Larry Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles
Ulrike Kantor Gallery, Los Angeles
By descent to the present owner from the above
A master drawing by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Man with Bow) was realized in 1982, at the height of the young artist's career. It was the year where at the zenith of his power, the 22 year old artist claimed, "I made the best paintings ever," (quoted in C. McGuigan, "New Art, New Money," The New York Times Magazine, February 10, 1985). Having just been discovered at Annina Nosei's gallery by famed powerhouse Larry Gagosian and shuttled out to Los Angeles for his first west coast exposition (where the present work was first traded from the gallery's back room) Jean-Michel left behind the ghost of the tattered graffitist SAMO© from which he was spawn and found himself catapulted into the spotlight.
Although Basquiat's meteoric rise in the art world afforded him widespread fame by this point, he was acutely aware of the inherent racism within its ranks. He was particularly sensitive about being constantly stereotyped and pigeonholed as a black artist of untamed and 'primitive' talent and was anxious about being cast in the role of a mascot by the predominantly white art establishment.
In a sense Basquiat was a hunter, a fighter who had to fend for himself in a world where the odds were firmly stacked against him. As a young man possessed of powerful artistic talent in a predominantly white art world, of Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage, the artist was virtually defenseless. In an effort to cope, Basquiat created a roster of heroic black males he looked up to. His personal pantheon included amongst others, such towering Jazz musicians as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and heavyweight champions Sugar Ray Leonard and Cassius Clay. As seen in his iconic boxer canvas from 1982, one of his most monumental and powerful works, Basquiat identified with these icons of raw male power. In the present work our naked hunter steps onto the scene, armed with nothing but a bow, an arrow and his magical glowing fingers.
"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 drawings and paintings are often indistinguishable, and only differ in their paper or canvas support. Basquiat drew on paper, canvas and wood with graphite, oilstick, watercolor and acrylic. He did it with a confident and sophisticated hand, rapidly and spontaneously and corrected or revised instantaneously and visibly," (Richard D. Marshall as quoted in Enrico Navarra, ed., Jean-Michel Basquiat: Oeuvres sur Papier, Paris, 1999, p. 30). Indeed the expressive power of his works on paper rival, if not surpass, his large-scale canvases. The quasi- electrified figure in the present work is supremely idiosyncratic; franticly raw while at the same time carefully composed and detailed. Like all great Basquiats, the present work maintains a fine balance between control and spontaneity, menace and wit.
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