'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...The result was an aesthetic microcosm of the physical and visual reality of contemporary existence...' (R. Marshall, Jean-Michel Basquiat, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1992, pp. 18-21).
'His deep-rooted concerns about race, human rights, the creation of power and wealth, and the control and valuation of natural elements, animals, and produce - all this in addition to references to his ethnic heritage, popular culture...' (R. Marshall, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1992, pp. 18-21).
Realised with raw vigour, Enob, is a complex, multi-layered expression of creativity inspired by the riotous, bustling energy of downtown Manhattan. Bursting forth with a profound vibrancy and animation unique to the artist, the heady collection of linguistic symbols, signs and cyphers that appear in Enob displays a visual cacophony which demonstrate the artist's raw visceral artistic energy. A particularly dynamic example of his practice, the instinctiveness with which Jean- Michel Basquiat created Enob is defined by the very urban, quotidian reality he found around him. The pillar of New York City, the Empire State Building, rises up in brilliant white against the raw wooden slats, its title 'Empire' emblazoned clearly across the top of the panel, branded with Basquiat's favourite punctuation, a copyright sign. The cryptic sayings scrawled across the canvas act as visual signifiers, the erasure of text simultaneously revealing and concealing Basquiat's codified vernacular. Similarly, the title Enob takes on this lyrical, equivocal nature. Just as its title at first appears indecipherable, it reveals itself to be 'Bone' spelt backwards, decrypted by the inclusion of the skeletal foot on the left side of the panel. The electrically-charged colour palette draws in the eye; the taxi-cab yellow, stop-sign red and NYPD blue capture the vibrant downtown vibe and chaotic energy of the New York City streets. Having gained critical acclaim over the past few years, the present work was created a year after the artist's first museum exhibition, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Paintings 1981-1984 at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, which traveled to the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, in 1985. The year 1985 marked the height of the artist's fame, having been featured on the cover of Time Magazine in February of the same year.
Having first emerged from the 1980s New York street art seen under the epithet SAMO, his riveting street-haiku poetry became a familiar part of the urban experience. The rhythmic energy of the city streets continues in Enob, the poetic juxtaposition of collaged features against thick drips of paint and raw slats of wood appear like flyers billed along the city streets. Drawing on the contagious energy of the SoHo scene and the materials found within his immediate environment, the impulsive spontaneity with which Basquiat selected his objects, materials and detritus, creates a dynamic tension in the composition which captures the wildness and unpredictability of Basquiat's frenetic daily experiences.
The raw vigour captured in Enob is imparted in part through Basquiat's frenetic creative process. Pheobe Holden tells how the artist would drive around with his girlfriend or bouncer, collecting ephemera. 'The artist had once done his art in the street; now he found his art supplies there - cardboard, foam rubber, and discarded lumber' (P. Hoban, Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art, London 2008, p. 34). This strategy was a theme the artist relied on, and represents the embodiment of the persona the artist was crafting as the street artist vagabond, and the early 1980s urban street culture around him. 'The first things I made were windows I found on the street,' the artist recalled, 'I used the window shape for a frame, and the painting was on the glass part' (ibid.). He also painted on doors, and cast-off fragments of lumber. The collaged surface had appealed to Basquiat as early as 1978, when he sold punk-inspired postcards on Manhattan's streets to get by. Here, the highly textural and richly layered surface reveals an impulse towards a multimedia construction that is reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg's early Combines. Both artists created dense surfaces of disparate items, conveying a snap shot of contemporary urban life.
Enob is a profound example of Basquiat's idiosyncratic visual vocabulary and represents the hybridity of Baquiat's cultural repertoire: the references to graffiti and urban architecture fuse with art historical references ranging from Warhol's pop-consumerism to Rauschenberg's Combine assemblages, and Duchampian readymades. Inspired by his early exposure to art history textbooks, as Richard Marshall explains, the work of Robert Rauschenberg and his incorporation of urban detritus undoubtedly serves a principal influence on Basquiat's career: '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. He would also have found art historical reassurance in Rauschenberg's use of old doors such as appears in Basquiat's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict (1982), Grillo (1984), and J's Milagro (1985). 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, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1992, pp. 18-21). Directly following the creation of J's Milagro, the strong verticality and fusion of the two traditionally separate disciplines of painting and sculpture of Enob recalls Rauschenberg's Combines from decades earlier.
Extending beyond Rauschenberg, the fragmented assemblage of symbols, words, diagrams and images scattered throughout the composition are self-referential, near-encyclopaedic references to the iconic works from Basquiat's own oeuvre. The central figure refers to the masterpiece painting, Untitled (Skull) from 1981. Such totemic icons are a recurrent feature of Basquiat's work, facing the world as both personal embodiments and public crusades against the marginalisation of black males in society. These collaged elements feature anatomical drawings seemingly culled from medical textbooks (among his prized possessions was a copy of Gray's Anatomy that his mother gave him when he was seven years old) punctuated by black heads and animals, including an armadillo and a monkey. These symbols seem to present a pseudoscientific analysis of race, intertwining Basquiat's own personal history with the broader story of the African diaspora. The self-referential act of Xerox-ing his own drawings, individualising them with oil stick acts as a metaphor for larger hybridised practice, blending modernist structure, traditional art historical references, and modern day street culture.