In a recent episode of the US version of Antiques Roadshow, an unusual lot came to the fore: a collection of Kanye West’s high school artworks. Brought in by (bear with us) West’s cousin’s husband, the selection of works included drawings made by the rapper when he was just a young pup, aged 17.
The portfolio features photorealist portraits in graphite, gouache paintings, as well as a colourful forest scene, created using a scratchboard technique where black ink is layered over a colourful background and then scratched away to reveal the bright colours underneath. One of the highlights is an unsettling and moving work featuring a surrealist horned creature shackled by the neck.
Art expert Laura Woolley of The Collector’s Lab, who was given the challenging task of evaluating the finds on the PBS show, said to viewers, “I think what really attracted me to these pieces was the fact that probably not a lot of people are aware just how talented [West] is as an artist outside his musical career…These pieces demonstrate an extraordinary facility as an artist.”
One of the more touching pieces of the collection is one of West’s first exhibition fliers, made when the artist was just 17. It summarises West’s artist career up until that point, which Woolley calls “a very impressive resumé”. West started at the Hyde Park Art Academy in Chicago when he was just four-years-old, then went on to study at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago State University, the Polaris School for Individual Education and Nanjing University in China – something made possible as he moved around the world with his college professor mother. Charmingly the flier nods to West’s desire to “pursue a career as a music producer” and says that interested parties can purchase black and white prints of the works on show for $12, or three for $30 – already showing his business smarts.
Leaving the big reveal to the end of the segment, Woolley called West an undeniable “important cultural figure” as well as acknowledging him as a “controversial” figure. “It’s an interesting thing when you look at art done by a celebrity,” Woolley explained during the episode. “A good portion of the value of that artwork can depend on something that I call the ‘enduring legacy’ of the celebrity. The values rise and fall with the popularity of the celebrity.” Given West’s fame, Woolley estimated that together the pieces would fetch somewhere between $16,000 to US$23,000 at auction, and will probably only appreciate with time.
You can watch the entire clip below.