Jean-Michel Basquiat - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 13, 2019 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist)
    Christie's, New York, November 14, 1989, lot 468
    Fausto Galeazzi, Brescia (acquired by 1993)
    Galleria Blu, Milan
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    Maya Angelou, Life Doesn't Frighten Me, New York, 1993, pp. 16-17 (illustrated)
    Maya Angelou, Life Doesn't Frighten Me, New York, 2017, pp. 20-21 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Remaining in the same private collection for nearly 30 years, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled, circa 1981-1982, is an exquisite painting on paper created at the height of the artist’s breakthrough years. While unseen by the public for decades, this work has become iconic through its publication in the celebrated children’s book Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, which pairs Basquiat’s timeless imagery with Maya Angelou’s eponymous poem. Originally published in 1993 and re-released in 2017, Angelou’s poem puts forth a brave tale in which demons are summoned only to be repelled again – a celebration of courage and defiance powerfully amplified through Basquiat’s art.

    Executed circa 1981–1982, this work perfectly evidences the revolutionary pictorial idiom with which Basquiat burst onto the art scene in New York at merely 20 years of age. Basquiat had first gained notoriety in the late 1970s for the conceptually and politically charged graffiti works he emblazoned around downtown under the pseudonym SAMO©, before directing his talent towards painting and drawing. When Basquiat’s work was exhibited at the watershed exhibition New York/New Wave at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in early 1981, it was notably “the observable relationship of his drawing to past art” that made him stand out for poet and art critic Rene Ricard, who proclaimed, “The elegance of Twombly is there but from the same source (graffiti) and so is the brut of the young Dubuffet” (Rene Ricard, “The Radiant Child”, ArtForum, December 1981, online).

    Untitled vividly echoes Ricard’s now famous observation, evoking a similar immediacy and rawness that one finds in Dubuffet’s drawings and paintings of animals. The present work demonstrates the incredibly mature pictorial idiom of Basquiat’s breakthrough works, which clearly reflect his lifelong fixation with drawing. A voracious autodidact, Basquiat had taught himself to draw as a child – creating drawings equally inspired by television cartoons and comic books, as well as by the anatomical textbook Gray’s Anatomy and the artworks and artifacts he encountered during his frequent visits to New York museums.

    In Panthers in the Park, the present work accompanies the lines, “Panthers in the park / Strangers in the dark/ No, they don’t frighten me at all.” The figure at center indeed evokes a wild animal, one that appeared in various guises within Basquiat’s work beginning in 1981, and notably gave rise to a discrete group of paintings in 1982. The present work is closely related to Untitled, 1981, a major work on paper in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, that features a very similar, albeit more cartoon-esque, skeletal creature, but also shares a similar compositional force as the iconic painting Dog, 1982. Similarly positioning the animal against a moody, painterly black and blue ground, Basquiat achieves a heightened emotional state that poignantly captures the central tenets of Angelou’s poem. Basquiat frequently exorcised his own creative demons through his art, an apt parallel to the poem’s call for courage against life’s adversities. While Basquiat passed away at merely 27 years old in 1988, the staying power of his art remains more than three decades later.

  • 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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acrylic and white chalk on paper
14 1/4 x 22 7/8 in. (36.2 x 58.3 cm.)
Executed circa 1981-1982.

This work is recorded in the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat under number 60284; a scan of the certificate of authenticity can be obtained on request.

$300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for $325,000

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

20th C. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 13 November 2019