Private Collection, USA (acquired from the above in 1982)
Sotheby’s, New York, 18 November 1998, Lot 163 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
La Habana, Casa de las Americas, Fundacion Habana Club, Basquiat en la Habana, November 2000 - January 2001, p. 71, illustrated in colour
Shanghai, Duolun Museum of Modern Art; and Beijing, Imperial City Art Museum, Jean-Michel Basquiat, February - June 2006, p. 118, illustrated in colour
San Juan, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Una antología para Puerto Rico, October 2006 - January 2007, p. 75, illustrated in colour
New York, Cultural Services of the French Embassy, Jean-Michel Basquiat. French Collections, March - April 2007, p. 113, illustrated in colour
New York, Van de Weghe Fine Art, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Works on paper, May - June 2007, p. 105, illustrated in colour
Cotonou, Fondation Zinsou, Jean-Michel Basquiat in Cotonou, September - November 2007, p. 113, illustrated in colour
New York, Nahmad Contemporary, Poetics of the Gesture: Schiele,Twombly, Basquiat, May - June 2014, cover and p. 65, illustrated in colour
Exh. Cat., Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna della Città di Lugano, Jean-Michel Basquiat, March - June 2005, p. 127, illustrated in colour
Richard D. Marshall and Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 3rd edition, Appendix, Paris 2010, p. 55, illustrated in colour
Protruding from the polyphony of black oilstick, colourful lines, and symbols, the artist’s head is crowned by a halo that radiates energy and vitality. Undeniably heroic, this is the kind of archetypal portrayal that forms the very cornerstone of Basquiat’s oeuvre. Calling upon an iconographic history of Christian imagery from Christ wearing the crown of thorns to the golden halos of hallowed saints and celestial beings, Basquiat assimilates an eminent art historical canon in an expression of contemporary culture and black identity. The figures that typically populate Basquiat’s work are those he feels motivated to ennoble and elevate – his heroes and himself. Moreover, as the focus of cerebral activity and marker of cultural identity, Basquiat’s heads, often foreboding and scarified, telescope an important socio-cultural dialogue. In the present piece, a grimacing visage and paroxysmal execution channel the artist's tripartite ethnicity, yet equally reflect a profound understanding of global art history. In this regard Untitled (Figure JMB #1) exemplifies Basquiat’s command and flawless synthesis of a host of semantic and visual idioms.
Exuding electric energy, the almost geometric articulation of Untitled (Figure JMB #1) bears the prominent influences that utterly define Basquiat’s art. There is a fluid osmosis between external stimuli and internal vicissitudes in this piece: at once personal and universal, the autobiographical here speaks to the greater human condition. Alongside his best paintings, this work justly enters the legion of overtly emotive portrayals of the human consciousness that abound throughout the annals of art history. Untitled (Figure JMB #1) is a testament to Basquiat’s incredible ability to reflect his innermost thoughts and feelings and yet communicate to a wider existential situation. The barrage and onslaught of an established, yet increasingly pervasive, mass-media culture was not lost on this artist whose practice assimilated banal and popular references and juxtaposed these in a non-hierarchical manner alongside fine-art paradigms. The free-flow of images and stimulants particular to the post-modern age is here echoed by lines and loops of intersection that surround the figure’s form. Indeed, absolute and immediate in its effect, the central and solitary cranium here serves as blazing emblem of both the artist and modern man.
The present work was initiated in a year of unprecedented success for the twenty-two year old prodigy. In 1982 Basquiat had his first solo exhibitions with Larry Gagosian in Los Angeles, Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich, and, most remarkably, an invitation to participate in the international exhibition documenta 7 in Kassel where he was the youngest artist of more than 176 to present that year. The downtown Manhattan art dealer Annina Nosei became his primary dealer after inviting him to participate in a group show of socio-political art in September 1981. With no studio to speak of, Basquiat moved into the basement of her gallery, now a fabled space, where he was able to paint freely and produce an extraordinary group of masterworks. Three years later, in an interview with Cathleen McGuigan for The New York Times, Basquiat described this breakthrough year, during which his international renown as well as the quality of his output began to flourish: "I had some money; I made the best paintings ever” (Jean-Michel Basquiat cited in: Cathleen McGuigan, ‘New Art, New Money’, The New York Times, 10 February 1985, online). By the astonishingly early age of twenty-two, Basquiat’s personal style had fully matured and he had arrived at an altogether unique aesthetic vocabulary. The freshness of this emergent talent, coupled with the rush of self-confidence brought about by his new found critical success, engendered the body of work, of which Untitled (Figure JMB #1) is a part, that is today widely considered the very best of his career.
Today, Basquiat’s meteoric ascension from graffiti poet of downtown New York to icon of the 1980s art scene is legendary. A high school dropout, the artist first made his name and mark upon downtown Manhattan as the notorious graffiti vandal/hero SAMO, before the discovery of his prodigious talent in late 1981 launched him into the spotlight of critical acclaim. However, as brilliantly exemplified by the present work, Basquiat’s oeuvre is, above all else, a pictorial answer to the multicultural milieu he inhabited. Self-taught and a voracious reader, Basquiat’s myriad sources trace an encyclopaedia of art historical inspiration – from the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, to Picasso’s ‘primitivism’, Cy Twombly’s ciphers of text and freedom of line, and the radical figuration of Jean Dubuffet. While the idiosyncratic references to the world that surrounded him reflects a deep and profound synchronicity with contemporary culture. In its visceral physicality, which sets it alongside some of the artist’s most celebrated representations of the human form, the present work is an incisive portrayal of the artist’s inner-self that simultaneously touches upon a universal post-modern experience of contemporary life.
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