‘His last exhibition at the Vrej Baghoomian Gallery, a comeback after a long absence, included his tribute to Warhol, Love Dub for A 1987, as well as five other large-scale canvases. All the old fetishistic word rites were there again, written then crossed out like spells cast and uncast, and those knockout red, blue and yellow patches that jump on and off characters and text. The new works had a nourished privacy about them...’ (J. Rankin-Reid, ‘Missing Basquiat’, in Artscribe International, November/December 1988, p. 10).
‘For an artist, the most important and most delicate relationship he can have with another artist is one in which he is constantly challenged and intimidated... Jean-Michel and Andy had achieved a healthy balance’ (K. Haring, ‘Painting the Third Mind’, Collaborations: Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, exh. cat., Mayor Rowan Gallery, London, 1988).
‘It was like some crazy art-world marriage and they were the odd couple. The relationship was symbiotic. Jean-Michel thought he needed Andy’s fame, and Andy thought he needed Jean-Michel’s new blood. Jean-Michel gave Andy a rebellious image again’ (R. Cutrone, quoted in V. Bockris, Warhol: The Biography, Cambridge 2003, pp. 461-462).
Executed in 1987, Love Dub for A is an emotionally charged posthumous tribute, sized at billboard proportions, to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s close friend and mentor, Andy Warhol, who had died unexpectedly in February that same year. Warhol’s death was an event that greatly affected Basquiat as the two engaged in a charged, competitive relationship, virtually inseparable as they collaborated on paintings and circuited downtown dinners and parties together. Keith Haring, friend to both Warhol and Basquiat, said in 1988, ‘For an artist, the most important and most delicate relationship he can have with another artist is one in which he is constantly challenged and intimidated...Jean-Michel and Andy had achieved a healthy balance’ (K. Haring, ‘Painting the Third Mind’, Collaborations: Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, exh. cat., Mayor Rowan Gallery, London, 1988). Love Dub for A has been held in the same prestigious collection since 1988 and was included in the artist’s major retrospective, The Jean-Michel Basquiat Show at Fondazione La Triennale di Milano, 2006-2007.
These two titans of the international art scene first met in 1980, and the pair soon developed an unlikely friendship. Basquiat had encouraged Warhol to paint again, and Warhol liked the provocative Basquiat, who frequently rebelled against both the conventions of the art world and the law; it gave the elder artist a new edge as well as a direct line to a younger generation. Basquiat defined a new genre of art and expression and Warhol admired him for his ability to paint the grime and grit of New York city street culture. The two formed an incomparable relationship that dominated the art world, as fellow artist Ronnie Cutrone remembered: ‘It was like some crazy art-world marriage and they were the odd couple. The relationship was symbiotic. Jean-Michel thought he needed Andy’s fame, and Andy thought he needed Jean-Michel’s new blood. Jean-Michel gave Andy a rebellious image again’ (R. Cutrone, quoted in V. Bockris, Warhol: The Biography, Cambridge, 2003, pp. 461-2). The pair soon became a fixture on the New York art-world party circuit and the ‘couple’ was frequently pictured together on the cover of magazines, on television, and in the newspapers. The two memorialized their friendship in art: Basquiat executed Portrait of Andy Warhol in 1984 and that same year Warhol conceived Reel Basquiat, a silk-screened portrait of the young artist created from a collage of time-lapsed photography. Photographed in front of the present work, Basquiat poignantly dedicated the work ‘for A’, a token of affection and remembrance, the title a light hearted play-on-words, sounding like ‘Loved Up for A’ when said quickly.
Love Dub for A was exhibited in Basquiat’s final show at the Vrej Baghoomian Gallery before his untimely death. Basquiat initially met the fledgling art dealer Baghoomian in 1983 through his cousin Tony Shafrazi. Of the meeting Baghoomian remarked that Basquiat ‘made a tremendous impression on me’ but it wasn’t until 1987 that he pursued representing the artist in earnest (V. Baghoomian, quoted in, P. Hoban, Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art, New York 1998, p. 290). The work exhibited in this last show reaffirmed Basquiat’s place as an international art world star. ‘His last exhibition at the Vrej Baghoomian Gallery, a comeback after a long absence, included his tribute to Warhol, Love Dub for A 1987, as well as five other large-scale canvases. All the old fetishistic word rites were there again, written then crossed out like spells cast and uncast, and those knockout red, blue and yellow patches that jump on and off characters and text’ (J. Rankin-Reid, ‘Missing Basquiat’, in Artscribe International, November/December 1988, p. 10).
