Jean-Michel Basquiat - New Now New York Wednesday, March 8, 2023 | Phillips
  • The present work, consisting of seven embellished pages extracted from Harry MacElhone’s seminal Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, is a testament to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s idiosyncratic drawing style as well as the pulsing art scene in New York in the 80’s. This group of exquisite works was originally gifted by the artist to Randy Gun, a New York-based musician who had a personal relationship to the artist in the 1980’s. With references to the iconic “EROICA” phrase and other leitmotivs in Basquiat’s career, this group of works is a rare insight into the artist’s practice and personal life.


    A Friendship in 1980s New York

    “He gave it to me with intention. I noticed that he made the drawings on pages that had no printing on the back. It made a big impression on me.”
    —Randy Gun

    The Great Jones Cafe, New York.  Image: Robert K. Chin - Storefronts / Alamy Stock Photo

    A core member of the Rock band The Necessaries and a fixture of Manhattan’s downtown music scene, Gun was a part of the same social circles as Basquiat. The band’s first record, released in 1979, was produced by John Cale, a founding member of the Velvet Underground who closely collaborated with Andy Warhol. Gun was a bartender at the Great Jones Café, a buzzing downtown bar that Basquiat frequented as it was conveniently located directly across from his home and studio at 57 Great Jones Street. After strengthening their friendship over time spent in the bar, and just a year before his untimely death, Basquiat gifted the book to Gun. Dedicated to Randy as the “BEST BARTENDER IN N.Y.,” the present work is an everlasting memory of Basquiat’s private life and New York City in the 1980s.


    Harry's New York Bar, Paris



    Advertisement for Harry’s New York Bar, Paris. Image: Chronicle / Alamy Stock Photo

    Founded in 1911 in Paris, Harry's New York Bar is renowned for its classic style and for welcoming celebrity patrons. Ex-patriots such as Ernest Hemingway, George Gershwin and Humphrey Bogart were each known to frequent the bar, which was seen to many as a "home away from home." Like Great Jones Cafe, where Basquiat was welcomed among other members of the eclectic creative downtown society, Harry's New York Bar is an iconic symbol of friendship and community. Whether from the physical bar or book, Harry's made an undeniable impression on the artist. 


    Glenn O'Brien's TV



    Glenn O'Brien's TV Party was a public access television variety and talk show hosted by celebrated writer, editor and creative director Glenn O'Brien and Chris Stein, the co-founder and guitarist of the band Blondie with Debbie Harry. Jean-Michel Basquiat was a core member of the film crew for the show, and he appeared nine times on the program. Randy Gun performed as a musician for TV Party, highlighting their shared passion for performance, art, music and experimentation. In the above episode from 1978, Randy Gun is seen playing the guitar behind Debbie Harry.


    The Interview with David Ebony


    A member of the International Association of Art Critics and former Managing Editor of Art in America, David Ebony conducted an interview with Randy Gun in 2021 to discuss the relationship he had with Jean-Michel Basquiat. 


    DE: So he was a regular at the bar?


    RG: He came in when we weren't really open yet. I would be setting up between 3 and 4 [PM]. If anyone else tried to come in, I would ask them to come by a little later.


    DE: Was he trying to avoid the regular crowd?


    RG: At setup time, he'd have his own private bartender, me, and would be undisturbed. If he wanted to talk, we'd talk; if he didn't want to talk, we wouldn't talk. He knew he could have his privacy there, because I wasn't going to bother him. [...]


    DE: Did Jean-Michel come into the bar one day with Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails for you, or how did that come about? [...]


    RG: It was one of those times when he came back from a trip. He said 'I was thinking of you on this trip, and I brought back this book for you.' He just handed me the book. [...] He gave it to me with intention. I noticed that he made the drawings on pages that had no printing on the back. It made a big impression on me. [...]


    DE: So what happened afterward? Was that the last time you saw Jean-Michel? Did you have a chance to thank him for the gift?


    RG: He came into the bar a few times after that. I was able to thank him, sure. [...]


    DE: So then you had the drawings to look at every day. What are your thoughts about them now, or your personal feelings about Basquiat?


