The explosive mark-making and scrawls across the surface of Untitled are fueled by the fierce artistic drive which propelled Basquiat’s meteoric rise to unprecedented success during his breakout year. Executed in 1982, the present work was initiated in this critical year of international and domestic acclaim: Basquiat had his first solo exhibitions with Larry Gagosian in Los Angeles, Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich, as well as galleries in New York and Rotterdam, and locally, the downtown Manhattan gallerist Annina Nosei became his primary dealer after inviting him to participate in a group show of socio-political art in September 1981. Created at the age of only twenty-two, Untitled is replete of Basquiat’s fully matured aesthetic vocabulary with the signature motif of the head, three-pointed crown, and the densely worked surface of oilstick incisions that create positively and negatively worked dimensions. The searing stokes in the present work epitomize the unbridled talent of Basquiat and his confidence within the medium of drawing, in which he flawlessly illustrated without editing: “With the exception of Picasso, few acclaimed painters of the Twentieth Century invested the same time or energy to works on paper that is evidence in their painting. The search for pictorial solutions would have been fought out in front of the canvas. Yes, Twentieth Century painters drew and made masterful works in this medium, but drawing was always a secondary concern. For Basquiat, in contrast, there is often less of a distinction, in terms of intent, between working on paper and on canvas.” (Ibid., p. 33)
Untitled is not only an exquisite creation by a master draughtsman, it is an explicit reference to Basquiat’s idiom of the warrior figure that embodies the young artist’s fierce ascent to the heights of critical and commercial acclaim in 1982. From being born to Puerto Rican and Haitian parents and raised in Brooklyn, to international renown and public admiration for Basquiat’s undeniable talent and unique visual vocabulary, Untitled is at its essence, the artist fighting to overcome all odds to forge a meta-narrative of a successful black painter in Western art history.
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