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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, New York
    Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg, New York, Contemporary Art Part I, November 13, 2003, lot 36
    Collection of Jan Krugier
    Phillips de Pury & Company, London, Contemporary Art Evening Sale, June 27, 2011, lot 8
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Valencia, Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno, Fire Under the Ashes (from Picasso to Basquiat),May 5 – August 28, 2005, then traveled to Paris, Musée Maillol-Fondation Dina Vierny (October 8, 2005 – February 14, 2006)

  • Literature

    E. Navarra, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris: Galerie Enrico Navarra, 2000, vol. II, no. 10, p. 230 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "I don't think about art when I'm working. I try to think about life."

    - Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1999

    For the turbulent eight years of his professional career, Jean-Michel Basquiat was engaged in a constant battle between his private and public artistic identity. While titanically gifted, he felt himself being torn between several realms of expectation, among them that of his dealers, his professional colleagues and most prominently, himself. 1985 saw Basquiat’s height of popularity during his lifetime, with his face adorning the cover of Time magazine and his unquestioned preeminence among les enfants terribles. Yet the year was a turning point for Basquiat as a painter, and his use of diptychs in particular began to adopt more adventurous methods of construction. In keeping with his evolving public and private personality during this time period, the present lot, Self-Portrait, 1985, bears a wealth of three-dimensional beauty that signals a new direction for Basquiat’s exploration of the self.

    While Basquiat’s career of the early 1980s was filled with overwhelming universal acclaim, it owed most of its success to Basquiat’s revolutionary introduction of numerous forms and tropes previously unseen in contemporary art. Firstly, as he possessed a marvelously diverse cultural heritage of both Puerto Rican and Haitian descent, Basquiat’s incorporations of his ethnic lineage into his work brought about a craze of neo-primitivism not seen since the days of Pablo Picasso’s mask work. Motifs—namely the skull, the anatomized body, and the crown—highlighted Basquiat’s combination of religious influences, primarily Catholicism and Vodou. Yet his provocative titles and figures gave birth to a fascinating renaissance of the examination of black identity as well. His characters, self-portraits or not, often bore chains or signs of racial subjugation, making him the most prominent black painter that the contemporary art world had ever witnessed.

    Of course, these elements were suffused with Basquiat’s own compositional technique, developed from his early work with punk and graffiti artists. SAMO, his graffiti partnership with Al Diaz, was among the most famous New York City street art of the late 1970s, its spare signage and wordplay assuming the power of ancient hieroglyphs for a modern world. Combined with his fortune of heritage, Basquiat’s scrawled heads and electric color brought the art world so quickly to its knees that the only art historical term that it could come up with to describe him was “neo-expressionist”. This was the defining aspect of Basquiat’s early years, a tsunami of work met with critical wonder—a perfect encapsulation of youthful expression: “Jean-Michel Basquiat was an articulate and prolific spokesman for youth: insatiably curious, tirelessly inventive, innocently self-deprecating because of youth's inadequacies, jealously guarding his independence, typically disappointed by the inherited world he defensively mocked, yet filled with adulation for his heroes. " (M. Mayer, "Basquiat in History," Basquiat, Brooklyn Museum of Art, 2005, p. 46).

    But as he reached artistic maturity, Basquiat began to branch out into more specialized forms. No longer was the art of 1985 filled with a pastiche of exuberance and anger executed with fabulous abandon; it was sublimely conscious of its influences from the past and drawing explicitly from them in an effort to create new forms. In Self Portrait, 1985, we witness the marvelous fusion of two seemingly disparate pieces of art in Basquiat’s diptych. While his diptychs of the past, such as 1982’s Untitled (diptych), tended to yield two versions of the same figure, the present lot signifies a major departure from this thematic unity. Basquiat’s exploration of the self approaches a higher realm of abstraction as we contemplate two panels: the first, bearing a grinning figure, represents one of Basquiat’s greatest efforts at portraying himself with verisimilitude; a self-portrait in the most conservative of terms. In Basquiat’s second and incongruous panel, however, we bear witness to a lack of figure in favor of a treasure of collage.

