Many components of Logo come from recurring images in Basquiat’s oeuvre, including the eponymous “logo” of the present work. The central motif of the present work is shared by other paintings including Campaign and Water-Worshipper, both from 1984. Here, Basquiat appropriates and transforms the logo of a popular cigarette brand, Player’s Navy Cut, into a direct confrontation of African American history. The actual design featured a blonde, bearded sailor named “Hero,” encircled by a heraldic lifebuoy and flanked by two naval ships. In Basquiat’s interpretation the sailor is replaced by a black figure, shown in unmistakably tribal dress, with necklaces and piercings, mounted on a pedestal and surrounded by a ring emblazoned with the word “TOBACCO.” This African figure is thus objectified as a trophy – an ornamental prize to be carried back to the European ships that float behind him. The obvious implications of slavery and forced hard labor on a tobacco plantation, together with the “logo” and “TRADEMARK” associations, create an exacting indictment of the commercialization of the black body throughout the centuries.
The other iconographic sources visible in Logo come from various drawings made by Basquiat, as he often Xeroxed his works on paper and reused the images in other ways. By integrating them into his paintings, he engages even more deeply with his repertoire. For instance, repeatedly featured are “SILVER” and images of coins, which the artist often used as signifiers of trade, commerce, and monetary manipulation – in combination with the titular logo, these images further emphasize the central themes of race and commercialization. Even the reproduction of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, taken from a 1983 work in which her likeness dominates the effigy of a banknote, is linked to the monetary motif that Basquiat here explores. Also prominently included are several iterations of Basquiat’s characteristic “self-portrait,” the head or skull, with wide eyes and bared teeth, crested with his signature spiked dreadlocks. Their presence in this work indicates the lineage or link the artist is creating between himself and the African figure, perhaps as a reflection on his newfound fame and wealth within the predominately white art market of the 1980s.
The individual elements of the present work can be read separately, as miniature motifs, introducing themes of racism, art history, and expressionistic gestural power to the canvas, as well as conveying a distinct sense of the artist’s own voice. In combining them so freely, Basquiat allows several linear histories to coalesce and his composition becomes a maelstrom of association; each theme plays off another to create a pervasive and complex mood of contemplation. In scale and ambition, the work is almost a reinterpretation of the traditional history painting. While it does not adhere to a simple narrative, the combination of self-portraiture, allegory, and an extraordinary level of visual interest, creates a compelling sense of poetic message, born out across a limitless composition. The present work stands as testament to Basquiat’s unparalleled ability to fill his work with unbridled power. Through its composition, he created an arresting meditation on African American culture, galvanized by his own experiences, and executed in his inimitable style.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale