Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 11, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    The Estate of Andy Warhol, New York; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York

  • Exhibited

    Beverly Hills, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol & Jean-Michael Basquiat: CollaborationPaintings, 2002

  • Catalogue Essay

    No artistic collaboration of the post-war era has been as dynamic and telling as that between Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. With each artist at different stages in their respective careers, their association turned out to be not only mutually beneficial but also resulted in a stunning body of work which is only now gaining the curatorial and commercial attention it deserves. Their unique artistic styles – Basquiat was an expressionist painter, and Warhol a Pop chronicler of the everyday and the celebrity image – and their contrasting backgrounds – Basquiat was a disadvantaged African American who had grown up on the streets while Warhol was an established and wealthy artist who associated with the rich and famous – might have been thought to be diametrically opposed. Yet they matched each other perfectly in their respective needs to further their careers in the 1980s. Given their individual commercial success and critical acclaim today, the collaboration was certainly a fruitful one.

    After the critical highs of his 60s Pop art revolution and the financial success of his 70s Factory portraits, Warhol was at an artistic low by the 1980s. Having repeated the same working method many times, his then most recent series, devoted to knives, revolvers and dollar bills, was deemed banal and jaded. Warhol, always highly conscious of his image, knew that he needed a boost to his career and although he initially resisted a direct artistic association with Basquiat, he would eventually be won over by the young man’s infectious energy and his credibility within the art world. Together, over a two year period, they would go on to create a significant collaborative series which in turn would give Warhol the impetus to create his own, now iconic, late self-portraits before his death in 1987.

    Basquiat, like Warhol, had a somewhat unhealthy obsession with his own image. He had a complex and powerful need to be accepted as a black artist in the white art world, so he greatly benefited socially from his association with Warhol, with whom he was able to reach the upper echelons of society previously barred to him. Like many relationships combining two congenial but emotionally laden artists, Warhol and Basquiat’s collaboration ended tumultuously in 1985 after a show with the New York dealer Tony Shafrazi. However, Basquiat was greatly affected by Warhol’s death, and he died the following year, succumbing to his dependency on drugs.

    Although they had known each other from afar and each had already painted a portrait of the other – Basquiat’s 1982 iconic Dos Cabezas and Warhol’s urination painting of a wildly dreadlocked Jean-Michel, it was their common dealer, the Swiss Bruno Bischofberger, who instigated their artistic relationship. Bischofberger had previously enjoyed success teaming his other artists in pairs with the likes of Walter Dahn and Georg Dokupil, and Enzo Cucchi and Sandro Chia. This time Bischofberger wanted to create a threesome and having enrolled Basquiat and Warhol, they decided on the Italian Francesco Clemente as their third member. The trio would go on to create fifteen collaborative paintings with each artist working independently from the others and in their own distinctive styles – Basquiat’s scribbles, Clemente’s soulful figures, and Warhol’s silkscreen technique.

    Although the reception of these initial three-way collaborations was lukewarm, Basquiat and Warhol, sensing further mutual benefits, continued to collaborate as a duo. Exerting great influence on his much older and more experienced fellow artist, Basquiat managed to convince Warhol to return to hand painting, a technique Warhol had abandoned over twenty years prior at the point when he began to silkscreen representations of Dollar bills onto canvas. This new beginning provided Warhol with a new lease of life and, combined with Basquiat’s improvisational approach to painting, created an explosive body work which testifies to the artistic powers of the darlings of the 1980s New York art world. Executing the collaborations, a powerful example of which is the present lot, Warhol would paint first allowing Basquiat to layer over his work. In Thin Lips, Warhol painted on a mustard yellow background a haunting facial profile outline, complete with exaggerated bouffant hair, of the then American president Ronald Reagan. He then superimposed a commercial, stamp-like block of stencilled letters and numbers which reads “Outlays 695.3/Revenues 650.3/Deficit 45.0”, a subtractive mathematical equation referencing ‘Reaganomics’, President Reagan’s deficit reduction policy of the time. Basquiat’s subsequent contribution may be minimal but it is telling – his trademark capital lettering text to spell out ‘THIN LIPS’ next to Reagan’s mouth and highlighting in bright oil stick the haunting eyes of the President’s mask like face.

    Together, Basquiat and Warhol’s diverging artistic techniques and motifs in Thin Lips synthesize into a brilliant visual and thematic dialogue. Executed on a large scale, Thin Lips combines Warhol’s slick and stylized imagery with Basquiat’s poetic graffiti style. Thematically, the work’s cautionary message is as relevant today in our current economic climate as it was in 1985. Warhol, although attracted to Reagan’s movie-star past and good looks, was actually a progressive Democrat, criticizes the Republican President’s political and economic recovery policy of tax reduction for the rich which would lead by the end of his mandate to a staggering tripling of the national debt. Basquiat’s subversive labelling of Reagan as THIN LIPS, referencing the popular notion of a person who is untruthful and makes false promises, is accentuated by the ghost-like eye he has drawn on the former President’s shadowy face. Our current world leaders have been warned!


Thin Lips

Synthetic polymer paint and oil stick on canvas.
195.6 × 157.5 cm (77 × 62 in).
Stamped with The Estate of Andy Warhol stamp and the stamp of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts on the overlap (PA99.048).

£700,000 - 1,000,000 

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

12 October 2011