Jean-Michel Basquiat - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Saturday, June 28, 2008 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Annina Nosei Gallery, New York; Pace Wildenstein, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, PaceWildenstein, Dubuffet and Basquiat: Personal Histories, 28 April – 17 June, 2006

  • Literature

    Exhibition Catalogue, PaceWildenstein, Dubuffet and Basquiat: Personal Histories, New York, 2006 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Energetic, expressive, graphic, clandestine, streetwise, racial, all words used to describe the art and life of the seminal New York artist Jean Michel Basquiat. Originally a graffiti artist with the SAMO collective, the young Basquiat left his impression throughout the Manhattan art scene by managing to balance his social life and artistic practice within the urban environment, the bourgeoisie, and the closed circles of artists who were primarily white, a seemingly difficult circle to break into for a young black artist in the late 1970s early 1980s.
    The power of Basquiat's work is depicted as hieroglyphic, loosely written phrases or messages alight next to children-like drawings of skulls, automobiles and bones, dribbles of paint, marks and etchings made from all kinds of sources, largely decorative, racial and charged, his productions presented the public with a sort of naivety in painting but a surprising facility for creating artworks reflecting his position within the 80s world of rising youth culture meeting money, hype and excess, sadly in the future this world would also lead to his untimely death.
    Having received no formal art training, Basquiat never tried to deal with the ‘real' world through drawing; he could only scribble and jot, rehearsing his own stereotypes, his pictorial nouns for ‘face' or ‘body' over and over again. Consequently, though his images look quite vivid and sharp, and though from time to time he could bring off an intriguing passage of spiky marks or a brisk clash of blaring color, the work settles into a primitive and artsy puzzle, referent and aided by his admiration to older painters like Cy Twombly and Jean Dubuffet, mimicking their techniques. As well as admiring the old masters he also toyed and drew sway from more classical and modern resources like Gray's Anatomy which includes detailed illustrations of the human body by Henry Gray and complimented with other corporal illustrations by Leonardo da Vinci. The close approximation with these medical illustrations came after Basquiat was interned at a hospital at the age of 13, a result of being hit by a car and undergoing surgery to remove his spleen. One other influential title during his recovery period was Henry Dreyfuss', Symbol Sourcebook. First published in 1972 this book contains a variety of graphic symbols which Dreyfuss documented including one very important take on Hobos and their inter-personal lexicon which played close to Basquiat's under-privileged background. Some of these emblems communicate to other hobo's announcing locations like ‘the owner is in' or ‘well guarded house' thus becoming a supportive subterranean symbol-language born from urban centers onto the streets. The response Basquiat had to this was to develop his own personal symbols which we see responsive throughout his canvases like the recognizable crown, the copyright circle and various other scribbles which he repeats often.
    A productive year for the artist, 1982 saw Basquiat create perhaps his most notable relationships both with a then unknown singer called Madonna and a famed artist named Andy Warhol. By this year he was sharing exhibition spaces with other New York talents like Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi, thus becoming part of a loose-knit group that art-writers, curators, and collectors would soon be calling the Neo-expressionist movement. This momentum was characterized by an intense subjectivity of feeling and aggressively raw handling of materials, typical of Jean-Michel's style. His unification to this circle of creative's came about in early ‘82 when Jean-Michel took the art world by storm with his rampageous one-man show at Annina Nosei's gallery. Basquiat, accustomed to pushing the envelope in all aspects of his life made this a priority mark within his painting.
    Marc Meyer who was one of four curators amongst the Basquiat retrospective which in 2005 and 2006 toured New York, Los Angeles and Houston, said Basquiat was "the last great modernist painter because if we think of him as a painter of the School of Paris, he was essentially a figurative and even narrative painter—but there's an extraordinary, breathless, endless reservoir of references in his work, as if he wanted his paintings to represent all of human history." (M. Meyer, J.M.Basquiat, F.Hoffman, ed., Basquiat, New York, 2005) This modernism meets primeval technique was what made the artist so special, a contemporary painter who portrayed his intellect in an absorbable innocence which to this day makes the public warm up to his art.
    In Untitled 1982 Basquiat's artistic manifestation through loosely drawn yet conceptually placed symbols and arrows amongst others help again to communicate his alienation from the bourgeoisie art world and the life and times of the early 80s in New York City. The use of recurring themes within his artwork like the demented skull which makes reference to Basquiat's long standing fascination with mortality, unconfined painted arrows or spears hinting towards primitive civilization and savagery, alluding to the colonial history of the African continent and the historical civil rights struggle of African-Americans protecting their identity in the USA. The unclear letter markings under the skull are symbolic to Jean-Michel's exercise in artistic terms. In regards to his common letter concealing technique he once stated "I cross out words so you will see them more - the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them."(J. Fineberg, Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being, New Jersey, 2000)

  • 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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Acrylic and oil canvas.
182.9 x 106.7 cm. (72 x 42 in).
Signed and dated ‘Jean-Michel Basquiat NYC 82' on the reverse.

£1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for £1,385,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

29 June 2008, 5pm