Jean-Michel Basquiat: Portfolio II
During Jean-Michel Basquiat’s brief career—the New York City artist died in 1988, when he was just 27—he drew from hip-hop, jazz, graffiti, Beat literature, pop art, folk art, comics and even Gray’s Anatomy to forge an emotionally charged style that still dazzles . In May 2017 , a Japanese businessman paid $110.5 million for a Basquiat painting , one of the highest prices ever fetched for an American artist’s works . The first African-American artist to gain superstardom , Basquiat created a huge body of drawings and paintings many of which still remain on the market today via Estate prints .
Signed in pencil and dated by Gerard Basquiat (the administrator of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat and father of the late artist) Jean-Michel Basquiat: Portfolio II includes Cabeza , Charles The First , Jawbone Of An Ass and Rome Pays Off .
Based on a painting from 1982 , Cabeza was created using acrylic and crayons and was made by the artist in New York . It is almost the size of an average man and so too the print is in a large format . Cabeza is a literal portrait of Basquiat but we were also meant to to view the image as a figure in front of us . The self portrait which is displayed by his iconic hair to the right side of his face , the portrait has no obvious light source as the overseer has little depth . At one point , the yellow background comes into the foreground almost as if the background is attempting to erase the portrait. This could be symbolism for society trying to remove someone’s history and heritage . Basquiat, relies heavily on symbolism, the title Cabeza translates to head in Spanish which is already an indication to focus on the head of the painting. When looking at the head a prominent point you notice is that sections of the head are missing, this symbolizes a lack of something, perhaps a lack of intelligence or perhaps suggesting that this figure is ignorant . The markings on the face gives it a tribal mask feel of a tribe that was never real . The markings while creates one face seem to be in two halves, the right side shows big eyes and a white mouth that could almost be smiling and to the left side, the eye is significantly smaller and the mouth is now yellow but the teeth look more realistic than the other half, this gives the impression that the right “happy” side is the fake side while the real side which shows the true emotion of this abstract self portrait is the left side.
Charles The First embodies multiple words and symbols while delving into Basquiat’s cultural heritage . It also highlights some of the most brilliantly memorable, collectible and desirable pieces Basquiat has ever created . You will notice the continued use of heads and skulls – the qualities that have made his works highly sought after over the years . The range of emotions covered by Charles The First is so memorable , it’s rough and violent , harsh and brutal while being vividly colorful .
The title of Jawbone Of An Ass comes from the Bible : “And Samson said , with the jawbone of an ass…have I slain a thousand men.” Samson was gifted with supernatural strength , which Basquiat suggests with the names of ancient warriors . Alexander and Cleopatra are mentioned as well as obscure figures , such as “Scipio” , Roman general nicknamed Scipio The African . He was famed for defeating Hannibal which offers a secondary allusion to the serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter , who first appeared in Thomas Harris’ thriller Red Dragon in 1981 . The connection is endorsed by the rhyme with “Hector” , who was renowned for his role in the Trojan War . These fighters are interspersed with philosophers such as Virgil and Socrates , alongside the phrase “Rodin’s Thinker” , referring to the famous sculpture which is often used as an icon for philosophy . The two strands of warriors and philosophers , suggest that the work could be read as illustrating the war of the mind , often considered the theme of the story of Samson .
Rome Pays Off is perhaps Basquiat’s most viral work yet it is based on war . The Punic Wars were the last moment in ancient history that Africa challenged Europe for global power – the defeat of the Carthaginian general Hannibal by ancient Rome and Rome’s final obliteration of Carthage itself are moments of full symbolism in Basquiat’s painted history . Basquiat like Cy Twombly is a great modern history painter . His collisions of word and image , eloquence and cartoon fun , capture the broken and tragic arc of American history . Basquiat turns to collage to convey the epic chaos of history .
Basquiat comes through as a very young man who wants to learn more, an artist with a huge imagination and curiosity . He is the artist America needs now .