    Collages were hardly new territory for Basquiat. Early in his career he favored them as well: “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 signature to combine a number of materials, elements, and subjects from made, found, constructed, and collaged artifacts were elemental to his works. Basquiat would have found an affinity with the Rauschenberg combines of the mid-1950s with their dense surface of disparate items and scavenged detritus of contemporary urban life.”(R. Marshall, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1992, pp. 18-21). Yet here he presents his figure apart from an almost strictly non-representational work, the only hints of discernible character are present in his cryptic use of block lettering.

    Compositionally speaking, the self-representation in the left panel is one of Basquiat’s simplest and most lovely in terms of color and scope. Against a background of gently varying creams and light pinks, Basquiat places his figure equidistant from the top and bottom edges—an unusual show of restraint for such an impulsive painter. Below, he almost grants us a horizon, the figure hovering above a landscape of green grass and nondescript body of water. The figure itself is massively intriguing. Using only dark brown against his light background, Basquiat sculpts only the upper torso and head of his figure, allowing the body to taper off below the shoulders, implying a spiritual elevation above the receding horizon, an almost cinematically immaculate apparition. Basquiat’s signature dreadlocks spike out from his grinning face, with only diamond-shaped holes for eyes that emphasize his menacing grin. It is the ominous spirit of both anger and creation that drove Basquiat in his artistic quest—an ever-present demon that took his own corporeal form.

    The right panel showcases a less familiar version of Basquiat’s hand. Adorned in hundreds of soda bottlecaps, Basquiat crafts a layered portrait of fiery collage. Below, a bright glow of multicolored flames presents a backdrop for his three-dimensional creation: blocks of orange and red paint stick burn beside colder areas of brown, green, and even patches of white. Atop his dramatic coloring, Basquiat strategically layers his bottlecaps so as not to obscure the most chromatically dazzling areas of his painting—the orange and red are free to burn bright, while the darker colors assume the blues, reds, and whites of the bottlecaps themselves. Paired with his aforementioned block lettering—which only offer us suggestions of its actual message: “No…thing…in…his…the…”—Basquiat makes a collage of color and poetry, material in its nature yet infinitely interpretable in its content. Taken side-by-side with the more conventional self-portrait on the left, we may surmise that the panel on the right represents an indefinable side of Basquiat, that part of the artist that is always a mystery, even to the artist himself.

    In creating such a wonderfully varied piece of two- and three-dimensional art, Basquiat channeled Robert Rauschenberg’s combines of the 1950s while employing his own urban dialect of found materials in his use of bottlecaps and graffiti. The result is a work that employs a form in use 30 years earlier in order to achieve a contemporary objective: “In this period, he was turning from the masters who had initially inspired his painting to artists whose work shared his own socio-political concerns for the moment - here, an impulse to layer, attach, hammer, tie and hinge things so as to combine texture, surface, image and reference were matched by the deconstructive elements of colonialism, racism and classism. The result was an aesthetic microcosm of the physical and visual reality of contemporary existence' (R. Marshall, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1992, pp. 18-21).

    Rauschenberg’s artistic impulses led him to manipulate the detritus of the street in order to initiate an ecstatic surprise; his aims were compositional in their experiments. But here, Basquiat travels to a new artistic frontier, where working in three dimensions in order to allow him to express his identity in tactile materiality, to investigate all that lives within him in the confines of two contrasting panels, each with different representations of self and separate compositional techniques. For such a uniquely diverse individual—not only in race and creed, but also in drive and intelligence—it seems only appropriate that Basquiat would find new means to explore the vast combine that was himself.

    As his work progressed in the next—and last—three years of his life, Basquiat’s means of expression varied accordingly. In Self-Portrait, 1985, we see the rise of a more conscientious artist, one who was as indebted to his influences as he was willing to examine them. The present lot is a fitting portrait of a young man who thought of himself not only as a single picture, but as a multiple array of colors and forms, all competing for their chance to be seen. “His work is likely to remain for a long time as the modern picture of what it looks like to be brilliant, driven, and young.”(M. Mayer, "Basquiat in History," Basquiat, New York, 2005, p. 46).

  • 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. 

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11

Self-Portrait

1985
acrylic, oil stick, crown cork and bottle caps on wood
55 7/8 x 60 1/4 x 5 7/8 in. (141.9 x 153 x 14.9 cm.)
Signed and dated "1985" on the reverse.

Estimate
$3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for $3,301,000

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Evening Sale
[email protected]
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York 11 November 2013 7PM