After Jean-Michel Basquiat - Evening & Day Editions London Thursday, June 6, 2024 | Phillips
  • “The secret was not to resist white culture in order to preserve the purity of its own heritage (as had been first necessary and fashionable) but to both comprehend and transcend white culture by learning and appropriating its achievements (its crowning, in Basquiat’s imagery) and its disintegration.”
    —Francesco Pellizzi

    The composition of Jean-Paul Basquiat’s 1984 Rome Plays Off appears sparse; deceptively so. We see a crown, a figure’s head, and various words such as “SALT ©”, “MARKET VALUE”, “GRAFT”, and “ESTIMATED VALUE”. The use of text in many of Basquiat’s words eschews their typical descriptive function, instead assuming a symbolic, quixotic quality. Alone, they mean very little, however woven together what emerges is a poem that’s subtlety is frequently overlooked. “SALT” an anagram of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is paired with the copyright symbol forming a subversive confrontation that directly calls into question the role of Western culture within the heinous crimes of enslaving and trading human beings. The “©” is an ironic descriptor of ownership that functions as a metaphorical link between history and the modern age. Paired together with the other financial terminology such as “estimated value” and “market value”, Basquiat not only interrogates the economic value of his own artistic works but additionally, within this poignant racial context, the value that was once placed on the bodies and lives of Black slaves. Through invoking the idea of Rome, Basquiat also engages with the legacy of one of history’s most powerful civilisations, which was itself physically and economically built off the back of enslaved people, and in turn draws parallels to the contemporary superpowers and dynamics of cultural imperialism.


    Cy Twombly, Roman Notes V, from Roman Notes, 1970. Artwork: © Cy Twombly Foundation

    Basquiat’s use of word-poetry is evocative of Cy Twombly’s incorporation of calligraphic marks that explore the tension between art and prose. In his Roman Notes seriesTwombly’s use of large, gestural marks that recall scripture calls into question ideas of artist’s authorship and originality. Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s famed notebooks, Basquiat and Twombly share an engagement with classical antiquity, recalling a bygone era infused with contemporary life. While Twombly’s marks encapsulate the whole canvas, focusing on the artist’s presence in penmanship as opposed to legible writing, Basquiat specific use of isolated words demand to be read. Both artists blur the boundaries between text and image, creating works that evoke emotion, memory and a timeless resonance of what was before. Basquiat’s stark, often confrontational words, however, go one step further, creating a layered depth that anchors themes of race, inequality and suffering. Basquiat’s poignant word-poetry therefore is inextricably embedded within the visual cadence of his distinctive visceral imagery.


    Rome Plays Off 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.


Rome Pays Off, from Portfolio II

Screenprint in colours, on Saunders Hot Press watercolour paper, the full sheet.
S. 112 x 101.3 cm (44 1/8 x 39 7/8 in.)
Numbered 'A.P. 10/15' in pencil on the front (an artist's proof, the edition was 85), 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

£40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for £53,340

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Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 6 - 7 June 2024