Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
Andy Williams: An American Legend
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

Furious Man

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
Furious Man
oilstick, acrylic, wax crayon and ink on paper
30 x 22 in. (76.2 x 55.8 cm.)
Painted in 1982.
Annina Nosei Gallery, New York
Private collection, Beverly Hills
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 8 May 1990, lot 220
Private collection, Coconut Grove
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 15 May 2001, lot 55
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Brought to you by

Koji Inoue
Koji Inoue

Lot Essay

Please note this work is accompanied by a certificate issued by the Authentication Committee of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Emphasizing the frantic discharge of Jean-Michel Basquiat's distinct expressive power, Furious Man is haunted by the artist's idiosyncratic dark skeletal figure, which emerges from a golden blaze onto a flat sea of gray with his ghostly face, illuminated halo, and upraised arms. With its heavy application of materials and the ink exploding off the paper, the raw energy and urban-primitive aesthetic of Furious Man mockingly assumes the mantle of the noble-savage that Basquiat himself tried to break away from, and stands out as the artist's ultimate critique of the constitution of black identity at the peak of his creative powers. Characteristically aggressive, in Basquiat's faux-naïve style, the gaunt figure appears as an energetic, even frantic, caricature of the artist himself; a projection of Basquiat's fears, anxieties, and rebellious rage.

Equally empowered and bewildered, with sunken bloodshot eyes, and short electrified hair atop a skull-like head, Furious Man evokes a potent sense of panic at the immediate prospect of danger. Set against a background of scattered lines, rudimentary patterns, scribbles, stars and geometrical shapes, the psychological chaos characterizing the figures mental state is made all the more evident. Influenced by Jean Dubuffet's child-like Art Brut, Basquiat executes his figure with stick-man simplicity coupled with his free-hand explosive visceral gestures that endow his drawings with rawness and immediacy.

The figure's pitchfork arms, in a signature Basquiat gesture, are thrown up in a single violent motion that ambiguously suggests an overabundance of signals; from political power, to surrender, or alarm, an aggressive attack, or a Christ-like judgment pose at the crucifixion. Not indicating whether the furious man is the victim or the aggressor, if read as a self-portrait the painting emerges as a telling indictment of Basquiat's perception of himself as a black artist. Similarly, arising in his work at precisely the same moment that Basquiat himself emerged from the streets onto the international art scene, the figure, surmounted with a halo is the epitome of Basquiat's famous declaration to Henry Geldzahler that the subject matter of his art consisted of, "royalty, heroism, and the streets" (J. Basquiat quoted in H. Geldzahler, "Art: From the Subways to Soho, Jean-Michel Basquiat," Interview, January 1983). Painted in gold--the color of kings--and assembled from the raw accidental marks and crude graphic elements of graffiti, it is easy to read this crowned figure and others like it, as a prophetic self-portrait of the young artist as an apparition and modern urban phenomenon. Adorned with a halo he is both warrior-hero and saint, both demon and martyr, an icon, scapegoat and sacrificial victim of the contemporary art world.

Conscious of his identity as the most successful black artist within the white-dominated history of art, though not overtly political in his aspirations, Basquiat introduced the image of the black protagonist, who is often adorned with a halo that imparts his figures with a sense of superiority and religious aura, into his often self-referential drawings and paintings. Identifying with the personal struggles and inner demons of his pantheon of heroes, Basquiat conferred respect and admiration to his repertoire of black figures that included Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie, Charles Parker, Hank Aaron, Mohammed Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson. As such, his loosely articulated, graffiti inspired drawings became a vehicle for melding autobiography with reference to popular culture and black history. A breakthrough year for Basquiat, congruent to the execution of Furious Man, 1982 hosted the artist's first solo exhibition at Annina Nosei in New York, which sparked solo exhibitions at Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles and Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich. Suddenly possessing the stardom and acclaim he had always sought, Basquiat became the anointed king of the art world and his art came to possess a certain visionary relevance.

Fraught with immediate tension and emotion, Basquiat's meteoric rise as the first black artist to achieve celebrity status, was not dissimilar to the anguish released in his powerful drawings. Mocked as the van Gogh of the streets and simultaneously as a novelty act, he was never credited for the sophisticated understanding he possessed of the annals of art. Sparely articulated and seemingly transparent, evoking medical X-rays, the very portrayal of the figure in Furious Man centralizes the issue; suggesting Basquiat's own fate as the superficially understood mascot of the art world. Caustically reappropriating Modernism's influence of African art, his deliberately crude and faux-nave rendering of the figure evokes the image of the noble savage for which Basquiat was widely regarded by his contemporaries. Without doubt, Basquiat's reign over the art world was one of unease, a strain that is evoked in Furious Man's frantic yet empowered uplifted arms, his prophetic yet primordial halo, and the overall frenzied style of the work.

Over a quarter century after its creation, Basquiat's genius is clearly evident in Furious Man--the work demonstrates his unique transformation of figuration and his daring re-conception of the lineage of twentieth-century art--towards a charged and distinctly black identity. Particularly evident in his "primitive" depiction of the figure is the essential reinvestment of African art with the identity it had lost to Modernism's pursuit of formalist reduction, especially at the hands of Pablo Picasso. The scratched-and-scrawled vocabulary that is interspersed among the mèlange of patterning, scribbles and blocks of color of Furious Man consciously extends the work of both Jean Dubuffet and Cy Twombly--though distilled and captured through his experience of graffiti. Finally, and perhaps most evidently, in Furious Man is the visceral handling of pigment, and the inarticulate human form that are unique and persuasive rearticulations of Abstract Expressionism by way of Willem de Kooning.

Capturing Basquiat's star through its intimate, expressive power, Furious Man encapsulates the emotional richness and symbolism that Basquiat brought to his drawings. Synthesizing autobiography, social outcry and the immediate apprehension of gestural draughtsmanship, Furious Man powerfully builds upon the legendary narrative of its own creator.

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