Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat
- Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat
- New Flame
- acrylic, oilstick and silkscreen ink on canvas
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008
Zurich, Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat: Collaborations, December 1998 - April 1999
Trieste, Museo Revoltella, Jean-Michel Basquiat, May - September 1999, p. 165, illustrated in colour
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Andy Warhol and his World, April - July 2000, p. 81, no. 58, illustrated in colour
Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie; and London, Tate Modern, Andy Warhol: Retrospective, October 2001 - April 2002, p. 272, no. 229, illustrated in colour
Despite the distinct stylistic differences between the two artists, New Flame evinces a vibrant meeting of two of the most revolutionary minds in contemporary art. Working separately on a work, Warhol would typically start, often using a projector to trace outlines directly onto canvas. As Vincent Fremont, who had worked in the Factory since 1969, recalled: “Jean-Michel would normally arrive in the afternoon; he was by now buzzed in immediately. He would walk to the back of the studio where Andy painted. Sometimes he would light up a big joint, something no one did at work, and Andy would put up with it... Andy would have already started on some paintings before Jean-Michel's arrival. Because Basquiat's working methods involved broad strokes of a paintbrush and oil-stick crayons, Andy made a very important decision: rather than using his silk-screen process... he would now only hand paint his images” (Vincent Fremont, 'Collaboration Magic: Andy Warhol & Jean-Michel Basquiat', in: Exh. Cat., Bonn, Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, Ménage à Trois: Warhol, Basquiat, Clemente, 2012, p. 38). In the present work, Warhol outlined three silver dollar coins, which depict the figure of liberty. They recall the artist’s earliest depictions of money from the late 1950s and early 1960s – hand painted drawings of dollar bills and rolled up notes, as well as Warhol’s very first silkscreen works. Subsequently these were coloured in and defaced by Basquiat, a perfect example of the competitive yet symbiotic relationship between the two artists. Perhaps underlining Warhol’s reference to the torch bearing statue of liberty, which was built in 1886 and is the same year as Warhol's silver dollar coins, Basquiat titled that section of the canvas 'NEW FLAME'. Through the inclusion of his signature crown in the centre right, Basquiat accredited his SAMO persona to this half of the composition. Almost half of the original pink background is covered with frantic swathes of charcoal black, painted blocks of red and yellow and childlike white scrawls. The gestural black marks and white scribbles evoke both artists' Abstract Expressionist forebears, in particular Clyfford Still, whilst the consciously naïve scrawls bear the inimitable character of Basquiat’s graffiti days. A vibrant medley of iconography and colour, the contrast between the artist’s two most iconic mediums – Warhol’s consciously flat graphically inspired imagery and Basquiat’s coarse, textured oilstick draughtsmanship – is here completely subsumed by the pictorial blend of Warhol and Basquiat's style.
Irrespective of the generational gap, both Warhol and Basquiat were outsiders to a degree – Warhol a wounded celebrity who preferred to affect the pose of an enigmatic voyeur and Basquiat a young African-American rebel with a growing reputation but no formal art training. Though the teenage Basquiat had pursued Warhol and had already been to the Factory several times by 1980, Warhol initially remained aloof, at first perceiving Basquiat as a naïf of yet to be determined talent. It was not until 1982 that Warhol really noticed the young artist. On October 4th, 1982, Warhol wrote in his diary: “Down to meet Bruno Bischofberger (cab $7.50). He brought Jean-Michel Basquiat with him. He’s the kid who used the name 'Samo' when he used to sit on the sidewalk in Greenwich Village and paint T-shirts… he was just one of those kids who drove me crazy… And so had lunch for them and then I took a Polaroid and he went home and within two hours a painting was back, still wet, of him and me together” (Andy Warhol quoted in: Pat Hackett, Ed., The Andy Warhol Diaries, New York 1989, p. 462). Basquiat’s endorsement by Bruno Bischofberger encouraged Warhol to recognise the young painter as the serious force that he would come to be known as. Concurrently, the ambitious Basquiat began his professional courtship of Warhol, inaugurated through his theatrically expedient gift of a double portrait of the two of them, a work entitled Dos Cabezas that was also once a part of Tommy Hilfiger's collection. Gradually, Warhol's respect for Basquiat solidified, and he commemorated Basquiat with an Oxidation painting and the full length silkscreens of Basquiat in the guise of Michelangelo's David. Though teaming up with the legendary Warhol was certainly a coup for the twenty-three year old Basquiat, the reciprocity of the collaboration should not be underestimated. Basquiat's powerful imagery, poetic symbolism, and youthful frenzy reinvigorated Warhol, whose career had been relatively quiescent for the previous decade. With regards to both artistic spirit and their careers, the collaboration could not have come at a better time for both artists: "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" (Ronny Cutrone in: Victor Bockris, Warhol: The Biography, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2003, p. 461-62).
The mechanics of Warhol and Basquiats' mutually beneficial creative friendship are here laid bare as stylistic differences blend in harmonious synthesis, giving birth to an entirely new aesthetic language. Thus, New Flame offers a unique insight into one of the most important relationships within the history of contemporary art. As pointed out by their mutual friend Keith Haring 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” (Keith Haring cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Mayor Rowan Gallery, Collaborations: Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1988).