Executed in the early months of 1982, Untitled (Head) exemplifies a selection of drawings that, in their haunting and unique renderings of skull-like heads, represent a pivotal moment within the young artist’s developing practice. Concentrated against the stark white of the paper, each of these free-floating heads independently stands as a remarkable work within Basquiat’s oeuvre; while most share the physiognomy of searing eyes and bared teeth which typify his iconic warrior figure, each sheet is irrefutably distinct, confronting the viewer with a compelling cast of fully realized personas. Describing the singular importance of the heads within Basquiat’s oeuvre in terms highly reminiscent of the present work, Phoebe Hoban reflects: “Start with the head. (He painted them obsessively). The Hair was a focal point… the dreadlocks, Basquiat’s own version of a crown… Next the eyes. There was that look… People said his eyes could eat through your face, see right through you, zap you like the x-ray vision of his comic book heroes.” (Phoebe Hoban, Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art, London, 1998, p. IX) Over the next six years, the single skull-like head of Untitled (Head) would prevail as the artist’s primary motif and key conceptual anchor, appearing in and dominating the majority of his best-known masterworks. In its scorching gaze, bared teeth, and fiercely described skeletal structure of black oilstick, the floating cranium of the present work expresses an immediate and arresting fury; its emotional intensity evidences one scholar’s description of Basquiat’s astute observation of psycho-spiritual states of being: "What drew Basquiat almost obsessively to the depiction of the human head was his fascination with the face as a passageway from exterior physical presence into the hidden realities of man’s psychological and mental realms…they not only peer out as if seeing, but also invite the viewer to penetrate within." (Exh. Cat., New York, Acquavella Galleries, Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawing: Works from the Schorr Family Collection, 2014, p. 74) Brilliantly formulated in the artist’s intuitive and innovative psyche and then translated onto the paper surface, the sheer visual voltage of Untitled (Head) reveals the impassioned, almost compulsive intensity Basquiat brought to both his works on paper and to his larger practice. Far from inanimate, the charged lines achieve an intensely expressive power - Basquiat delivering a fusion of internal and external sensory experiences with the electrifying force of a live wire.
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