It’s martial art: Rare collection of paintings by Muhammad Ali marking the milestones in his life including a piece called ‘Sting Like A Bee’ is up for sale for $384,000
A rare collection of paintings by Muhammad Ali marking milestones in his life and making statements on social issues, including a painting called ‘Sting Like A Bee’, has emerged for sale for $384,000.
The legendary heavyweight boxer was a passionate artist and produced the series of works to demonstrate his views on issues close to his heart, including the oppression of black people and America’s military action abroad.
Among the 24-piece collection there are several drawings of black people in chains highlighting the horrors of slavery, including one titled ‘Let My People Go’.
Ali’s father, Cassius Clay senior, was a talented artist, earning a living painting signs, billboards and churches in Louisville, Kentucky. He often asked Ali and his brother Rahaman Ali for help with his work.
Some of the paintings in the sale are collaborations between Ali in his father, and have until now have been in the personal collection of the author Rodney Hilton Brown, a friend of Ali’s who also published a book about the icon’s passions outside of the boxing ring.
The marquee lot in the collection of 24 prints is this rare print of his painting ‘Sting Like A Bee’ which was his depiction of his victory over Sonny Liston. It immortalises his famous catchphrase ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ he stated before the match in 1964, in which he won in Miami Beach, Florida in controversial circumstances. The painting shows a victorious Ali standing over Liston, who is saying ‘Ref, he did float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!’. Meanwhile, the referee is fleeing the ring saying ‘Yes, if you were smart, you run like me’
Muhammad Ali’s artwork entitled ‘War In America’ shows two instances of violence. One is labelled ‘foreign countrys’ and shows armed men shooting at civilians, presumably a reference to the Vietnam war. The other is labelled ‘Newark and Watts’, and shows police shooting at civilians with an object labelled ‘Islam’ beside them. The image likely depicts the Watts riots of 1965 which saw six days of civil unrest after police officers struck a black man. A total of 34 people were killed in the ensuing violence, and police were accused of mistreating members of the Nation of Islam
This drawing by Muhammad Ali was completed by the boxer for an article in Avant Garde magazine in 1967. Speaking of the picture for the magazine, he said: ‘This is just a picture of the starving children of Mississippi crying and saying they’re hungry. I just wanted to fight a few more times so I could donate all the money to feed them, which I offered to do. But the boxing commissioners and judges completely turned me down. A big Ali is holding me down with chains with ‘U.S.A.’ written on it.’
Ali’s pictured ‘Black Jet’ depicts a fighter plane, and was one in 1977. It was done for Rodney Hilton Brown in Boston following a charity boxing match for the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, January 30, 1977. Fighter jets were one of Ali’s favourite artistic subjects, according to Bonhams auction house, and featured regularly in his doodlings. Black Jet is expected to fetch between between $15,000 – 20,000
This picture, titled ‘America The Big Jail’, was done by Ali in 1967 – also for an article in Avant Garde magazine. Providing commentary with the piece, Ali explained he saw America as a prison for black people who were brought to the country against their will. He said that when someone is put in prison, they are forced to change their name to a number, and change their clothes. He compared this with those who came to America, saying: ‘When we were brought to America, we had names like Omar, Muhammad, Hassan, Ishamel, Sharif, Shabaz, Karim, Rishime, Jimila, Yasilia, our own beautiful names, and now they’re names like Mr. Culpepper, Mr. Roundtree, Mr. Clay, Mr. Washington, Mr. Jones, Mr. Wolfe, Mr. Hawkins. So when a man goes to jail, he changes, and such were we Negroes changed when we were brought to America. We suffered 310 years of physical slavery and they are still beating us and shooting us throughout the country.’
Pictured: Another painting by Ali for Rodney Hilton Brown. It features a moon above mountains by a lake or ocean. The sun and moon were some of Ali’s favourite subjects in his artwork
This painting by Ali was also done for Rodney Hilton Brown in Boston following a charity boxing match. Ali referred to the tree as the ‘Tree of Life’, and it shows the sun setting behind it. The tree is shown as having no leaves on it, suggesting it is dead
The marquee lot in the collection is a rare print of his painting ‘Sting Like A Bee’ which was his depiction of his victory over Sonny Liston. It immortalises his famous catchphrase ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ he stated before the match in 1964.
Ali has his arms aloft in the colourful picture as his opponent lies prostrate on the canvas with the speech bubble ‘ref, he did float like a butterfly and sting like a bee’.
The referee, who is half way up the entrance ramp, responds ‘yes, if you were smart you would run like me’.
The print is valued at $61,200.
Ali’s father, Cassius Clay senior (pictured center in 1971), was a talented artist, earning a living painting signs, billboards and churches in Louisville, Kentucky. He often asked Ali (left) and his brother Rahaman Ali (right) for help with his work
Pictured left: World heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali in training at the Royal Artillery Gymnasium in London for his upcoming fight with British champion Henry Cooper (file photo). Pictured right: Rodney Hilton Brown, for whom Ali gave many of his pictures
Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, shouting and gesturing shortly after dropping Liston with a short hard right to the jaw on May 25, 1965, in Lewiston, Maine
Pictured: The cover of ‘Muhammad Ali The Untold Story: Painter, Poet & Prophet by Rodney Hilton Brown’
The collection also includes his 1967 drawing ‘War In America’ depicting black people being gunned down on the nation’s streets in the Watts riots of 1965.
It also references the country’s continued involvement in the Vietnam War. It is estimated at $34,000.
The collection of Ali artwork, the largest to be offered at auction, is going under the hammer with auctioneers Bonhams New York.
It has been consigned from the personal collection of the author Rodney Hilton Brown, a friend of Ali’s who wrote ‘Muhammad Ali: The Untold Story: Painter, Poet & Prophet’.
Helen Hall, director of popular culture at Bonhams, said: ‘Muhammad Ali was a cultural icon who defined a generation.
‘His artwork depicts those subjects close to his heart: Boxing, Civil Rights, Religion and World Peace and Humanitarianism.
‘This sale presents buyers with an incredibly rare opportunity to acquire unique and meaningful artwork made by ‘The Greatest of All Time’.
‘Ali is loved by so many people and we anticipate interest all over the world.’
Ali, who took part in famous bouts against George Foreman and Joe Frazier, died aged 74 in 2016.
The sale takes place on October 5.