After Jean-Michel Basquiat - Evening & Day Editions London Thursday, June 6, 2024 | Phillips
  • “Jean-Michel was confident… Instead of waiting for someone to crown him, he crowned himself. It was kind of a statement…saying I know who I am.”
    —Lisane Basquiat

    Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Cabeza of 1982 depicts a figure against a cadmium yellow background rendered with haphazard strokes of thick gestural marks. The figure points hesitantly to himself, as if unsure. The suggestion of hair through the jagged lines to the right of the figure’s head alludes to Basquiat’s own hair, as depicted similarly in his previous self-portraits. He grits his teeth, undeterminably a smile or a grimace. The ambiguity continues in the mysterious Greek word “AOPKHES”, which appears on the figure’s lapel and is also found scattered throughout Basquiat’s body of work. When paired with the simple title “Head” translated from Spanish, the works alludes to ideas surrounding identity and perception. Through text and image, therefore, Basquiat transforms his artistic identity by inserting himself figuratively into to the pantheon of Ancient Greek artists who created “perfection” in their depiction of nude figures, revered throughout history for centuries. Entering himself into the artistic canon in this way is a call for recognition, to be compared to the masters; after all, he is labelled as one of them. The metaphor ends not with Basquiat’s own artistic identity but extends to that of other African Americans whose work, talent, and identity have been unrecognised and overlooked. Often lauding black figures – from sportsmen to musicians – Basquiat centralised them in his work, stating: “the Black person is the protagonist in most of my painting. I realised that I didn’t see many paintings with Black people in them.”


    Kehinde Wiley, Louis XIV, the Sun King, 2006, lot 137, Evening & Day Editions, 7-8 June 2024

    Basquiat’s centralisation of black figures draws parallels with the work of Kehinde Wiley, who ingeniously appropriates grand European portraiture traditions to shine light on African-American figures that have been excluded from representation. Using a notoriously exclusive category of art that was reserved for only the highest of Western society – dukes, lords, and royalty – Wiley inserts black figures into these historically impenetrable roles, giving them the status and grandeur they deserve. In the bust Louis XVI, The Sun King of 2006 for example, Wiley reimagines a young black man dressed in contemporary urban street attire poised as a seventeenth-century monarch. Influenced by Bernini, a Baroque Italian master of marble, the figure turns in resolute composure while a gust of wind billows his hoodie, as if calmly facing a challenge. Assuming a powerful posture that exudes confidence and splendour, Wiley continues Basquiat’s unique trope of coronating black men, affording them the status of kings.


    Cabeza is one in a series of four prints that showcase Basquiat’s deepest and most profound engagement with history, language and identity. Lacking narrative sequence, Portfolio II exemplifies the artist’s extraordinary ability to weave together personal and historical narrative, creating a complex yet deeply individual commentary on identity, legacy and resistance. Throughout the works in Portfolio II there is a sense of defiance and urgency, collective memory and personal history. Each image stands alone as a testament to Basquiat’s intellectual curiosity while working as a whole to combat power structures and transcend prejudice. Portfolio II, therefore, embodies an intersection between a poignant social commentary and Basquiat’s personal narrative and search for identity.


Cabeza, from Portfolio II

Screenprint in colours, on Saunders Hot Press watercolour paper, the full sheet.
S. 139 x 101.2 cm (54 3/4 x 39 7/8 in.)
Numbered 38/85 in pencil on the front (there were also 15 artist's proofs), signed and dated '10.19.04' in pencil by Gerard Basquiat (Administrator of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat) on a stamped Certificate of Authenticity on the reverse, published by David DeSanctis Contemporary Art, New York, framed.

Full Cataloguing

£50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for £88,900

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Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 6 - 7 June 2024