Created in the year of Warhol's untimely death, and one year before Basquiat's own demise, Untitled (IDEAL) can be interpreted as an oblique mediation on mortality. Words and symbols fill the emptiness of the paper, as if suspended and incomplete. Allusions to regeneration and decay hint at conceptual underpinnings, the nature of which is never explicitly declared. Basquiat was devastated by the tragic loss of his mentor and confidant, and became increasingly reclusive, refusing to even see friends. It was imaginably with a mournful eye that the artist approached Untitled (IDEAL).
The composition of Basquiat's late work was never simply a matter of chance. Words and symbols were so important in the economy of his art that they often appear without images. He continually included words which held some encoded meaning or reference - particularly to the subjects which preoccupied him most: race, human rights, the operations of power and wealth, and - as suggested here - humanity's control and dominance of the natural world. Another prevailing characteristic of this late phase is the use of visual source material. In Symbol Source-book: An Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols by Henry Dreyfuss, he discovered a section on "Hobo signs" - a lexicon of communicative signs used by hobos. To the centre of the image we a see a circle and accompanying phrase "nothing to be gained here", quoted directly from the book. Perhaps it was with the mythology of the hobo that Basquiat identified, seeing in himself the condition of the marginalised. Similarly the trademarked logo IDEAL - with its multiple references: to a toy company, to a model or standard of perfection - recurs in numerous late works.
Basquiat does not merely appropriate these signs; he imbues them with a semantic aura. Autobiographic traces and thematic concerns combine in an uneven syntax. At once personal and political, Untitled (IDEAL) is an image of urgency and foreboding. Like a mysterious mental process yet to be fathomed, this is how Basquiat's poetic construction appears.