    RG: I do wish Jean-Michel was still with us. He made a lasting impact on the art world. Before he died, he was aware of the influence he was having on the culture, just as Warhol had on an earlier generation. But Basquiat's importance and significance continue to grow with each passing day. 


    Markings to Last a Lifetime


    Jean-Michel BasquiatEroica, 1988. Artwork: © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

    Featuring inscriptions that would prove to be hallmarks of Basquiat’s oeuvre, the extracted pages from Harry MacElhone’s book are gestures toward a bigger picture. The repetition of the “EROICA” phrase on one of the pages predates an iconic series of larger collage works by the artist with the same word figuring prominently in the foreground. Basquiat’s references to “heroism” directly contrast with the act of repetition and crossing out; he is referencing the infinite and the finite in one motion.


    Basquiat’s drawing on page 91, Untitled (HONER / H), is one of two works from Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails related directly to music and musicians. Befitting a gift to Gun, a musician who also tended bar, this work is a reference to the celebrated instrument company founded in Germany in 1857. Hohner manufactured a variety of instruments over the years ranging from guitars to keyboards, but the company is renowned for their harmonicas and accordions, which have played a key part in the development of blues, jazz and folk music. Untitled (HONER / H) is thus directly related to Basquiat’s musical heroes as well as symbolic of the creative life and work of African-American musicians.   

    Details of the present lot.        

    Another drawing from the group illustrates a figure that closely resembles Glass Nose, a large-scale painting by the artist executed in 1987. The titling is likely a play on words with 'Glasnost' a term used during a revitalization of the Communist Party in the mid-1980s in support of the freedom of information. Both the drawing and the painting show a soldier figure eating a banana and highlight this sense of relief, comedy and social progress. Additionally, the use of the atomic symbol alludes to the growing fear of nuclear warfare throughout that same time period, both domestically and abroad. 

    Detail of the present lot.

    Allusions to technology also figure in the present lot, highlighting the work's ties to the concept of innovation. The ® sign, along with the @, are both indicative of a new style of communication and ownership over imagery. The "STOP PRINT START PRINT" action of copying imagery shares a direct relationship with Basquiat's recurring use of layering, remixing and collaging. Reminiscent of the Hip-Hop practice of combining musical tracks to create one symphonic sound, Basquiat's style is highly synesthetic and eternally poetic.

    “He ate up every image, every word, every bit of data that appeared in front of him, and he processed it all into a bebop Cubist Pop Art cartoon gospel that synthesized the whole overload we lived under into something that made astonishing new sense.”
    —Glenn O’Brien

    • Provenance

      Gifted by the artist to the present owner in 1986

    • Exhibited

      Online, JGC Fine Art LLC, A Gift from Basquiat: Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, September 22, 2021–present

    • Literature

      James Barron, "Basquiat and the bartender," The New York Times, September 22, 2021, online (illustrated)
      Sarah Cascone, “Jean-Michel Basquiat Inscribed a Cocktail Book for His Favorite Bartender Before He Died. See His Personal Sketches Inside,” Artnet News, September 22, 2021, online (illustrated)
      Emily Dinsdale, “Glimpse some rare Basquiat sketches he once gifted to a friend,” Dazed, September 24, 2021, online (illustrated)
      Roger Clark, "Rare Basquiat drawings featured in online exhibition," Spectrum News, September 28, 2021, online (illustrated)
      "La mostra (virtuale) sui disegni inediti di Jean-Michel Basquiat," sky arte, October 20, 2021, online
      Janet Mercel, "An American in New York," The Regular, December 2, 2021, online (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.

      View More Works


Eight works: (i–vii) Untitled from Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails; (viii) Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails

(i, vi, vii) graphite on printed paper
(ii–iv) colored pencil on printed paper
(v) graphite and colored pencil on printed paper
(viii) pencil on Harry MacElhone, Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails: More than 300 Famous Cocktails, London, 1986, p. 27, endpaper

(i–vii) 6 1/4 x 3 1/4 in. (15.9 x 8.3 cm)
(viii) 6 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 5/8 in. (16.5 x 8.9 x 1.6 cm)

Executed in 1986.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $196,850

Contact Specialist

Avery Semjen
Head of Sale, New Now
212 940 1207

New Now

New York Auction 8 March 2023