Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

Extra Cigarette

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
Extra Cigarette
signed, titled and dated '"EXTRA CIGARETTE" Jean Michel Basquiat Sept. 1982' (on the reverse)
acrylic and oilstick on wood and glass window with chain
33 ¼ x 33 ¼ x 1 3/8 in. (84.4 x 84.4 x 3.5 cm.)
Executed in 1982.
Private collection, United States, acquired directly from the artist
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 5 May 1993, lot 170
Private collection, Europe
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 18 November 1999, lot 88
Private collection, United States
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 11 May 2010, lot 71
Private collection, United States
Acquired from the above by the present owner
R. Marshall and J.L. Prat, eds., Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 1996, vol. 1, p. 54, no. 2 (illustrated in color).
E. Navarra, J.L. Prat, et al, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 2000, vol. 2, pp. 80-81, no. 2 (illustrated in color); appendix, p. 27.
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Lot Essay

Heralded as one of the brightest stars of the Downtown art scene in New York and its headlong collision with Neo-Expressionism in 1980s, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s legacy continues to influence countless artists to this day. Intelligent, cunning, and a master of shaping his own personal image and visual iconography, the young artist deftly corralled the art world with his socially aware compositions, enthusiastic brushwork, and signature ability to transcend various social strata. Extra Cigarette is a striking example of Basquiat’s work with found objects and his ability to subsume the very streets themselves into his practice. Taking a discarded window into his studio to serve as his canvas, the artist references his transition from painting outdoors on walls, subways, and signs, and remarks on his turn in the early 1980s from “a profusely talented and promising artist working on the street to a world-class painter, poised to become one of the most influential artists of his time” (J. Deitch, “1981: The Studio of the Street”, in Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981: The Studio of the Streets, exh. cat., Deitch Projects, New York, 2006, p. 10-13). Quickly seized upon as an icon of the changing art world, Basquiat’s rise to fame was meteoric. Falling in with artists like Andy Warhol and socializing with cutting edge gallerists, all while creating some of the most important works of the era, the rate at which Basquiat progressed in the 1980s was nothing short of miraculous. Extra Cigarette is a heady glimpse of the artist at the height of his creative powers, and represents a time of real energy and excitement.

Foregoing his more traditional canvas works, Basquiat connects with his roots as a street artist by using a found window as the support for Extra Cigarette. This constructed support helped to offset readings of his work by confronting the viewer with weathered materials in tandem with bold and striking white oilstick. By bringing ‘the street’ into the studio, the artist channels the constant energy and sources of inspiration he found on his daily travels around the city. Transitioning from a graffiti artist to creating works that now hang in some of the world’s most esteemed collections, the artist had a cunning way of melding the everyday with a consistently solid visual language. Each piece of glass is painted a flat black which, when contrasted with the white drawings, gives the illusion of a chalkboard or an inverted drawing on paper. Chains hanging from the side of the work enhance its objecthood while also creating a further connection to the environs of its construction. By transforming each pane of glass into a black rectangle, Basquiat fashions a grid of six within the confines of the readymade structure. Three of the panels show the word “TOW” and a drawing of a car; the spoked wheels and crossed windows purposefully depicted as rough, quick sketches that only allude to an actual automobile’s structure. The bottom right pane proclaims, “FLATS FIX” with another symbolic wheel like some homemade advertisement for a mechanic or repair shop. Aside from these four more legible pieces, the other two panels are adorned with Basquiat’s signature three-pointed crown. On the top right, it sits with the word “SALT.” and two horizontal lines, while the middle top finds the crown floating toward the frame’s edge as it hovers above a segmented line and circle. Early in his career, this motif was often used to symbolize sainthood or royalty as it related to Basquiat’s black heritage. “Basquiat [placed] crowns or crown-like haloes on top of the heads or names of both famous and ‘ordinary’ black men to note achievements obtained against great odds, honor the dignity denied by racism, and signal Basquiat’s own identification and kinship” (F. Negrón-Muntaner, Y. Ramirez, “King of the Line: The Sovereign Acts of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” in Sovereign Acts, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 2017, p. 340). By separating this symbol from a particular individual, the artist asks the viewer to consider the broader ideas contained therein. Lastly, written on the frame of the window itself, the title of the work and a slyly added copyright symbol bring the composition together.

