When he turned 50, Jason Boyd Kinsella left an advertising career to pursue art. Two years later, his paintings are selling for nearly $500,000

Patrizia Koenig likes to be conservative with her estimates, and the arrival of a Jason Boyd Kinsella painting for shipment from Phillips about four months before the auction house’s spring sale hardly made an exception. She judged that the artist thaws portrait would sell for $10,000 tops, an ambitious ceiling for a two-year-old painting by a newcomer without much of a track record on the market.

What happened next, the seasoned contemporary art specialist said, was “really unexpected.”

Within seconds, the bidders were past the high estimate of $10,000. Nearly 30 people competed for the Canadian artist’s painting: a collection of colorful, voluminous shapes organized in the familiar pose of a portrait sitter. The final price, including auction fees, came in at $441,000. Koenig’s valuation was 4,310 percent lower.

Jason Boyd Kinsella, thaws (2020). Photo courtesy of Philips.

For his part, Kinsella – who returned to painting full-time in 2019 after spending 30 years in the advertising industry – would prefer not to discuss such acts of humiliation. During an interview, the painter refused to answer questions about the sale, except that he simply did not look.

“You expect something like this to happen,” he said. “You try not to pay much attention to it.”

At 52, with a full career in another industry behind him, Kinsella may be an unlikely artist. But he shares similarities with auctioneers like Javier Calleja, Huang Yuxing and Allison Zuckerman, all of whom have achieved success with bright palettes and graphics that translate well to a computer screen.

In just over two years, Kinsella’s art has earned him a growing audience, especially in Asia, where wealthy millennials have made a sport of speculating on the ultra-modern crowd, a term used to describe artists born after 1974. While Kinsella is technically outdated from this designation, his awards reflect the characteristic buoyancy: Earlier this week, his painting Summers (the oldest)made last year, sold at Phillips Hong Kong for HK$1.6 million ($208,658) – more than six times the already high estimate of $32,100.

A later start

Born in Toronto in 1969, Kinsella grew up attending after-school programs at the Art Gallery of Ontario. He received an art degree from Bishop’s University in Quebec, majoring in painting and sculpture before spending the next 30 years working in the advertising industry.

“It was fun being creative and getting paid,” Kinsella said, though he hesitated to discuss details of his career. Online, his name has been linked to several commercials as an art director for the global advertising agency 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 lives in Oslo with their children. All the while he continued to paint as a hobby. But around his 50th birthday in 2019, he decided to stop advertising to become a full-time artist. He now works from a studio in a retired shipbuilding factory near the river, painting to a jazz soundtrack.

Jason Boyd Kinsella at work.  Photo: Andris Søndrol Visdal.

Jason Boyd Kinsella at work. Photo: Andris Søndrol Visdal.

Kinsella cites a wide variety of influences on his work: Vermeer’s color theory and Caravaggio’s shadows; Picasso’s cubism and Henry Moore’s body weight. One of his gallerists, Veronica Thut of Perrotin, compares him to Magritte; Koenig thinks he’s summoning George Condo.

“The idea of ​​psychological portraiture is central,” Kinsella says in a video promoting his first solo exhibition at Unit London in 2021. He tinkers with the small, white geometric models on a coffee table, sipping on a mug placed imperceptibly between the scale models. He looks like one of the men in an LL Bean catalog. “I am drawn to geometric blocks because they are the simplest and most honest forms of expression that allow me to see a person without distraction. There is nowhere to hide.”

Kinsella has an obsession with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality test that supposedly determines a person’s affinity with traits such as introversion, intuition, emotion, and perception. In the 1980s, the artist received a book from his mother with the test questions in it. “I answered all these questions and read about my personality. I was shocked — it was insanely accurate,” he told me. (The artist’s personality type is INFJ.) “Archetypes themselves are like vessels. It’s our experiences that fill them and make us personal.”

Now he builds his own ships. Kinsella starts with sketchbook drawings. Good doodles are transferred to his computer via iPhone snapshots, which he edits and infuses with color. From there it’s back to the canvas where a final painting emerges.

Occasionally, he 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 took up 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, Tom-David Bastok, co-founder of Perrotin, found the Instagram account. He forwarded it to Thut, an employee of the gallery in Paris, who struck up a conversation with Kinsella. (The artist currently has over 21,500 followers.)

Jason Boyd Kinsella, Summers (the eldest) (2021).  Photo courtesy of Philips.

Jason Boyd Kinsella, Summers (the oldest) (2021). Photo courtesy of Philips.

Perrotin showed the Canadian’s paintings at the Paris, Art Basel Miami Beach and Art Basel Hong Kong location. (He’s still represented by Unit London.) “Everything we’ve ever had from Jason has been sold,” Thut said.

An early acquisition by the Long Museum in Shanghai helped accelerate the buzz. For a recent assignment from Hong Kong-based fintech executive Alan Lau, Kinsella interviewed the collector on Zoom, using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to learn more about his personality. The resulting portrait, Alanfeatures a blue figure on a black background with a white ring and three moons that appear to circle the sitter’s head.

“Everything has happened in a very compressed two-and-a-half year period from when I posted my work on Instagram to where we are today,” Kinsella said. Still, he is determined to keep his focus. On Instagram, he often poses as a proud father next to his paintings.

“I feel happy,” he said. “The universe sometimes speaks to you and says, ‘It’s going pretty well.'”

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