Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

Do Not Revenge

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
Do Not Revenge
signed and dated 'Jean Michel Basquiat 1982' (on the reverse)
acrylic and oilstick on canvas
52 x 84 in. (132 x 213.3 cm.)
Painted in 1982.
Annina Nosei Gallery, New York
Private collection, Sweden
Scharf Fine Art, New York
Private collection, Paris
By descent from the above to the present owner
R. D. Marshall and J. L. Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 1996, vol. I, pp. 343 and 398 (illustrated in color).
R. D. Marshall and J. L. Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 1996, vol. II, pp. 386 and 404 (illustrated in color).
T. Shafrazi, J. Deitch and R. Marshall, Jean-Michel Basquiat, New York, 1999, p. 112 (illustrated in color).
Galerie Enrico Navarra, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 2000, vol. I, p. 144 (illustrated in color).
Galerie Enrico Navarra, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 2000, vol. II, pp. 142-143, no. 4 (illustrated in color).
Galerie Enrico Navarra, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 2010, Appendix, p. 32.
Paris, Fondation Dina Vierny-Musée Maillol, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Histoire d'une oeuvre/The Work of a Lifetime, June-October 2003, pp. 40-41 (illustrated in color).
Fondazione La Triennale di Milano, The Jean-Michel Basquiat Show, September 2006-January 2007, p. 226, no. 94 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Museée Maillol, C'est la vie: vanités, de Pompéi à Damien Hirst, February-June 2010, pp. 180-181 and 297 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, Basquiat, May 2010-January 2011, p. 85, no. 60 (illustrated in color).

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Sandra Sublett
Sandra Sublett

Lot Essay

Painted in 1982, in what would become a breakthrough year for Jean-Michel Basquiat, Do Not Revenge is a striking example of the vibrant motifs and symbols with which the artist launched himself onto the New York art scene. With its stark iconography, bold palette and frenetic execution, this work represents the nascent form of neo-expressionism that was born out of a marriage between a desire to advance from the stark formality of Minimalism and a desire to reinvent the painterly form for a new generation. With his effervescent personality and his street-art style, Basquiat became the de-facto leader of this movement and the epicenter of a movement that would revolutionize the direction of painting for generations to come.
Across this expansive canvas, Basquiat assembles an evocative range of signs and signifiers that are both symbolic to him but also representative of a wider urban lexicon. Across dramatic passages of red, yellow and white, Basquiat introduces us to some of his most potent motifs, ranging from crowns, skulls, bones and a ghostly apparition that appears to be part devilish figure, part colorful specter. Around these themes Basquiat introduces a throng of rapidly scrawled words, symbols and other cyphers, which build up into a heady cocktail of significance that was truly unique to the artist. In addition to this potent array of images, the way Basquiat fulfilled these motifs, is also thrilling. Upon the chromatic planes, the artist paints, draws, scrawls and incises his images--often revealing layers of under-painting as he goes. This process is exemplified by the large stylized femur that Basquiat positions in the center of the painting, where he uses the sweep of a thick oilstick to scrape through the layers of paint, revealing a scintillating glimpse of several colorful strata underneath.

Basquiat's revelatory painting style is most sumptuously displayed in the dual faces of the creature that he places in the center of his composition. Upon a white ground Basquiat builds up the face with a flurry of multi-colored brushstrokes creating the features with embellishments of pink, yellow, blue and gray. This provides one aspect of what is essentially a two-headed figure, as a bold red silhouette--complete with splendiferous horns--also emerges out of the brushstrokes. This devilish figure (the dual aspects of which recalls Cerberus, the two-headed Greek mythological creature who guards the Gates of Hell), together with the numerous bones and the word SIN that embellishes the lower left edge, lends the whole work a haunting quality, resulting in a vibrant and colorful work-yet one where the specter of death is not too far away.

Death was an undercurrent that ran through many of Basquiat's paintings, with many of his most powerful works being populated with quasi-religious figures such as angels and prophets. Some have traced this interest in death and the afterlife back to the childhood accident when he was struck by a car, that resulted in a prolonged stay in the hospital. He recalled the event as being one of his most significant memories. "I was playing in the street, I remember it being very dreamlike and seeing the car kind of coming at me and then seeing everything through a sort of red focusthat's not the earliest memory I have, but it's probably the most vivid" (J. Basquiat, quoted by P. Hoban, Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art, New York, 1998, p. 17). The fragility of life and the inevitability of death has been a fruitful trope for artists throughout the ages, from early man who recorded his battles with wild animals on the cave walls, through the seventeenth-century tradition of vanitas painting and even well into the twentieth century with artists such as Picasso and Andy Warhol with their renditions of skulls.

Beginning in 1981 Basquiat began to move away from the streetscapes and cars that populated his very early paintings and began to initiate his unique version of the human figure. As curator and Basquiat scholar Marc Meyer has noted, there are two main categories of these figures-icons and heroes. The figures that fall into the first category serve the same purpose as the West African statues and Christian iconography that would have been familiar to the artist through his Catholic/Hispanic/African heritage. This iconography of African masks, Vodoun figurines and Western religious symbols, such as angels, haloes, devils, saints and martyrs, all feature heavily in the artist's work from this period.

By 1982, the year Do Not Revenge was painted, the artist had reached a pivotal point in his career. He had become the incumbent art star and was installed in a spacious studio in the basement of Annina Nosei's Prince Street gallery, and began showcasing his work in a number of international exhibitions around the world. New York had been suffering from economic stagnation and foreclosure: whole swaths of the city were being vacated by businesses and white-collar workers in favor of the suburbs. The drug culture filled the vacuum left by this "white flight" and much of the emerging youth culture was centered on the use of hard and soft drugs. Rap, Hip-Hop and street art had become the new language of youth and Basquiat was at the center of this new cultural movement, with the downtown culture becoming a rich source of inspiration that he would continue to mine for the rest of his career. Looking back on 1982, Basquiat himself recognized the tensions that he felt between the draw of his humble beginnings as a graffiti artist and his meteoric rise to become the wunderkind of the New York art world. "I had some money," he recalled of that important year, "I made the best paintings ever. I was completely reclusive, worked a lot, took a lot of drugs. I was awful to people" (J. Basquiat, in R. Marshall (ed.), Jean-Michel Basquiat, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1992, p. 241).

Painted at the height of his career, Do Not Revenge provides ample evidence of why the artist is regarded as having rejuvenated the genre of painting when many considered it to be dead. The "death of painting" was a topic which had been much discussed since the 1960s, most vocally by Donald Judd in his art criticism days on the now-defunct Arts magazine. But by the late 1970s and early 1980s, artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat began to take advantage of the general malaise that surrounded the genre to reinvigorate it with a new sense of dynamic energy. Many of Basquiat's paintings from this period are so permeated with this sense of vitality and sheer love of the act of painting that they are widely regarded as being at the vanguard of this new movement. Although still only in his early 20s when he painted Do Not Revenge, works such as this are among the most accomplished of Basquiat's career. Although his premature death just five years later put an abrupt end to his career, he has come to be regarded as one of the most important and influential artists of his generation. Unaware perhaps of his own importance, Basquiat claimed not to be interested in changing the course of art history, instead he regarded his paintings to be about life, pure and simple. "I start with a picture and then finish it," he once said "I don't think about art when I'm working. I try to think about life!" (J. Basquiat, quoted by B. Bischofberger, Basquiat, exh. cat., Museo Revoltella, Trieste, 1999, p. 62).

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