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

Untitled (Head of Madman)

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
Untitled (Head of Madman)
oilstick on paper mounted on linen
43 x 30¾ in. (109.2 x 78.1 cm.)
Executed in 1982.
Diego Cortez, New York
Raphael Blier, Paris
Diego Cortez, New York
Peter Brams Collection, New Jersey
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1996
J. Gasperini, "Brams Collection Proves an Important Example of Modern Art," The Exonian, 28 February 1987, p. 9 (illustrated).
M. Clark, "Lamont Gallery, Phillips Exeter Academy/Exeter Collection Peter Brams," Art New England, May 1987.
B. Blistene, et al., Jean-Michel Basquiat: Works on Paper, Paris, 1999, p. 163 (illustrated in color).
J.L. Chalumeau, Basquiat: 1960-1988, Paris, 2003, p. 19, no. 13 (illustrated in color).
R. Davis Konigsberg, "Fiction Chronicle," New York Times, 15 May 2005 (illustrated in color).
B. Okri, "On Basquiat," Modern Painters, May 2005, p. 63 (illustrated in color).
G. Mercurio, ed. The Jean-Michel Basquiat Show, exh. cat., Fondazione La Triennale di Milano, 2006, p. 152, no. 34 (illustrated in color).
Galerie Enrico Navarra, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 2010, Appendix, pp. 10 and 11 (illustrated in color).
P. Larratt-Smith, Bye Bye American Pie, exh. cat., Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, 2012, p. 18 (illustrated in color).
Clinton, Hamilton College, Fred L. Emerson Gallery and Exeter, Phillips Exeter Academy, Lamont Gallery, Collection Peter Brams: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gilbert & George, Milan Kunc, David McDermott & Peter McGough, Philip Taaffe, Rosemarie Trockel, December 1986-March 1987, pp. 12-13 (illustrated).
Paris, Fondation Dina Vierny-Musée Maillol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, oeuvres sur papier / works on paper, May-September 1997, pp. 56-57 and 184 (illustrated in color).
Osaka, Kirin Plaza, Basquiat + Haring + Scharf from the Lio Malca Collection, August-September 1998, p. 21 (illustrated in color).
Havana, Galería Haydée Santamaria, Casa de las Américas and Havana, Museo del Ron, Fundación Havana Club, 7a Bienalde La Habana: Jean-Michel Basquiat, November 2000-January 2001, pp. 92-93 (illustrated in color).
Brooklyn Museum of Art; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art and Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Basquiat, March 2005-February 2006, p. 60 (illustrated in color).
New York, Van de Weghe Fine Art, Jean-Michel Basquiat Heads, March-May 2006.
Chadds Ford, Brandywine River Museum; San Antonio, McNay Art Museum and Rockland, Farnsworth Art Museum, Factory Work: Warhol, Wyeth, Basquiat, September 2006-August 2007, pp. 20-21 and 98, no. 55 (illustrated in color).
Santander, Fundación Marcelino Botin and Rome, Fondazione Memmo, Palazzo Ruspoli, Ahuyentando Fantasmas (Fantasmi da scacciare), July 2008-February 2009, pp. 60-61 (Santander; illustrated in color); pp. 48-49 no. 3 (Rome; illustrated in color).
Basel, Fondation Beyeler and Paris, Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, Basquiat, May 2010-January 2011, p. 103, no. 85 (Basel; illustrated in color); p. 99, no. 80 (Paris; illustrated in color).
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Lot Essay

Please note this work is accompanied by a certificate issued by the Authentication Committee of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Impulsively releasing his creativity in a rapidly liberating stream of brilliant raw emotion, Jean-Michel Basquiat, engrossed himself in the vibrancy of 1980s New York. He infused his drawings and paintings with the multiplicity of sounds, sights and energy of the New York street scene together with his own reverence for the rich art historical tradition he found hanging on to the museum walls that he visited weekly. Upon his meteoric rise to art world stardom in 1982, Basquiat sought to continue the debate about the nature of painting begun by the great twentieth century masters such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Willem de Kooning. A skilled draughtsman, Basquiat's contribution was realized through the graffiti-like scrawls translated from his most revered technique--drawing. "Drawing, for him, was something you did rather than something done," Robert Storr once noted, "an activity rather than a medium" (D. Buchhart, Basquiat, exh. cat., Fondation Beyler, Basel, 2010, p. 10). To this end, even the artist's most iconic paintings are derived from his most simplified motions. Frenetically working in his studio against a steady beat of jazz music and cartoon programs, Basquiat's unique amalgamation of art historical quotations and 80s street culture resulted in a complex assemblage of the images and symbols constantly coursing through the young genius' mind.

Realized with an expressive power that rivals, and even surpasses, his canvases, Basquiat's Untitled (Head of Madman) emerges from a 1982 series the artist embarked on of fifteen singular menacing visages, feverously scribbled over paper, for which Head of a Madman stands out not only for its compositional superiority, but also its grand scale. Rendering the age-old trope of traditional portraiture, the work contains a frantic expulsion of a distinctly human form of madness. Mounted on a canvas support during the artist's life, Head of Madman's graffiti-like and seemingly improvised scrawl--which has rightly been canonized as the signature motif in the artist's oeuvre--is so readily visible, coaxing a deliberate rawness in this powerful work. Joining the pantheon of mad, deranged and overtly expressive figures engraved throughout the pages of art history, and their commanding visual references within popular culture, Head of Madman maintains a fine balance between control, spontaneity, menace and wit.