Painted the year before Basquiat’s death, the explosive composition of Love Dub for A marks the return of the Basquiat that the art world had fallen in love with in 1981, especially through its embodiment of his inimitable street-inflected style. Vividly capturing the sensation of the artist both at the height of his creative powers and on the brink of destruction, Love Dub for A seems to recapture the visual language and energy, both in the form of its rich azure and turquoise palette and in its intense, vivid and vigorous brushwork that exemplified his earlier work.
This outstanding painterly example displays how Basquiat intuitively and poetically juxtaposed subject-matter from cartoons and street art. The vibrant passages of colour combined with the artist’s signature text and enigmatic symbols resulted in a canvas that pulsates with energy and intrigue. Like in similar works from this year such as Riddle me this Batman, Basquiat has recomposed imagery sourced from comic books and television. Indeed, Love Dub for A seems to recompose the visage of The Riddler, and simultaneously presents the profile as well as both eyes as though from a frontal-facing visage. His presentation of the bust here recalls a diverse range of inspiration from the Cubist works of Picasso to ancient Egyptian art.
Basquiat’s facility with his medium enabled him to fluidly pour out his compositions, impulsively filling the picture plane with the liquid imagery he adopted. Basquiat worked up his image in successive layers of viscerally gestural paint and incorporated the full range of his artistic vocabulary. The work is replete with familiar textual iconography sourced from his everyday street existence such as POLICE and IN GOD WE TRUST. Other signs and symbols have been impulsively scrawled and subsequently effaced to make an even clearer surface for new thoughts to stream from his subconscious -- such as MBER which Basquiat obfuscated with a swathe of bright red paint. The text possibly refers to his graffiti heritage given the popularity of the MBER tag on freight train cars at the time. An additional element of his autobiography is perhaps Basquiat’s inclusion of AURORA, the name of one of Warhol’s long time housekeepers and B. Dub aka Brian Williams, who worked at the artist’s Great Jones Street studio. He is the ‘Dub’ referred to in this work’s title. As Dub notes of Basquiat’s working practices during the time, ‘He’d work mostly late at night. Most of the time I would come the next day and see that a whole huge drawing or painting had totally changed’ (B. Dub, quoted in, P. Hoban, Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art, New York 1998, p. 280).
The enormous vitality and dynamism of Basquiat’s brushwork here finds much in keeping with the emotive gestures of Abstract Expressionism. His expressionistic passages of rich blues and greens, laying numerous layers of paint and then effacing them off to show the colors underneath, Basquiat creates a gorgeously rich surface. The edges where the forms meet find affinity with Clyfford Still’s emotive abstracts, the jagged forms cutting into one another in in the present work. Likewise his distinct use of line in this work, marked by hesitations and erasure, expands upon Cy Twombly’s style, which Basquiat cited as a source of inspiration. Love Dub for A exemplifies Basquiat’s unmistakable idiom, particularly his bravura handling of paint, spontaneous sense of line and inventive use of colour, which made him an innovative heir to the Abstract Expressionist mantle. These expressive qualities combine to create a work that bursts with a charged sense of dynamism, reflecting the complex emotions and deep sense of poignancy that underpin this work.
JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988)
Acrylic and oilstick on canvas
Signed, titled and dated 'Jean MB 'LOVE DUB FOR A' 1987' (on the reverse)
Jean-Michel Basquiat , 1980s, Paintings, Contemporary
New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1999 (illustrated in colour, p. 283).
Milan, Fondazione La Triennale di Milano, The Jean-Michel Basquiat Show, 2006-2007, no. 162 (illustrated in colour, p. 299).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
86 x 114in. (221 x 289.8cm.)
Jean-Michel Basquiat, exh. cat., New York, Vrej Baghoomian, Inc., 1989 (installation view illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Galerie Enrico Navarra (ed.), Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris 2000, vol. II, p. 263, no. 3 (illustrated in colour, p. 262).
Galerie Hans Meyer, Dusseldorf.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1988.
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