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Jean-Michel Basquiat Untitled 1982 oilstick on paper 25.4 x 20.7 cm. (10 x 8 1/8 in.) Signed and dated 'Jean-Michel '82' on the reverse. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.
Provenance Annina Nosei Gallery, New York Collection Robert Combas, Paris Catalogue Essay Untitled, executed in 1982, succinctly captivates the exuberance and vivacity of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s artistic expression during a pinnacle stage of his career. Starting in 1982, the artist began to separate himself from the streetscapes that encapsulated his early paintings and initiated his unique archetype of the human figure. While works on paper allude to supplementary works to the opus of the artist in an art historical context, it can be argued that Basquiat compositions on paper match the visceral, energetic essence of his canvas works: “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 paintings and drawings are often indistinguishable, and only differ in their paper or canvas support”, (Richard D. Marshall as quoted in Enrico Navarra, ed., Jean-Michel Basquiat: Oeuvres sur Papier, Paris, 1999, p.30). The frenzied gestures that have come to epitomize Basquiat’s iconic painterly aesthetic are best seen in his early drawings with the flat and smooth surface of the paper welcoming his spontaneous and expressionistic style. A smaller display of the artist’s oeuvre, the present lot depicts one of his more elaborately detailed human heads. The study of the human figure is fundamental to the early drawings Basquiat created between 1981 and 1982 while working in the basement of Annina Nosei’s gallery on Prince street in New York. Coarsely worked in primary colours, outlined in blue, and set against a starkly white background, the present lot discerns a restrained aesthetic execution, illustrating the influence of anatomical studies. The effortless motion of Basquiat’s hand distinguishes facial characteristics, defining the contours of the chin, teeth, cheeks, ears, nose, and eyes in oilstick. Bathed in sombre hues of blue, the symphony of colour within the head continues with the disclosure of a layer of blood red pigment where the nose is and brown tint on the teeth and forehead. The duplicitous smile completely dominates the composition, reminiscent of a smirk seen in Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face), also by Basquiat in 1982. It is in Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face) that Basquiat begins to expand his pictorial vocabulary by photocopying drawings, like the present lot, directly onto the canvas by layering separate planes of illusionistic space to create a cohesive masterpiece. Basquiat was known to attentively reference his predecessors – his drawings and paintings link him into an entire tradition within Western art, ranging from Henri Matisse through Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly. Using colours to define the structure and contours of his drawings with stark contrasts between tones of primary colours, this work distinctly recalls the innovation of Jean Dubuffet who coined the term art brut (‘raw art’) in his strive to create art free of intellectual tradition. Inspired by Pablo Picasso’s unique idiom of illustrative representation in his cubist and figural depictions, Basquiat created his own hermeneutical device that loaned itself spectacularly to the mythmaking of his genius: “he papers over all other voices but his own, hallucinating total control of his proprietary information as if he were the author of all he transcribed, every diagram, every formula, every cartoon character – even affixing the copyright symbol to countless artefacts of nature and civilization to stress the point – without making any allowance for the real-life look of the world outside his authorized universe”, (Mark Meyer, “Basquiat in History”,Basquiat, exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum of art, 2005, p.46). Jean-Michel Basquiat was a lucid and prolific spokesman for his time and his pictorial language embodying the youthful vernacular of his generation is exceptionally apparent in the present lot. “his work is likely to r
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