Lot 75: HENRY TAYLOR, “‘The Young, the Brave, Bobby Hutton’ R.I.P. Oakland, California,” 2007 (acrylic, charcoal and graphite on canvas). Estimate $35,000-$45,000. Sold for $235,500 (including fees)

 

IN MARCH, TWO PAINTINGS by Henry Taylor set artist records at auction. A couple of weeks after Henry Taylor‘s 2011 painting “Terri Philips” sold for $182,078 (including fees) at Christie’s London, a benchmark for the artist, another painting surpassed the price, setting a new auction record.

The two images are in stark contrast. “Terri Phillips” depicts a white woman standing, wearing an open overcoat revealing your nude body. Taylor’s “‘The Young, the Brave, Bobby Hutton’ R.I.P. Oakland, California” (2007) portrays a member of the Black Panther Party who was only 17 when he was killed by police nearly 50 years ago.

Expected to yield $35,000-$45,000, the Bobby Hutton portrait sold for more than five times the high estimate on March 22 at Christie’s New York. Featured in the sale Handpicked: 100 Works Selected by the Saatchi Gallery at Rockefeller Center, the painting garnered $235,000 (including fees), an artist record.

LOS ANGELES-BASED TAYLOR paints his family and friends, interesting people from his neighborhood, and historic figures, including the Black Panthers. “‘The Young, the Brave, Bobby Hutton’ R.I.P. Oakland, California” references a well-known photograph of Hutton, standing armed in front of the Oakland police department. (The image is also used on the cover of the 1997 Primal Scream album “Star.”)

In Taylor’s painting, Hutton’s color-blocked figure is framed in the outline of a large capital letter “B.” Faceless, he wears a butter yellow jacket and is holding a shotgun at his side. A faded U.S. flag image is in the background along with largely indecipherable words.

On April 6, 1968, two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., 17-year old Hutton was killed. Police reported being fired upon and tracking the suspects to the basement of a nearby home. The New York Times coverage carried the following headline: “Oakland Police Kill Negro in Gun Duel; 4 Wounded.” The report cited a 90-minute gun battle in “heavily Negro West Oakland” and said “Bobby James Hutton, a member of the Black Panthers, a militant negro group, was killed when he emerged from a barricaded house on police orders. One of the wounded was identified as Eldridge Cleaver…”

Kathleen Cleaver, Elbert “Big Man” Howard, and historian Donna Murch discuss the moments before and after Hutton was killed in the documentary “The Black Panthers” (2015). Cleaver said the assassination of King was overwhelming to the Panthers. “It shattered many, many people,” she said. “I believe that there was a decision made that some response on the part of the Black Panther Party has to be made to what happened to King.”

Murch said: “Eldridge Cleaver was worried that if the Panthers didn’t take decisive action they would cease to be the vanguard. So he had this idea of actually actively attacking the police. He goes and he approaches members of the party in Oakland and all of the older people refused to participate. They knew that this would be suicide. But the youngest member of the party, Little Bobby Hutton, decides to follow Eldridge into battle.”

“All of the older people refused to participate. They knew that this would be suicide. But the youngest member of the party, Little Bobby Hutton, decides to follow Eldridge into battle.” — Historian Donna Murch, “The Black Panthers”

According to PBS, Hutton was shot a dozen times after he surrendered. In “Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers,” Bobby Seale says Hutton was shot more than 10 times while in custody of Oakland Police. The Times report doesn’t include a specific figure.

 


1967: Black Panther Party member Bobby Hutton carries a loaded shotgun in front of the Oakland police station. | via East Bay Times, Ron Riesterer/Staff Archives

 

FELLOW PANTHERS RECALL HUTTON in “Power to the People” by photographer Stephen Shames and Seale. He describes looking out for the young man who was the first person to join the Panthers, encouraging him to stay in school and introducing him to “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

“Bobby Hutton was my part-time after school assistant at the North Oakland Neighborhood Service Center, where I worked. I hired him and took him under my guidance,” said Seale in “Power to the People.” “He was a dropout from Tech High School. I said, ‘If I hire you, you’re going to go back to school?’ ‘Well, I don’t want to go to school.’ ‘Well, then I’m not gonna hire you. You gotta go to school, brother.'”

    Seale continued: “When we named the party, October 22, he came walking up the street. ‘Hey, ya’ll—Huey, what’s happenin’? He knew that we were trying to start a new organization. We said, ‘We named the organization.’ ‘You did? What’s the organization going to be named?’ ‘It’s going to be named the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.’ ‘OK, I want to be a member too now, you know that?’ I say, ‘Yeah, you can be a member.’ Huey says, ‘You’ll be our treasurer.” He was our first member. After he turned 16, he went on patrols.

    “Bobby Hutton was the first Black Panther Party member murdered, killed while in the custody of the Oakland police. During the inquest on Bobby Hutton, one policeman testified that the other cops had literally ‘murdered Bobby Hutton’ after he surrendered.”

“Bobby Hutton was the first Black Panther Party member murdered, killed while in the custody of the Oakland police. During the inquest on Bobby Hutton, one policeman testified that the other cops had literally ‘murdered Bobby Hutton’ after he surrendered.” — Bobby Seale, “Power to the People”

Elbert “Big Man” Howard also recalled Hutton. He said: “Bobby Hutton was a young brother who was always ready to rumble with the cops, but he also had a sense of the discipline and would listen to me when he was with me. I suppose that is one of the reasons I have always felt the loss of him very deeply.”

TAYLOR HAS PREVIOUSLY PAINTED Black Panthers Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver. The 2007 portraits were made for a two-artist exhibition with Michelle O’Marah titled, “Repeat after me: I AM a Revolutionary” at Rental Gallery in Los Angeles. He also made a portrait of Fred Hampton in 2009.

His Cleaver painting appears on the back cover of “Henry Taylor,” which was published to complement his 2012 exhibition at MoMA PS1. Inside the catalog, curator Peter Eleey conducts a conversation with Taylor. He asks about his father and siblings, and the artist mentions a family connection to the Panthers:

“I was the youngest. My brother Randy started a Black Panthers chapter. He was always involved in political things. Anything he read, I’d read. He had everybody wearing berets and leather jackets. I was probably 12, 13 or so.” CT

 

READ MORE about artist resale/royalty rights here and here

 

BOOKSHELF
“Henry Taylor” was published to coincide with the artist’s show at MoMA PS1 in New York. Taylor was in residence at the museum for months preceding the show, creating the paintings that appeared in the exhibitions, portraits of ordinary and extraordinary people. “Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers,” by Stephen Shames and Bobby Seale was published in October 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party. The volume considers the Black Power organization’s history through first-hand insights from Seale, who co-founded the Panthers with the late Huey P. Newton, perspectives from other Panthers, and an amazing assemblage of documentary photographs by Shames.