Jean-Michel Basquiat - Contemporary Art London Thursday, June 21, 2007 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Mary Boone Gallery, New York; Collection Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson, Chicago;
    Bruno Bischofberger, Zürich; Private collection, Switzerland

  • Exhibited

    Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, 75th American Exhibition, March 8 -
    April 27, 1986, pp. 34-35; Paris, Galerie Fabien Boulakia, Basquiat, September 27 - November 3, 1990, p. 40-41; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, October 23, 1992 - February 14, 1993; Housten, The Menil Collection, March 11 - May 9, Iowa, Des Moines Art Center, May 22 - August 15, Jean Michel Basquiat; New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, September 23 - December 31, 1999; Napoli, Castel Nuovo, Jean Michel Basquiat, December 19, 1999 - February 27, 2000; Rome, Chiostro del Bramante, Jean Michel Basquiat Dipinti, January 20 - March 17, 2002; Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum, March 11 - June 5, 2005; Los Angeles, The
    Museum of Contemporary Art, July 17 - October 10, 2005; Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, November 18, 2005 - February 12, 2006, Basquiat

  • Literature

    H.H. Arnason, ‘Jean Michel Basquiat’, History of Modern Art: Painting,
    Sculpture, Architecture, Photography, No. 1052, p. 655 (illustrated); R. D. Marshall, J.L. Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 1996, 1st edition, Vol. 1, 1984, pp. 94-95 (illustrated); R. D. Marshall, J.L. Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1996, 2nd editon, Vol. 2, pp. 230-231 (illustrated);
    Tony Schafrazi Gallery, ed., Basquiat, 1999, pp. 242 - 243 (illustrated); Chiostro del Bramante, ed., Jean Michel Basquiat Dipinti, 2002 (illustrated); M.Mayer, ed., Basquiat, NewYork, 2005, pp. 142-143 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Often referred to as the artist-rebel of his time, Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the most important and influential figures within post-war 20th Century art. Transforming calculated observations into magnificent and substantial works, Grillo from 1984 is a piece of monumental scale and significance, where personal history and cultural legacy combine in a visceral sculptural display par excellence.
    The artist’s exceptional ability to execute a work of immense size and significance is fundamental to his power in transcending the individual to address broader issues, ultimately confronting the contemporary environment of his time. Essential to Grillo’s aim is the ability to charge his work with a sculptural identity, forcing spectators to confront the painting from various angles. Without a doubt, the artist was determined for the work to be experienced, rather than observed by any passive means. As with his entire oeuvre, Basquiat focused on the power of words and symbols to command a distinct expression of the time and his rich cultural legacy; the artist references in vivid means the African Diaspora mix his upbringing and heritage yielded, providing countless sources of artistic inspiration for his work.
    In Grillo, Basquiat challenges the spectators with strategically thought-out processes. Issuing the work with both pure and abstracted figuration, the artist consciously allows his symbolism to be identified partially, leaving the spectator in a state of ‘half-knowing’. By forcing the observers of his work to physically move around the piece, in order to appreciate and gain perspective of its grandeur and stature, the artist develops a visual and structural play on the idea of semiotics—where the signifier and the signified enter a reciprocal relationship, making one reliant on the other, yet completely dependant on the experience of the work itself.
    Grillo, Spanish for cricket, is comprised of four wooden panels which Basquiat labors in collage, oil stick, acrylic, oil, and spiky nails.The presence of two central protagonists, flaking the second panel on left and right is unmistakably a principle subject of the narrative; yet despite Basquiat’s prominent positioning of the figures, the work refuses a cohesive interpretation as the artist’s characteristic abstraction takes hold. Paper collage cutouts and graffiti text reveal passages in English and Spanish and pepper the sculpture with seemingly subconscious messages to the viewer, keying us into important, but perhaps not principal, themes.
    As Richard Marshall describes, this strategy was a theme the artist relied on, “Basquiat’s paintings of 1982-85 reveal a confluence of his many interests and energies, and their actual contents – the words – describe the subjects of importance to Basquiat. He continually selected and injected into his works words which held charged references and meanings – particularly to his deep-rooted concerns about race, human rights, the creation of power and wealth, and the control and valuation of natural elements, animals, and produce – all this in addition to references to his ethnic heritage, popular culture…” (R. Marshall, Whitney Museum of American Art, Jean-Michel Basquiat, New York 1992, pp. 18-21).
