Emerging through a smoky gray miasma, the head of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled looms into view, its fierce grin piercing the darkness. Painted in 1982, at the peak of the artist’s meteoric rise to art-world supremacy, the painting clearly demonstrates Basquiat’s unique graphic ability, which resulted in thrilling and dynamic works that exude a visceral power with every gesture. Basquiat’s ‘heads’ are among the artist’s most celebrated works; part self-portrait, part homage to the artist’s pantheon of personal heroes, they are among Basquiat’s most intimate incarnations. Originally sold by Basquiat's preeminent supporter and dealer in New York, Annina Nosei, to Akira Ikeda Gallery in Nagoya, Untitled, which has been in the same private hands for almost two decades, is a remarkable example of this distinguished body of work. From the collection, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Figures of a King: Property from an Important Japanese Collection, this work is one of three examples of distinguished works on paper on offer.
Defined by a single stroke of the artist’s brush, the profile of the figure in Untitled sits boldly against a field of gun-metal gray. While his silhouette might be simple, the rest of his facial features are made up of a complex array of layered gestures. Ruddy cheeks are defined by fields of striking red paint, upon which Basquiat defines the contours of the face with black oilstick. High cheekbones, a prominent ear and strong jawline are all created by the swift movement of the artist’s hand. Particular attention is paid to the wide grin, flayed nostrils and the deep pools of the figure’s black eyes. Below the face, hints of the figure’s body are glimpsed through the swaths of muted tones. Fleeting glimpses of what appear to be the fingers of a clenched hand can be seen through the gray clouds, together with sneaked glances of the yellow and the pale blue-green shirt worn by the mysterious figure.