Drawing was an essential element in the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat. The artist made no hierarchical distinction between drawing and painting, and in fact, his drawings and paintings are often indistinquishable, and only differ in their paper or canvas supports," (R. Marshall in "The Drawings of Jean-Michel Basquiat", in E. Navarra, Jean-Michel Basquiat Works on Paper, Paris 1999, p. 30).
In Untitled, 1981, the particular surface is a large sheet of black paper, and the execution is distinctly Basquiat. Using a combination of mediums - acrylic, oilstick, and chalk - the artist likewise employed a variety of methods - sketching, brushing, and smearing - to fix the color onto the black expanse. Adding to the raw quality of the work is the paper's irregular tear on the left edge and the spilling of the image over the right edge. In its roughness and inventiveness, Untitled is a prime example of the permeability between Basquait's drawing and painting.
The work also reflects Basquiat's interest in the streetscape and incorporates symbols he would return to throughout his career. The grid sketched in broad, white strokes in the upper right may be read as a building, and the three houses and boxed-in skulls on the left evoke a small neighborhood. The work "TAR" is not only slang for black skin, but also refers to the asphalt-covered urban ghettos. Marking each house with an "S" for SAMO (Basquiat's erstwhile identity as a graffiti artist), and exaggerating his signature emblem of the three-pointed crown on the lower left, the artist stakes out this cityscape by marking its own.