Lot 44
  • 44

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Estimate
800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
Sold
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Description

  • Jean-Michel Basquiat
  • At Large
  • signed, titled and dated 1984 on the reverse
  • acrylic and oilstick on canvas
  • 218.4 by 172.8cm.; 86 by 68in.

Provenance

Mary Boone Gallery, New York

Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich 

Heiner Bastian, Berlin

Private Collection, New York

Sale: Sotheby’s, London, Contemporary Art Day Sale, 22 June 2007, Lot 337

Acquired directly from the above by the late owner

Exhibited

New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1998 

Literature

Enrico Navarra, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Appendix, Paris 2010, p. 18, no. 1, illustrated in colour  

Catalogue Note

Replete with multi-faceted layers of symbolism and meaning, At Large reveals the complex identity that Jean-Michel Basquiat felt as an African-American artist living in New York, and can be interpreted as a metaphorical map retracing the origins of his family background and personality. Born of a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican mother, Basquiat sought to reconcile his own cultural background with his upbringing as a New Yorker, rebelling against his education and circumstances when he became a graffiti artist known by the moniker of SAMO prior to his discovery as a painter. Historical and symbolic references to this multivalent background appear frequently within Basquiat’s oeuvre, with the present work serving as a particularly thought-provoking exemplar in its intricate presentation of themes and ideas.

In At Large, a seemingly disparate group of motifs hover within a dense background, as though emerging from veils of pigment. The composition is dominated by the image of a globe, on which various landmasses are delineated with an almost visceral primitivism. The centre of the globe is dominated by a vast continent, which appears to be a fantastical amalgamation of both Africa and North America: a reflection, perhaps, of Basquiat’s own diverse multi-cultural heritage. At the lower right a torso is glimpsed from behind, while a mask-like head, endowed with fearsome teeth and wildly staring eyes, floats beneath the globe. Marc Mayer analyses the effect of these mysterious, often troubling, illustrations of heads within Basquiat’s painting: “There are his emaciated, scarified, and almost extra-terrestrial griots – a term for West African bards. Chilling fetishes, they exploit an American fantasy of an unrecorded ur-Africa of fear and sorcery” (Marc Mayer, ‘Basquiat in History’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Brooklyn Museum, Basquiat, 2005, p. 45).

By 1984, the year in which this remarkable work was executed, Basquiat had reached an apogee of fame and celebrity, an astonishingly rapid rise that epitomised the culture of conspicuous consumption that was prevalent in New York during the decade. In the previous year alone Basquiat had shown his work in seventeen group exhibitions, had four major solo exhibitions in America, Europe and Japan, and was the youngest artist ever to be included in the prestigious Whitney Biennial. The creative confidence that this success instilled resulted in a newfound clarity of purpose and execution within Basquiat’s works, alongside an increasing manifestation and utilisation of painterly facture. With its richly textured layers of paint and opulent swathes of pigment across the canvas surface, At Large exhibits these particular tendencies to superb effect.

As is arguably the case with all of Basquiat's most ambitious works, the meaning of At Large is left intentionally ambiguous. It seeks to challenge the viewer into drawing their own conclusions by deconstructing the various facets of the composition as though conducting a kind of archaeological examination. The continent on the blue globe, whilst occupying the central position usually associated with Africa, has a shape resembling that of North America, a disconcerting distortion of reality that questions accepted notions of social and political geography. The red and white striped American flag, in concert with the laughing face to the left, further encourages this idea, whilst the headless figure in the lower right reflects the aesthetic inspiration of African tribal art. Combining high art and low art influences through an urban, raw immediacy of execution, the expressive power and energy of At Large remains as potent today as when it was first created. 

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