    The duality of the central figure intimates a common source; in fact, Basquiat has looked to the African Congo for inspiration. The left figure carries a black crown spiked with nails, recalling the Nkisi figures of the Hemba culture (cf. figure 1). The Nkisi’s power derives from magic stored in their bodies, and when an agreement was reached between warring tribes both sides would swear an oath before the cult and drive iron blades or nails in to seal their oath. Thus, the supernatural powers latent in the deities were called upon to punish any who broke their pact.
    Grillo is also infused with Caribbean religious imagery (cf. figure 2). The second figure, crowned instead with a halo display, mimics the posture of the first but the presence of both lays further claim to Basquiat’s original source: as two sides took oath over the Nkisi cult figure, so too do both figures in Grillo participate in the field of action the artist creates. Tellingly, they demonstrate leader status through the torch they bear and the fists they yield in dominance. Basquiat frequently collected stimuli for his work from the rich influence in his life of Caribbean culture, as the son of Haitian / Puerto Rican parents, the artist was brought up in a household of diverse elements.
    The period in which Basquiat completed Grillo signifies an important moment for the artist as he culled from a strong artistic repertoire of fellow American artists. As Richard Marshall explains, the work of Robert Rauschenberg and his incorporation of urban detritus undoubtedly serves a principal influence on Basquiat’s career, “Collaged surfaces had always appealed to Basquiat, and it was at this time that he incorporated pasted drawings and photocopies of his own work with great abandon, achieving a textured, thick, and tactile surface of wood, canvas, paint, oil stick, and paper. His impulse to combine a number of materials, elements, and subjects – made, found, constructed, and collaged [elemental to his works]. Basquiat would have found an affinity with Rauschenberg combines of the mid-1950s…with its dense surface of disparate items and scavenged detritus of contemporary urban life. He would also have found art historical reassurance in Rauschenberg’s use of old doors such as appears in Basquiat’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict (1982), Grillo (1984), and J’s Milagro (1985). In this period, he was turning from the masters who had initially inspired his painting to artists whose work shared his own concerns for the moment – here, an impulse to layer, attach, hammer, tie and hinge things so as to combine texture, surface, image and reference. The result was an aesthetic microcosm of the physical and visual reality of contemporary existence….” (ibid, pp. 18-21). Grillo is the largest of three works Basquiat completed devoted to the large-scale three-dimensional medium. What’s more, the painting is a profound public and private example of Basquiat’s entire visual repertoire. The electrically-charged colors and incorporation of man-made objects captures our immediate attention, and is the epitome of all his previously compiled artistic methodologies. With references to Rauschenberg’s early works, Warhol’s pop-consumerism, and even to street architecture and graffiti, Grillo is for Basquiat, an embodiment of the early 1980s urban culture around him.
    Undoubtedly a truly captivating work, Grillo is a visual account of Basquiat the artist, as well as individual – a searching for artistic expression within his family’s rich cultural legacy. Grillo pay homage to both parents, drawing from the artistic impulses presented through the Spanish Puerto Rican roots of his mother to the French Haitian roots of his father.
    The artist’s visual communication through text and symbolism is significant to his body of work and deeply embedded in his visual vocabulary. Its scattered and fragmented nature, a characteristic often appearing in the artist’s paintings, becomes challenged once more in this seminal work. With its unequal surface of protruding panels, Basquiat has transformed Grillo, although a wall piece, to a painting comprised of phenomenological characteristics of a sculptural work. Functioning primarily as an artist, enticed within his own era and surroundings, Basquiat with his unique subject matter and palette of saturated and subtropical colors has, in this present lot, highlighted his constant committal to visually recording the events of his time. In this present lot, Basquiat has meticulously applied a range of mediums transforming Grillo into a superior work of art, and infusing it with an raw aesthetic and stylistic quality unique to his artistic oeuvre and replete with possibility.

  • 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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Oil, acrylic, oilstick, photocopy collage and nails on wood (in four parts).
96 x 211 1/2 x 18 in. (243.8 x 537.2 x 45.7 cm).

£3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for £4,948,000

Contemporary Art

22 June 2007, 4pm & 5pm