Jean-Michel Basquiat - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

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  • "I wanted to be a cartoonist when I was young..."
    —Jean-Michel Basquiat
    Revising cartoon imagery in his signature raw and expressive aesthetic, Jean-Michel Basquiat's The present work was created at a time when the artist had already received significant recognition in the New York art scene. In 1982, he had exhibited at Documenta VII, Kassel and, in the following year, was included in the Whitney Biennial, becoming the youngest artist to represent the United States in a major international exhibition of contemporary art. In its thematic reverberation of the Bat-insignia, Batman represents one of Basquiat's earliest mediations focused entirely on the caped crusader, along with his Television and Cruelty to Animals of the same year. The present work also anticipates Basquiat's sustained return to comic book imagery and, specifically, the characters of Batman in 1986 and 1987 with works such as Untitled (Savoy) and Riddle Me This Batman.


    Jean-Michel Basquiat, Riddle Me This, Batman, 1987. Private Collection, Artwork: © 2021 Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

    Basquiat’s engagement with comic book characters was part and parcel of his immersion with popular culture in his oeuvre. Logos, characters, and phrases from Warner Brothers, Merrie Melodies, Gumby, Krazy Kat, and Porky Pig, among others, have all featured frequently in his practice. An avid admirer of cartoons and comic books, Basquiat recognized their ability to reflect the deeper issues he often grappled with in his art such as racism, discrimination, and erroneous representations of good and evil. Adorning bat-insignias and horned devils alike with haloes, Basquiat crystallizes these investigations in the present work. In doing so, he not only complicates the distinguishment between heroes and villains, but also plays into the reading of Batman as a conflicted character whose standing as an unimpeachable hero is often put to the test.


    Andy Warhol, Batman, 1961. Artwork: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    While his reference to cartoon and comic book characters situates Batman within the high and low art tradition of artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, Basquiat’s stream-of-conscious application sets his works apart from their more strictly articulated compositions. Often working against a steady stream of jazz and television, the iconography of Basquiat’s works reflects glimmers of the inspiration he found in his new downtown studio. Disparate high and low sources clash and conflate, resulting in compositions that visually articulate the images, sounds, and thoughts occupying Basquiat at the moment of creation.


    Jean Dubuffet, Nimble Free Hand to the Rescue from the series Hourloupe, 1964. Tate, London, Image: © Tate, London / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / DACS, London

    "Drawing, for [Basquiat], was something you did rather than something done…an activity rather than a medium."
    —Robert Storr

    Deftly executed with relish and alacrity, there is an immediacy to Batman that captures the spontaneous projection of the cartoon imagery which stands as its source of inspiration. His apparent quick-fire execution is mirrored in the signifiers taken from comics, imbuing the composition with sound, light, movement, and violence. In the present work, Basquiat leveraged his signature oilstick to assemble dramatic series of lines, marks, and gestures to produce the various figures. Deliberately flattened and reduced to their most essential forms, the Bat-insignia silhouettes are confidently articulated in thickly applied oilstick, with no pause nor hesitancy in the intent of his form, line, and color. Basquiat did not draw a distinction between his painting and drawing practices—some of his most admired artists were master draughtsman in their own right, including Leonardo da Vinci and Cy Twombly. Ultimately, as much as the compositional elements of the present work seemingly capture a stream-of-consciousness auto-drawing, they reveal a mastery of art historical precedent percolating in Basquiat's mind. As curator Eleanor Nairne expressed of Basquiat's oeuvre, "You find nods to his Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage; to the pioneers of bebop; comic-book heroes; the masters of 20th-century art…The list goes on and on."i


    Batman from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, 1980s

    i Eleanor Nairne, quoted in Hayley Maitland, “American Graffiti: Memories of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” Vogue, September 2017. 

    • Provenance

      Galerie Fabien Boulakia, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1990

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Galerie Fabien Boulakia, Basquiat, September 27 - November 3, 1990, p. 59 (illustrated)
      Paris, Fondation Dina Vierny—Musée Maillol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Oeuvres sur papier, May 23 - September 29, 1997, pp. 88, 185 (illustrated, p. 89)

    • Literature

      Galerie Enrico Navarra, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Oeuvres sur paper, Paris, 1999, p. 230 (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      Jean-Michel Basquiat

      American • 1960 - 1988

      One of the most famous American artists of all time, Jean-Michel Basquiat first gained notoriety as a subversive graffiti-artist and street poet in the late 1970s. Operating under the pseudonym SAMO, he emblazoned the abandoned walls of the city with his unique blend of enigmatic symbols, icons and aphorisms. A voracious autodidact, by 1980, at 22-years of age, Basquiat began to direct his extraordinary talent towards painting and drawing. His powerful works brilliantly captured the zeitgeist of the 1980s New York underground scene and catapulted Basquiat on a dizzying meteoric ascent to international stardom that would only be put to a halt by his untimely death in 1988.

      Basquiat's iconoclastic oeuvre revolves around the human figure. Exploiting the creative potential of free association and past experience, he created deeply personal, often autobiographical, images by drawing liberally from such disparate fields as urban street culture, music, poetry, Christian iconography, African-American and Aztec cultural histories and a broad range of art historical sources.

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signed and dated "1983 Jean-Michel Basquiat" on the reverse
oilstick on paper
22 x 29 7/8 in. (55.9 x 75.9 cm)
Executed in 1983.

Full Cataloguing

$1,600,000 - 2,000,000 

Sold for $1,800,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021