Jean-Michel Basquiat - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale New York Wednesday, May 17, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Scott D.F. Spiegel, Los Angeles (acquired directly from the artist in 1982)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Basquiat’s Transcendental Skull
    by Fred Hoffman

    At the time of his death, Basquiat possessed a large number of his 1982, individualized, single head studies many of which were exhibited by Robert Miller Gallery in 1990 and shown, displayed in salon style on a single wall. The fact that Basquiat kept so many of these in his personal collection further emphasizes their importance as artistic starting points, faces from which he drew inspiration. The four single head drawings from the Collection of Scott D.F. Spiegel were acquired by Scott when other Basquiat collectors remained focused on his paintings. This further highlights Scott’s ability to see the quality and artistic importance of Basquiat’s works on paper.

    Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1982 image of a cow skull is an anomaly in his oeuvre. Prior to the creation of this work the artist rendered a decomposing cow alongside a standing black figure in Acque Pericolose, 1981. Other early images of the head of a four-legged creature are Television and Cruelty to Animals, 1983 and Roosevelt III, 1983 both of which are more caricature renderings and refer to the friendly creature from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Basquiat’s 1982 image of a cow skull stands apart, less referential to nature or popular culture, more symbolic and iconic.

    Basquiat has rendered his image simply, outlining its generalized shape in black. Contained within the edges of this frontally-defined shape Basquiat animates his facial depiction by means of his unexpected choice of a bright, luminous and inviting blue, accompanied by eyes in a bright red. If Basquiat’s choice of colors for his figure departs from physiognomic likeness it implies and inspires viewer engagement. The work’s assertive frontality, combined with its luminous coloration, draws the viewer towards its mysterious presence. Having distinguished his image from a recognizable creature, Basquiat’s image takes on attributes of a mythic figure, even suggesting that this creature symbolizes another realm, another state of consciousness. In this regard Basquiat’s cow skull conveys mythic attributes--- akin to some of Picasso’s bovine creatures including, Bulls Skull, c. 1942 and Bulls Skull, Fruit and Pitcher, 1939.

    Basquiat’s cow skull feels larger than life. While full of vitality and energy, it exudes something more than a physiological presence. Basquiat’s decision to render this figure in a light-filled blue links the work to atmospheric effects achieved in works such as Untitled (LA Painting), 1982 and Untitled (Black Tar and Feathers), 1982. The deep blue background in both of these works suggests more than a naturalistic atmosphere; it was Basquiat’s means of alluding to something beyond our psycho-physical state of being—the transcendental. So too does his choice of coloration for his simple cow skull, a work clearly heralding a higher state of being.

  • 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 "JM Basquiat" on the reverse
oil paintstick on paper
14 x 11 in. (35.6 x 27.9 cm.)
Executed in 1982, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Authentication Committee of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat and dates the work 1982/83.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $394,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

New York Auction 17 May 2017