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


Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
signed and dated 'JMBasquiat 87' (on the reverse)
oilstick and coloured pencil on paper
41 ¾ x 29 5/8in. (106 x 75.3cm.)
Executed in 1987
Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Salzburg.
Xavier Hufkens, Brussels.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1987.
Salzburg, Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1987.

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Alexandra Werner
Alexandra Werner

Lot Essay

‘Believe it or not, I can actually draw.’ – Jean-Michel Basquiat

‘Although Basquiat’s drawings are in no sense specifically preparatory to the paintings, they do constitute the laboratory in which spontaneity and invention have freest range. What is true of the drawings applies to the poems-or poetic fragments-that one fnds in his early (1980) notebooks. Little stories are told in telegraphed mode-only to be essentialized still further a few pages on. Jean’s working method seems always to move from the full to the indicated, from the complex to its essence’ – Henry Geldzahler

‘He papers over all other voices but his own, hallucinating total control of his proprietary information as if he were the author of all he transcribed, every diagram, every formula, every cartoon character--even affixing his own copyright symbol to countless artefacts of nature and civilization to stress the point’ – Mark Meyer

Executed in 1987 and held in the same private collection since that year, Untitled is an extraordinary encapsulation of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s meteoric and all-too-brief career. This large-scale work on paper epitomizes the artist’s voracious amalgamation of text, sign and symbol, which embraced everything from irons and rakes to Modernist paintings. The words and pictograms are overflowing and diagrammatic: a text citation of Otto Dix’s Card Playing War Invalids, 1920; a ‘pine forest’ of upside-down ticks; and a flock of rectangular ‘dung heaps’ scattered throughout the white paper expanse. Untitled is a balance of void and the horror vacuiI, which characterized the works produced during Basquiat’s later years. Beyond its visual and poetic lyricism, in Untitled, there is remarkable evidence of Basquiat’s process and delicate balance of intuition and meticulous study; to read the drawing is to be a cartographer of a
mysterious and unknown land. Sampling from everyday life, art history, and a variety of cultural and socio-political touchstones made Basquiat the ‘visual dehistorian par excellence’, and his polyvocal magic conjures a chorus of verbal and graphic sources (C. Campbell, ‘J. M. B.’s Dehistories’, Jean- Michel Basquiat: Now’s The Time, exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Ontario, 2015, p. 213). Playing with semiotics, he often separated and isolated signs and text, each containing layered histories. In Untitled, he has written ‘THE WHOLE LIVERY LINE BOW LIKE THIS WITH THE BIG MONEY ALL CRUSHED INTO THESE FEET’, a critique of greed that he first grafittied on the streets of New York as SAMO© and which he continued to rewrite. Basquiat described himself as using words ‘like brushstrokes’ (J. Basquiat quoted in C. McGuigan, ‘New Art, New Money’, The New York Times, February 10, 1985, n. p.). His diverse lexicon served as both image and a chronicle of language itself, overheard and spoken, a voice which visualized the slogans and jargon of the moment. Drawing was the most immediate form of expression for Basquiat and the quickest translation of his inner thoughts. In this fragmentary representation of life’s strata, Untitled thrums with the vibrant energy of everyday life, and all its excitement and banality. The result is a stunning new vocabulary for American art that remains wholly contemporary today. As critic Glenn O’Brien reminisced, ‘Basquiat’s work is new in a way that only prophetic work is new’ (G. O’Brien, ‘Greatest Hits’, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s The Time, exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Ontario, 2015, p. 180).

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