Lot 35
  • 35

Jean-Michel Basquiat

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
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  • Jean-Michel Basquiat
  • Sell Grit
  • signed, titled and dated 1983 on the reverse
  • acrylic and paper collage on canvas
  • 143.5 by 180cm.; 56 1/2 by 70 7/8 in.


Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Richard D. Marshall and Jean-Louis Prat, Jean Michel Basquiat, Vol. II, Paris 1996, p. 108, no. 2, illustrated in colour

Richard D. Marshall and Jean-Louis Prat, Jean Michel Basquiat, Vol. III, Paris 2000, p. 174, no. 2, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the blue in the top right hand corner tends more towards turquoise and the overall tonality of the canvas and collaged elements are slightly warmer in the original. Condition: This work is in very good and original condition. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultra-violet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Composed of an impressively executed combination of Xerox collages, Sell Grit masterfully distils the essence of the socio-cultural concerns and vibrant stylistic techniques that characterise Jean-Michel Basquiat’s works of the mid-1980s. The idiosyncratic child-like writing of Basquiat, rapidly scribbled within the Xeroxed pages, exemplifies Basquiat’s masterful use of abstract language, text, word-play and symbols that were ubiquitous in his street art and remain constituents of his most highly regarded paintings.

Basquiat’s appropriation of the potentials of collage and other closely connected techniques such as silkscreen can be connected to the impact of the works of Andy Warhol (with whom Basquiat was collaborating in the mid-1980s) and Robert Rauschenberg. Indeed the three rows comprising of eight outlined shoes apiece, dominate the composition and communicate Warhol’s influence on Basquiat. Whilst the image of the shoes references Warhol’s 1962 series of Dance Diagrams, the mechanical re-production and repetition of the image echoes Warhol’s canvases such as the multiple Campbell’s Soup cans. Richard Marshall argues that “Rather than directly influencing him… Warhol and Rauschenberg, like other artists that Basquiat looked to, gave him a kind of art historical permission for his own endeavours” (Richard Marshall, ‘Repelling Ghosts’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Jean-Michel Basquiat, p. 21).

Increasingly engaged with his black and Hispanic roots, in late 1982 Basquiat began to develop an ambitious project that identified with historical and contemporary black figures and events. In the present work Basqiuat makes a wider allusion to the abuses of power and ill-treatment of minorities. Here, the hatted and moustachioed figure in the top right-hand corner of the composition perhaps references the Haitian novelist Jacques Stephen Alexis. In 1955 Jacques Stephen Alexis published his first novel Compère Général Soleil, it was this and following writings with their distinct Marxist subtext that sent shockwaves through the Haitian political regime and gave hope to millions disenfranchised with the rise of Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier. During the 1930s Duvalier was amongst the founding members of the Griot movement, who celebrated their African roots and the practice of voodoo. Elected President in 1957, Duvalier promoted himself as the self-embodiment of Haiti and presided over a regime of terror. His personal army of henchmen, the Toutons Macoutes (The Bogeymen) were responsible for terrorising and assassinating anyone thought to be an opponent to Duvalier. Not simply a novelist, Jacques Stephen Alexis was an intellectual and a political activist who participated in some the great social and political debates of the time. In 1959 he formed the left-wing People's Consensus Party (Parti pour l'Entente Nationale-PEP), which forced him into exile by the Duvalier dictatorship. He returned to Haiti in 1961 at a time when Duvalier had declared himself ‘President for Life’. However his return was short-lived; he was captured shortly after by the Toutons Macoutes and his body was not to be seen again. The death of Jacques Stephen Alexis was just one of nearly 30,000 at the hands of Francois Duvalier and one, given his own Haitian heritage, that Basquiat would have been acutely aware of. It is perhaps then of no coincidence that the overlapping Xerox images in the top half of the present work’s composition places the scrawled out name of Duvalier next to the cartoon image of Disney’s ‘The Big Bad Wolf’.

In Sell Grit Basquiat appropriates two drawings (Olympia and PPCD) from The Daros Suite of Thirty-Two Drawings (1982-83) which deliberately meld together high fable, firmly entrenched within the boundaries of the moral, with the low, often morally redundant art of the cartoon. By employing a disarming child-like quality, Basquiat critiques, recapitulates and forges an emergent and totally independent voice within the narrative of high art.