Lyle Ashton Harris: Blow Up (Verso), 2010-19

Lyle Ashton Harris | Blow Up (Verso), 2010-19
Art Basel

Installation Views

Lyle Ashton Harris, Blow Up (Verso), 2010-19. Acrylic on found printed cotton cloth with muslin backing, 169 x 295 inches (429 x 749 cm)

Blow Up (Verso), 2010-19

While residing as a fellow at the American Academy in Rome having received the Prix de Rome in 2001, Lyle Ashton Harris undertook a photo essay on Italian soccer and racism for The New York Times Magazine. During his research on this series of black-and-white photographs, Harris chanced upon a popular Italian sports newspaper and was struck by a full-page Adidas ad that featured the reclining French football star Zinedine Zidane receiving a pedicure by a smiling young man of African descent. Besides recognizing the ad’s uncanny resemblance to Édouard Manet’s 1863 painting Olympia, Harris noted how the ad image provokes “critique as well as pleasure” and and included it as a recurrent motif in several subsequent works: Ready-Made, 2001; Blow Up I (Chicago); 2004; Blow Up II (Armory), 2005; Blow Up III (Siena), 2005; and Blow Up IV (Sevilla), 2006.

Lyle Ashton Harris, Ready-Made, 2001

This same image motif recurs as a centerpiece in Blow Up (Verso), 2010-19, which takes its inspiration from Harris’ earlier collage Blow Up IV (Sevilla) and was produced in collaboration with a local Ghanaian sign painter (Nicholas Wayo) as a mural-sized acrylic painting on burlap (approx. 4.3 x 7.5 meters), comprised of commercial flour bags originally stitched together for use as a sunshade by local fishermen working on Ghana’s Cape Coast.

Ghanian sign painter Nicolos Wayl next to Blow Up (Verso) during its production

In 2010, Lyle Ashton Harris engaged Ghanian sign painter Nicholos Wayo, seen here on the far right in Madina, Ghana, to paint atop burlap flour bags to execute Blow Up (Verso).

Blow Up (Verso) was initially shown in a solo exhibition titled Lyle Ashton Harris: Blow Up at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in 2008. Presented at that time as an experimental installation that included video projection, this work hung in an open gallery space with both sides accessible to viewers, making visible on its reverse the inversion of the image formed by paint having bled through the porous burlap substrate. In its final form, the side that Wayo painted is affixed to a backing, thereby obscuring the faithful reproduction and reassigning the bled-through verso mirror image as the permanently reassigned forward-facing presentation of the work.

Installation View, Untitled (Blow Up IV Sign Painting), 2007/08, Scottsdale Museum of Art, Lyle Ashton Harris: Blow Up curated by Cassandra Coblentz, 2008

Related works have been exhibited previously at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL (2004); Centro Arte Contemporanea, Siena, IT (2005); the 2nd International Biennial of Contemporary Art of Seville, ES, curated by Okwui Enwezor (2006); and at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in the solo exhibition “Lyle Ashton Harris: Blow Up” (2008).

Ghanian sign painter Nicholos Wayo reviewing Blow Up (Verso) during its production

Ghanian sign painter Nicholos Wayo reviewing Blow Up (Verso), 2010-19 during its production.


In Blow Up (Verso), visual references to works by Édouard Manet, Gustave Courbet and Jean-Michel Basquiat are complemented by the artist’s highly personal materials.