Sacha Jafri reveals the backbreaking process of creating ‘world’s largest painting’ that sold for $62m
Sacha Jafri may not be a household name on the global art scene.
But the artist, who lives in Dubai, London and New York, is the fourth most expensive living artist at auction after David Hockney, Jeff Koons and of course Beeple.
Jafri’s huge 18,000-square-foot painting, The Journey of Humanity, which holds the Guinness World Record for “largest art canvas,” sold for $ 62 million in a charity auction in Dubai on March 22nd. The sale was organized by the artist’s “Humanity Inspired” initiative. All proceeds will be donated to four child poverty relief charities: Unicef, Unesco, The Global Gift Foundation and Dubai Cares.
Notably, that was more than 900 times Jafri’s previous auction record as measured by Artnet’s price database, which was TWD 2,160,000 with fees ($ 70,745) for a painting sold at Taiwanese auction house Ravenel in 2019. Just yesterday, another painting sold for charity had the effect of breaking an artist’s auction record – Banksy’s Game Changer, which sold at Christie’s for £ 16.7 million.
The buyer of The Journey of Humanity was the Dubai-born French crypto entrepreneur Andre Abdoune from Dubai, the managing director of Altius Gestion International Holding, who is now planning to build a museum in Dubai for the work.
Jafri painted the work during the Covid-19 lockdown in the huge ballroom of the Atlantis Hotel, The Palm in Dubai. “I was in a trance and painted 20 hours a day for eight months,” he tells The Art Newspaper of the process. Jafri was stuck in Dubai when Lockdown hit: “2020 was supposed to be the biggest year of my career – I had my big 18 year old retrospective at the Saatchi Gallery, painting for Dubai Expo and the painting for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics Then everything was canceled. ”
Hence this project.
Before the pandemic, Jafri felt that “the world was full of negative static energy”. Then: “Covid hit and there was silence. And I had this vision of a painting in my head that could evoke this silence and really bring about social change.”
First he reached out to Emirates airline to use one of their aircraft hangars to paint the work, but they suggested reaching out to Atlantis about using the ballroom. “I slept in the ballroom for eight months,” says Jafri. “My wife and daughter had a room upstairs – I never slept in it. And when my daughter was in the ballroom, seeing Dad paint for 20 hours is a bit boring, so she played in her Wendy House in the corner of the Zimmer So it was a surreal time. We were the only people in the hotel – my daughter rolled completely empty through the Atlantis Hotel. “
Physically, it has taken its toll, he says, “I paint a bit like Pollock. I stand but I have to bend down to paint. This was an 18,000 square foot canvas, but I paint with a 1.5-inch Brush I had emergency back surgery where I put a bar through my spin and put improper padding between two vertebrae, my pelvis was out of line on both axes – my skeleton was out of line, and then my heels came off my feet. It was insane. I had pain reliever injections in my hip every four hours. “
Although the painting is the size of two soccer fields, he says: “I had no helpers, no assistants, because I’m a bit of a control freak.” To complete the painting, 1,065 brushes and 6,300 liters of paint were used, a homemade mixture of household paints, artist acrylic, linseed oil and crude oil pigment.
As for the canvas, Jafri says he was lucky: “I called a supplier who had a lot of canvas in the warehouse that was scheduled for Dubai Expo 2020, but of course that was delayed.”
After completion, the canvas was cut up and placed on stretchers to sell the work as a smaller painting through six auctions, including one at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “I was the first artist to speak in the main forum in Davos. We wanted to have dinner with the ‘150 von Davos’ and sell works – with Bezos, Zuckerberg, all the big boys,” says Jafri.
The work has been on view in full for the past three months in Atlantis, The Palm. “This guy kept coming in with a heavy French accent and saying, ‘Sacha, you can’t break this painting, it would be a travesty.'” Says Jafri. “He came seven days in a row for about four or five hours a day.”
That man was Abdoune.
At the auction on Monday evening, phone bids came from “Miami, LA, Mexico, South America, London, a lot in Switzerland – I think these are all the guys who made a lot of money with crypto – China and Hong Kong,” Jafri says. “Then Andre bid at $ 50 million and he got it at $ 62 million.”
Of Abdoune’s intended museum, Jafri says, “The kind of land it is could be helped by the rulers, they could give us land. We want to create a spiritual place like Rothko’s Church in Nevada.” He adds that they are also hoping to hold workshops for special needs and disadvantaged children: “Fly them to Dubai for a week, put them up – there will be living quarters to sleep in. There will be a kitchen – it will be like a soup kitchen for the world’s orphaned refugees. “
And to make that clear, Abdoune pays in dollars, not in cryptocurrencies. “He’s already made a substantial down payment and is paying the rest in three installments in three installments over a period of six weeks,” says Jafri.