Painted in 1984 2½ Hours of Chinese Food was one of the first of Basquiat's paintings to be handled by the Mary Boone Gallery. Shortly after a winter break on the island of Maui in Hawaii where Basquiat had rented a ranch and set up a studio, he returned to New York and, after much anxious deliberation, signed with Mary Boone. He held his first one-man show at his new gallery in May of the same year and despite his reservations, found that Boone, in conjunction with his Swiss dealer Bruno Bischofberger were highly instrumental in widening his international standing as one of the foremost young artists of his time.
Part painting, part drawing, and part collage of painted xeroxed sheets 2½ Hours of Chinese Food is a large and imposing work that draws on a wide variety of sources - ones all probably gathered intuitively together at speed while in the process of making the work. Many of Basquiat's works from this period not only reflect the artist's erratic lifestyle but actually shared it forming a living and developing part of his furnishings. Basquiat lived with and amongst his work, and as well as evolving into what they are in this environment, Basquiat is known to have eaten and drunk off his paintings and even to have slept on them at times. This work, with its in unusually specific title probably refers to Basquiat's well-known love of take-away Chinese food something which, along with a wide variety of Jazz music and reading matter of all kinds, Basquiat seemed to be frequently devouring.
2½ Hours of Chinese Food seems to be one of the works from this period that Basquiat constructed from the wealth of imagery and information all around him. Painted in his own uniquely swift and free-flowing style, the painting assembles this variety of eclectic media and imagery into a raw assemblage of obscure cultural meaning. Simultaneously both figurative and abstract, both clumsy and accomplished, Basquiat's brushwork formulates a painting of two halves, one a bold orange portrait of a figure, possibly Chinese, accompanied by the letter "K", and the other, an impenetrable wall overladen with a variety of scrawled imagery and repetitive information. Looking like a stylized Twombly-shorthand, this visual onslaught of words and figures depicts a number of familiar Basquiat cartoon figures and a series of song titles amongst which is "Marmaduke" a classic from 1948 by Basquiat's number one favourite, hero, king, saint, martyr and father-figure, Charlie Parker. In addition, there is also the SAMO copyrighted phrase "Origin of Cotton" which according to Vincent Gallo was also the title of one of the band "GRAY's" songs. (GRAY was the name of the band at the Mudd Club in the early 1980s to which both Basquiat and Gallo belonged). Another seemingly obscure reference to "A scene from Aesop's "Farmer and his Cat" (1922)" refers to a six minute cartoon film made by Fables studios in 1922 which, Basquiat, with his well-known love of cartoons, presumably admired enough to include here.
The visual overload of imagery, its broken phrases and the overlaying of sporadic splashes of paint combining with the logo-like icons at the top of the painting to collectively form a strangely cohesive and united work. 2½ Hours of Chinese Food is one that is both a powerful and revealing window onto the frenetic energy and pulse of Basquiat's life during this period of frantic growth and dramatic change for the young artist.