A rare collection of sketches and paintings by American boxer Muhammad Ali, who liked to draw between fights, will be auctioned by Bonhams in New York next week.
The collection of 24 pieces, many cartoonish and some signed, reflect Ali‘s interest in religion and social justice, but some also illustrate him in the ring.
First raised by his father Cassius Clay Senior, who was a professional artist, Ali continued to paint and draw informally as he grew up, eventually enrolling in art classes with sports artist LeRoy Neiman. Ali routinely drew and painted about the subjects that were closest to his heart, such as boxing, civil rights, world peace and humanitarianism.
One in particular should attract the attention of potential buyers. The painting, titled “Sting Like a Bee,” was done by Ali in 1978 during the filming of the historic mini-series “Freedom Road,” in which he starred. According to the auctioneers at Bonhams, the organisation responsible for the sale, the painting could fetch as much as $40,000 or even $60,000 at the auction on 5 October.
This passion for drawing is part of a little-known side of Muhammad Ali‘s personality. But he actually liked to draw a lot to relax after a fight or a training session. “A lot of people are excited because almost nobody knew that Muhammad Ali was an artist, and nobody knew about this treasure trove of art. So we’re seeing a lot of interest and excitement,” said Helen Hall, Bonhams‘ pop culture manager. The works to be offered at the auction are from the collection of Rodney Hilton Brown, a writer who knew Ali particularly well and worked with him on his art.
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The work Ali left behind, which will be auctioned, is a testament to the champion’s heyday. “Starving Children of Mississippi”, from 1967, shows a figure in shorts saying “I only wanted to fight to help you feed your poor black children“, and is thus a critique of the situation of the African-American minority at that time. Another drawing refers to the race riots in Los Angeles and Newark in 1965 and 1967, and another painting is dedicated to Islam from 1964, when Muhammad Ali announced his conversion at the height of his career. His paintings therefore have a strong political, societal and even religious message, which are part of the thinking of a man who, despite his success, never ceased to have a critical eye on the world and the injustices that surrounded him.
“Muhammad Ali was a cultural icon who defined a generation. His works represent the issues that were close to his heart: boxing, civil rights, religion and world peace and humanitarianism. This sale offers buyers an incredibly rare opportunity to acquire unique and significant works of art by “The Greatest of All Time,” added Helen Hall.
Muhammad Ali passed away in 2016 at the age of 74, after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. A true icon, he leaves behind a legacy not only in sport, but also in politics and society, and now in art.
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