Painted in 1981 when he was just 20 years old, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s The Field Next to the Other Road is one of the artist’s earliest monumental canvases. Measuring over 13 feet across (the largest painting the artist executed that year), it includes one of his earliest fully realized human figures—a motif which would later come to define his career. Part-mythical and part-allegorical, Basquiat’s energetic portrayal of a meeting between man and beast was painted during a trip he took to Modena, Italy, for his first solo exhibition in Europe. This marked an important moment for Basquiat, as fresh from his recent success in New York he was fueled by the excitement of travel and the optimism of his nascent career, resulting in a period marked by some of the most exciting and innovative paintings in his oeuvre.
The Field Next to the Other Road was painted during a crucial year in Basquiat’s development as an artist for in 1981, as his compositions became more sophisticated, his painterly practice became more complex too. During this time Basquiat stood on the verge of being hailed the wunderkind of New York’s downtown art scene, emerging from the shadows of his alter-ego SAMO and becoming the more critically established artist that he yearned to be. This was marked by a significant shift in his work as it concerned itself less with Basquiat’s own life. This work bears all the hallmarks of this shift and is one of the first paintings in which the artist includes two fully rendered figures. Painted during a period when Basquiat was channeling his prowess into paintings that spoke directly to a wider audience searching for an artistic voice that spoke for a new generation, this work combined influences from a number of orthodox and unorthodox sources, positioning Basquiat to become the artistic voice of his generation.