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Untitled
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Untitled
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Untitled

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About the item

Widely acknowledged as one of the great masterpieces of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s career, Untitled presents a stark and powerful portrait of a horned, masked figure whose spontaneous, mysterious form emerges from deep within a wall of juxtaposed brushstrokes and vibrant colours. Within the artist’s body of work, the present painting constitutes one of his most powerful evocations of the demons which would stalk him throughout his short artistic life. Monumental in size and dazzling in its sheer depiction of immediate raw expression and colour, Untitled offers a rare insight into the mind of one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed though notoriously troubled and tormented artists.\n\nPainted in Modena in 1982 when Basquiat was only twenty-two years old, Untitled presents one of the artist’s most ambitious early works from the year when his tragically short artistic life (less than a decade) was coming into its prime. Having been given his inaugural one man exhibition in Modena only the previous year, 1982 saw Basquiat’s creativity and expressive vocabulary blossom in response to his growing celebrity and confidence. As such, 1982 witnessed the germination of the artist’s most powerful work whilst also importantly providing the purest reference to his formative, urban roots.\n\nHaving become embroiled in the nightclub scene of the East Village while still in his teenage years, Basquiat was an influential member within a group of fashionable artists and musicians in New York whose work was gaining increasing recognition for its raw, urban character and emphasis. For Basquiat, the streets of Lower Manhattan represented an expansive medium for his witty, philosophical graffiti slogans that gained him early acknowledgement; its inhabitants his chosen audience. The energetic, urban character of Basquiat’s early years lies at the heart of his best work, and nowhere is this more forcefully conveyed than in the edgy rawness of Untitled.\n\nGraffiti encompassed a whole range of associations and meanings for Basquiat (aside from its urban connotations), in particular the primitive art forms produced by children, outcasts and native peoples. An awareness of his Haitian roots, combined with a knowledge of primitive African art, greatly affected Basquiat’s sense of identity, and the mask-like face here provides an early example of a form that was to recur throughout his career. Its crude, rough-hewn form is like a skull or death mask revealing Basquiat’s fascination with anatomy, whilst the ominously bleeding eyes and mouth indicate an early consciousness of the proximity of death in this starkly self-referential image.\n\nActively seeking to remove the constraints imposed on creativity by society and traditional principles governing painting, Basquiat practised a stream of consciousness technique from head to hand similar to Cy Twombly’s. The liberating effects of this creative process are powerfully conveyed in Untitled through the juxtaposed variety and spontaneous energy of his brushstrokes, whose sporadic layers of colour provide numerous points of emphasis. Through his instinctive constructive techniques, Basquiat establishes a formal system of order capable of framing the present work’s interactive power. Colours resonate without apology, clashing with shocking objectivity in their creation of a fluid sense of space, determined by internal movements and passages. Confronting the viewer frontally, head-on, the devil-like skeletal form is set against a turbulent, expressive background, heightening the drama and directing our gaze from one bold mark to the next.  It also offers visual form to the chaotic, angry mind of the devil figure; itself an expression of Basquiat’s subconscious and inner turmoil.\n\nThe spontaneity of the painterly background indicates Basquiat’s debt to the great masters of the 20th century whose work he so admired. In a style that witnesses the fusion of Jackson Pollock’s action paintings with the expressive tonality of Willem De Kooning, Untitled provides insight into some of Basquiat’s most fundamental artistic influences. The signature electrifying line found throughout Basquiat’s work recalls the Art Brut of a young Dubuffet whilst delineating a vocabulary of forms as original and authentic as Picasso’s.\n\nIn doing so, Basquiat has created “an enchanting, bewitching and frightening night, given the task of awaking us and giving us this shock of barbarous reunions, in a painting that is almost too beautiful because we already recognise ourselves in it.” (Jean Louis-Prat in Exhibition Catalogue, Museo Civico Castel Nuovo, Basquiat in Naples, 1999, p. 58) Untitled speaks of our times, our fears and our abandonment, expressed in the artist’s multi-racial, universal language.\n\nUntitled was painted originally with a pendant work of similar composition and size depicting a lone angel figure. Devoid of the artist’s trademark text, these two monumental canvases illustrate the artist at his most visually expressive. Unlike other paintings within his oeuvre - whose meaning is often partially conveyed by words or names - Untitled relies purely on tone, mood and technique for its powerful effect. Through this pair of works, Basquiat forces the viewer to confront their personal beliefs and spirituality through the presentation of his own. Lost within a range of juxtaposed, energetic brushstrokes and colours, we are drawn to contemplate the mask-like figures who dominate their respective spaces.\n\nReproducing on canvas the abstract and figural experiences of his short though electrically-charged life, Basquiat fuses narrative with fantasy in a manner that led critics to describe him as the ‘black Picasso’. “It only speaks for the energy and integrity of the work that it can still generate the same reactions it does. Very few embodied and translated freedom to canvas like Basquiat and while the era…is gone we can be grateful that his work survives to give us a breath of that exuberance that today’s realities seem bent on extinguishing.” (Larry Walsh in Richard Marshall & Jean-Louis Prat, Eds., Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris 1996, Vol. II, p. 178)\nSigned and dated Modena 82 on the reverse
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medium

Acrylic on canvas

creator

Jean-Michel Basquiat

dimensions

239 by 500cm.

exhibition

Tokyo, Akira Ikeda Gallery, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Paintings, 1985, no. 4, illustrated in colour Paris, Galerie Enrico Navarra, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1996 Kaohsiung, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts; Taichung, Taichung Museum, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1997, pp. 36-37, illustrated in colour Sao Paulo, Pinacoteca, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1998, pp. 52-53, illustrated in colour Venice, Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, Basquiat a Venezia, 1999, pp. 62-63, illustrated in colour Naples, Museo Civico Castel Nuovo, Basquiat a Napoli, 1999, pp. 60-61, illustrated in colour Rome, Chiostro del Bramante, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Dipinti, 2002, pp. 70-71, illustrated in colour Paris, Fondation Dina-Vierny-Musée Maillol, Jean-Michel Basquiat. The Work of a Lifetime, 2003, pp. 44-45, illustrated in colour

literature

Richard Marshall & Jean-Louis Prat, Eds., Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris 1996, Vol. I, illustrated on the cover and pp. 76-77, illustrated in colour and Vol. II, p. 249, illustrated as part of an installation view at Galerie Enrico Navarra, Paris Tony Shafrazi, Jeffrey Deitch, Richard D. Marshall, Jean-Michel Basquiat, New York 1999, pp. 110-111, illustrated in colour Galerie Enrico Navarra, Ed., Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris & New York 2000, Vol. I, pp. 72-73, illustrated in colour and Vol. II, p. 98, no. 2, illustrated in colour

provenance

Anina Nosei Gallery, New York Akira Ikeda Gallery, Nagoya Enrico Navarra Gallery, New York Hanart TZ, Hong Kong Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

signedDate

Signed and dated Modena 82 on the reverse

creator_nationality_dates

1960 - 1988


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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