Jean-Michel Basquiat - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 13, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Beaubourg, Paris

  • Literature

    Michel Enrici, Jean-Michel Basquit, Paris, Éditions de la Différence/Galerie Enrico Navarra, 1989, p. 43 (illustrated)
    Richard Marshall andJean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 1996, 2nd ed., vol. II, p. 138, No. 1
    Richard Marshall andJean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 2000, 3rd ed., vol II, 2000, p. 226-227 (illustrated in colour)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present lot, For B.A.M., executed in 1985, was painted during the height of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s short-lived career. It was in February of that year that he featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine accompanied by the title ‘New Art, New Money: The Making of an American Artist’. It was only five years prior to this that Basquiat had been an unknown homeless graffiti artist who left cryptic and witty statements on the walls of new york’s SoHo and the east Village using the pseudonym SAMO. His ascent to prominence from this position was without parallel. Basquiat’s time in new york’s high-society art world was brief and he was soon to succumb to the exploitative social and professional pressures, ultimately leading to his death at the age of 27. His career lends itself spectacularly to the romanticized legend of a struggling genius, the artist as exemplary outsider, unable to function within society. Basquiat was the first black artist to break into the white dominated art world; his entire œuvre reflects the struggles and hardships of an underprivileged african- american in the face of the art world elite. It is well known that Basquiat’s greatest existential fight in life was his identity and his struggle for acceptance.

    For B.A.M. incorporates many of Basquiat’s familiar motifs. The centre of the canvas is dominated by the head of a black figure. The face itself is characteristically crude with a primitive mask-like rendering, sharp jewel eyes, thick red lips, and a thin grid-like mouth that resembles a zip running disproportionately high across the figure’s cheek. The face is reminiscent of a traditional hand-carved wooden african mask. We recognize this primitive art influence in the work of pablo picasso at the turn of the 20th century. The head is without body and floats above the stark white background within a naïvely drawn circle; above the head sits a dark cloudy crown. Basquiat often depicts his subjects with a crown or halo. His figures are heralded, commemorated and honoured as kings, heroes and martyrs who have often overcome great persecution and ultimately triumphed. As with many of Basquiat’s subjects, the head is anonymous and could be identified as several of Basquiat’s black American idols, included musicians, sports players and civil rights figures. There is the constant element of Basquiat depicting an existential portrait, often struggling with his identity and desperately trying to find a sense of belonging in the world.

    The upper left corner has a Japanese yen symbol painted in vibrant red. Directly below, water is pouring onto a luscious green plant, fuelling its growth, all alluding to Basquiat’s new found fame and wealth. He had several blockbuster shows throughout 1985, including shows at Galerie Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich and Mary Boone Gallery in new york. Helping to further explain the use of the Japanese yen, Basquiat took his second trip to Tokyo later in the year where he spent a week for the opening of his solo show at the Akira Ikeda Gallery. He was now finding fame and recognition worldwide. In the base of the plant Basquiat has written ‘ICECUBES’ then drawn a line through the word. Below the word the actual object is depicted in a child-like manner, a distinct art historical reference to the early conceptual art of the mid-1960s, especially One and Three Chairs, 1965 by Joseph Kosuth, where the central subject of the chair, is physically displayed alongside a photograph of the object and its definition. Furthermore, this loosely written text is suggestive of his earlier days, as SAMO©, the rebellious graffiti poet of lower Manhattan in the late 1970s. Basquiat often paid tribute to the traditions of graffiti.

    The very title of the work, For B.A.M., is open to interpretation. The acronym B.A.M. in the context of Basquiat’s lifetime and social background conceivably stands for The Black arts Movement. This was an artistic branch of the Black Power movement, started in Harlem by activist amiri Baraka in 1965. The movement was triggered by the assassination of Malcolm X, the black American political figure to whom Basquiat often referred in his paintings. Further, the preposition ‘For’ incorporated in the title insinuates that For B.A.M. was painted in dedication or as a monument to The Black Arts Movement and those involved. Here Basquiat show his appreciation and respect for his forefathers that have paved the way for the civil rights of black Americans.

    "His influences were encyclopedic, and when we look for one we can find it. He did for ghetto commence what Warhol and Johns did for corporate commerce – flats fix, peso neto – and he made histories equivalent: biblical, colonial, jazz and prizefighting. There’s a democracy of information that captures and corrects the dazzling multimedia assault of freeze-dried information on the human sensorium. He let it all in and he reorganized it with divine judgment and artistic elegance. Like Warhol and the other pop artists, his work was comedic. a painting might make you laugh out loud, but it might scare someone else. He was ‘big picture’ comedic, like Dante – a poet trying to sort absolutely all of it out." (G. O’Brien, ‘Who Was that Masked Man?’ in Basquiat, p. 111)

  • 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 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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For B.A.M.

acrylic and coloured oilstick on canvas
213.4 x 152.4 cm (84 x 60 in)
Signed and dated 'Jean-Michel Basquiat 1985' on the reverse.

£1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for £763,830

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

14 February 2013