Jean-Michel Basquiat - Never Above 14th St. A Downtown NYC Art Show New York Wednesday, March 8, 2023 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Matt Dike, Los Angeles (acquired directly from the artist)
    Private Collection (by descent from the above)
    Phillips, New York, May 15, 2019, lot 153
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Figure with Blue Head), 1982

    Fred Hoffman

    Untitled (Figure with Blue Head) is one of the most unique works on paper in the oeuvre of Jean-Michel Basquiat. In fact, there is no other comparable work on paper. The irregular edge of the sheet of paper separates this work from other drawings. After having drawn both the figure and the surrounding array of linear markings, the artist tore away portions of the edge of the paper, resulting in an even more intense focus on the figure’s gestures and emotive expression. Basquiat’s paring down of the sheet was highly considered and deliberate; these were not random actions. The resulting edges of the work are of equal intentional consequence as the artist’s application of colored oil paint stick and India ink.

    In many ways, Untitled (Figure with Blue Head) has more in common with Basquiat’s 1982 painting practice than with his works on paper. One could even make the case that this work is more a painting on paper than a drawing. While the work is executed in oil paint stick, the figure is built up, much like his paintings, from the layering of multiple applications of an array of colorful hues. The ways in which Basquiat has built up his figure, at least partially resulting in a tactile form, is consistent with the artist’s use of brushwork.

    Basquiat’s rendering of the figure’s chest cavity further links this work to key paintings executed by the artist around this same period of 1982-1983. This portion of the figure’s anatomy has been opened up, revealing neither anatomical structure nor physiological functions. Rather, the artist has portrayed the figure’s central channel of energy—something subtler, not necessarily observable. Basquiat treats this aspect of his figure as something real, full of power and energy. This aspect of Basquiat’s figure links it to the central figures in two major paintings, Philistines, 1982, and Notary, 1983. In both paintings Basquiat has torn open the chest cavity, exposing and revealing the spinal column, the conveyor of stimuli to the brain. In Untitled (Figure with Blue Head), the artist has also exposed the chest cavity; now however, the central channel is much broader and intensely pulsating with energy. It almost feels like this figure is on fire from the inside, internally erupting from below the pelvic region all the way up to its neck.

    What results from this energetic force is the illumination of the figure’s head, depicted as an activated blue mass. That the energy suggested in the figure’s interior is both stronger and subtler than something physical, is made evident in Basquiat’s placement of a nimbus above his figure’s head. Basquiat’s depiction of the movement of an energetic force was his means of capturing psycho-spiritual transformation, and the resulting sanctification of his figure. This is a figure in the act of transcendence, moving beyond the realm of flesh into the realm of spirit.

    Untitled (Figure with Blue Head) indicates that from the outset, Basquiat was fascinated by greater realities than meet the eye. This work presents the unique X-ray-like vision he brought to his subjects, breaking down the dichotomy between the external and the internal. As Untitled (Figure with Blue Head) demonstrates, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s breakthroughs would occur in direct relationship to his ability to penetrate intuitively the façade of physical form and appearance, and allow other truths and realities to surface.

  • 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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Untitled (Figure with Blue Head)

oilstick and India ink on Arches paper
21 x 15 in. (53.3 x 38.1 cm.)
Executed in 1983.

Price On Request

Never Above 14th St. A Downtown NYC Art Show