Muhammad Ali was an icon with a boxing career that speaks more than itself. All aspects of Ali’s life experience, including his Muslim faith, civil rights activism, and time in the ring, all seem to be fairly well documented at this point. What many may not know about The Greatest, however, is that he was somewhat of a visual artist in his private life, with a cache of original Muhammad Ali artwork that was sold. recently by Bonhams New York at their head office on Park Avenue.
According to Ali’s obituary in the New York Times, the father of boxer Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. was “a church muralist who blamed discrimination for his failure to become a recognized artist”. There were early signs that Ali had inherited this artistic inclination from his father. Apparently, throughout high school, “the only subjects in which he scored satisfactorily were art and gym.”
This is fairly consistent with the rest of what we know about the character of man. His charisma combined with his keen sense of words made him one of the most exciting sports figures the world has ever seen. At Bonhams Pop Culture Department’s TCM Presents… It’s a Knockout Sale on October 5, 26 of his 28 original paintings sold, for a total of US $ 945,500 (AU $ 1,294,500) – over three times the original low estimate. For a guy who has never had any formal training in the arts, this isn’t a bad turnaround at all.
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The best-selling artwork of the day was Ali’s Stings like a bee (1978), which depicts a triumphant KO victory for himself and the referee running away in fear. It was sold to a British collector for US $ 425,000 (AU $ 581,861), a price that ended up being 10 times the low estimate of US $ 40,000 (AU $ 54,763). He did the part while filming the 1979 film Freedom road in Mississippi.
Elsewhere in the sale, a well-titled 1979 canvas painting I love you america sold for US $ 150,000 (AAU $ 205,500), and a 1967 felt-tip pen sketch that alludes to Ali’s faith went for US $ 24,000 (AU $ 32,900). The works came from the collection of the boxer’s close friend, Rodney Hilton Brown. Hilton Brown was the editor of a series of Ali’s editions based on serigraphs commissioned by the World Federation of United Nations Associations. He is also the author of the recently published book Muhammad Ali: The Untold Story: Painter, Poet and Prophet, which further depicts this lesser-known aspect of the decorated boxer’s life.
Five years after his death, it is a testament to Muhammad Ali’s lasting legacy and cultural impact that his work – something for which he has never been particularly known – can attract so much attention and ‘money. It is also a testament to the talent of the man, to the fact that he always achieves the greatness of the Hereafter and we continue to learn new dimensions in the personality of such a rich individual. Even death cannot stop Ali.