Realized the same year as his first solo exhibition, held at Annina Nosei Gallery in New York City, Extra Cigarette sees the young Basquiat on the cusp of stardom. Already exhibiting the controlled linework and signature iconography that would come to define his career, this six panel composition set into the panes of a window brings text and image together in a subtly evocative manner that the artist would continue to employ in later works. “Looking at these works, one cannot escape without feeling the almost perverse sense of care taken to raw detail with what seems an acute distracted concentration. However crude the image may be or how fast it appears to have been executed – every line, mark, scratch, drip, footprint, fingerprint, word, letter, rip and imperfection is there because he allowed it to be there” (J. Depp in E. Navarra, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 2000, p. 16-17). Nothing was left to chance in Basquiat’s works; his mastery of the artform is readily apparent in the way his compositions exude an ease, a throbbing energy, and an elusive virtuosity that coexist with an almost mystical approach to text and image.

Born in Brooklyn in 1960, Basquiat showed an early interest in art which was bolstered by his mother as she took him frequently to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Brooklyn Museum. From the age of six, the young artist was a Junior Member of the latter institution, and his prodigious appetite for traditional art as well as cartoons, film, comic books, and the pages of MAD magazine further stoked this fire. In the late 1970s, Basquiat immersed himself in the vibrant art and music scene taking place in Manhattan. There, he found himself surrounded by artists and other creative personalities who introduced him to the world of art collectors, gallerists, and the confluence of street culture with contemporary art. One artist, Al Diaz, became a close friend and together he and Basquiat created ‘SAMO’, a fictional artist who spray-painted graffiti on subway trains and walls in Lower Manhattan. The two artists continued to work together until 1979, at which time the words ‘SAMO© is dead’ could be seen in various locales. The use of the copyright symbol, a nod to the corporate atmosphere with which Basquiat and Diaz and their graffiti were at odds, continued on as part of Basquiat’s iconography, making its way into works like Extra Cigarette and affixed to names, words, and symbols throughout his oeuvre.

Drawing was central to Basquiat’s practice, and he made a habit of continually working out new ideas in various notebooks and pieces of paper. His paintings borrow heavily from this ongoing effort as he translated the linework from paper to canvas. “Drawing, for [Basquiat], was something you did rather than something done, an activity rather than a medium,” Robert Storr remarked, “The seemingly throw-away sheets that carpeted his studio might appear little more than warm-ups for painting, except that the artist, a shrewd connoisseur of his own off-hand and under foot inventions, did not in fact throw them away, but instead kept the best for constant reference and re-use. Or, kept them because they were, quite simply, indestructibly vivid” (R. Storr, “Two Hundred Beats Per Min,” in Basquiat Drawings, exh. cat., New York, Robert Miller Gallery, 1990, n.p.). One can see this perfect melding of the artist’s painting and drawing in works like Extra Cigarette as the simple black and white of pencil or charcoal on paper is inverted to white lines on blacked out window glass. Each panel is like a page from a sketchbook, and the cluster of drawings is hung under the all-encompassing title as a complete thought in six parts.

Though not overtly political in his practice, Basquiat’s works touch on the struggles of a black artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent living and thriving in a white-dominated art world. Works like Extra Cigarette, as well as other paintings rendered with white oilstick on a black ground, have been suggested as a symbolic visualization of racism and social disparity. Fred Hoffman, in the exhibition catalogue for a show at the Brooklyn Museum, noted, “Much like a sorcerer seeks to turn lead into gold, the young artist...sought to radically transform the content and meaning of image and text. By reversing the information conveyed in these drawings, Basquiat demonstrated to both himself and the world that he possessed the capacity, through one simple act, to turn a world dominated by white into one where black dominates” (F. Hoffman, “The Defining Years: Notes on Five Key Works,” in M. Mayer (ed.), Basquiat, exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum, New York, 2005, p. 95). Though the surface message may seem obtuse and cryptic, Basquiat’s culling from various signs, found objects, and his own invented symbols of power in pieces like Extra Cigarette shed light on larger societal issues that the artist navigated in his day-to-day.

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