture before moving into advertising for the next 30 years.
“It’s been fun being creative and getting paid,” Kinsella said, though he shied away from discussing details of his career. Online, his name is associated with several commercials as art director for global advertising firm McCann, for which he produced media for the Toronto Blue Jays, a Canadian baseball team.
In 2008 he moved to Norway, where his wife is from; The couple now live in Oslo with their children. Meanwhile, he continued to paint as a hobby. But around his 50th birthday in 2019, he decided to quit advertising to pursue art full-time. Today he works in a studio in a disused shipbuilding factory near the river, painting to jazz soundtracks.
Kinsella cites a variety of influences on his work: color theory by Vermeer and shadows by Caravaggio; Cubism by Picasso and Bodyweight by Henry Moore. One of his gallery owners, Veronica Thut von Perrotin, compares him to Magritte; Koenig thinks he’s reminiscent of George Condo.
“The idea of psychological portraiture is central,” says Kinsella in a video promoting his first solo show at Unit London in 2021. He tinkers with the small, white geometric models on a coffee table, sipping from a mug imperceptibly placed between the model pieces. He looks like one of the guys in an LL Bean catalogue. “I am drawn to geometric blocks because they are the simplest and most honest forms of expression, allowing me to see a person without distractions. There’s nowhere to hide.”
Kinsella is obsessed with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality test said to determine affinity for traits like introversion, intuition, emotion, and perception. In the 1980s, the artist received a book from his mother with the test questions it contained. “I answered all these questions and read about my personality. I was shocked – it was incredibly accurate,” he told me. (Artist’s personality type is INFJ.) “Archetypes themselves are like vessels. It is our experiences that fill them in and make us individual.”
Now he builds his own ships. Kinsella begins sketchbook drawings. Good doodles are brought to his computer via iPhone snapshots, which he edits and fills with color. From there it goes back to the canvas where a final painting is created.
He occasionally hires a digital producer to create videos of his compositions as three-dimensional sculptures in virtual space. The resulting images are smooth and polished – “super clean” as the artist describes them.
From Instagram to the world
Success came quickly. When he committed to painting full-time in 2019, Kinsella began documenting his journey on Instagram. Within a week of his first post in May 2020, he was contacted by UK gallery Unit London. Less than a year later he opened his first exhibition there.
Around the same time, Perrotin co-founder Tom-David Bastok found the Instagram account. He forwarded it to Thut, a staff member at the gallery’s Paris office, who struck up a conversation with Kinsella. (The artist currently has more than 21,500 followers.)
Perrotin has shown the Canadian’s paintings at its Paris location, Art Basel Miami Beach and Art Basel Hong Kong. (He continues to be represented by Unit London.) “Everything we ever had from Jason was sold,” Thut said.
An early acquisition by the Long Museum in Shanghai helped quicken the excitement. For a recent assignment from Hong Kong-based fintech executive Alan Lau, Kinsella interviewed the collector on Zoom and used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to learn more about his personality. The resulting portrait, Alancontains a blue figure on a black background with a white ring and three moons that appear to orbit the sitter’s head.
“It all happened in a really condensed two and a half year period since I posted my work on Instagram to where we are now,” Kinsella said. Still, he’s determined to keep his focus. On Instagram, he often poses next to his paintings like a proud father.
“I feel lucky,” he said. “The universe speaks to you sometimes and says, ‘It’s going pretty well.'”