Peering out the side of the canvas, obsessively fixated on something beyond the picture plane, the intense stare of the pair of two small, sunken eyes simultaneously emerges as a wholly introspective daze. Riddled with both confident lines and spontaneous gestures, Head of Madman is an incredibly intimate glimpse of the artist's own schizophrenic style. Decisively--yet no less hurriedly--placed, the madman's frazzled hair, scant teeth and gaunt neck are sparsely rendered, and yet the charged azure, white and orange oilstick infill is so heavily and feverishly worked that the rapid pace and impulsive motions of the hand are readily exposed on the face of the picture. Wrenched out of any identifiable context, the combination of scrawl and bold blocks of color are reminiscent of the impassioned drawings of Cy Twombly, embodying René Ricard's now famous iteration that Basquiat could have been the lovechild of Cy Twombly and Jean Dubufett.

Whereas many of Basquiat's tortured heroes and furious men famously exhibit grand gestures of distress--their up flung, pitchfork arms and dark shadowy auras--Head of Madman relies on a subtle series of characteristics layered one on top of another to reinforce a sense of unease in the viewer's mind. Embarking on the grand tradition of illustrating extreme states of consciousness through artistic expression, Head of Madman captures the same emotional tension articulated in the Grotesque Heads of Leonardo da Vinci, the Black Paintings of Goya, Otto Dix's war-torn realism, Egon Schiele's erotically charged portraiture, and Francis Bacon's screaming Popes. And yet here, the artist seems to take his figure one step further. Slowly peeling away the skin of his forebears, Basquiat reveals a certain skeletal rawness, derived from the barrage of inner demons and personal struggles the artist was forced to cope with during his relatively short life--the 1968 accident wherein his mother purchased him Gray's Anatomy, the book that would serve as one of the singular most significant influences on his artistic lexicon; his mother's subsequent commitment to a mental institution when the artist was only 11; as well as the struggles he faced being a black artist in a world then dominated by white men.

Basquiat's meteoric rise as the first black artist to achieve celebrity status was not dissimilar to the anguish released in his powerful drawings. Mocked as the van Gogh of the streets and simultaneously as a novelty act, he was never credited for the sophisticated understanding he possessed of the annals of art. Thus, with its characteristically aggressive faux-naive style, Head of Madman emerges as an energetic portrait of the artist himself; a projection of his fears, anxieties, and rebellious rage, with an unvarnished directness that recalls Picasso's late work and the visceral handling of pigment that results in a unique and persuasive reticulation of Abstract Expressionism by way of Willem de Kooning.

Moreover, like his contemporaries, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Basquiat avidly drew from the world around him. An enthusiastic fan of comic books and cartoons, he relished Pop and consumer culture for its mass appeal and its low art connotations. References to Superman, The Flash and Batman were only part of the repertoire of superheroes that Basquiat drew from his childhood comic books. Here, the artist borrows the signs and signifiers of distraught emotional states from the various elements of popular culture that infuse this master drawing with an expressive air that is purely of the artist's time. With his strong, powerful jaw, small, beady eyes and static hair, Head of Madman at once evokes Frankenstein's monster, coupled with an amalgamation of super villain traits, and combined with a certain mishmash of boldly heroic comic colors. Yet, while his contemporaries labored over the design of their composition and technical finesse, Basquiat's facility with his medium allowed him to fluidly pour out his compositions, impulsively filling the picture plane with the imagery he adopted.

Not irreducible to a single source of inspiration, Head of Madman is a unique infusion of history, biography and mass media imagery. Deconstructing this charged face, one can glimpse flashes of the extreme states of physical consciousness through the eyes, mouth, hair, and unrestrained rawness manifested to paper from the fertile ideas ricocheting through the artist's brain. This confident gestural work, mounted to canvas, stands out as one of Basquiat's most intriguing drawings from the most important year of his career.

Diego Cortez: "This drawing was on a stack of drawings in a mound in the center of his Crosby Street studio. I had lost touch with Jean during most of the Annina Nosei period. When he left her in the summer of 1982, we got in touch again. He was wondering whether or no to show at the Fun Gallery. I thought it was a good idea. We talked about that show for a couple of weeks. I was visiting a lot. I brought over Henry Geldzahler, and he reserved a big history painting. It was August, and I went over to Jean's with my friend from Paris, Raphael Blier, and Jean gave him this drawing. When Raphael needed to sell the work, he called me and I bought it for Peter's collection. Peter and I thought the intensity of the facial expression portrayed the most radical threshold of expressionist work we could imagine. It was druggy, electronic, mental, and enabled you to look through the skeletal cranium."
Jean-Michel Basquiat: "'s about 80% anger."


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