oilstick on paper
34 by 22 in. 86.4 by 55.9 cm.
Executed in 1980-1981.

Price Available Upon Request

Collection of Tom Warren, New York (acquired directly from the artist)
Pat Hearn Gallery, New York
Collection of Donald Baechler, New York
Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Italy (acquired from the above in 1998)
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Sweden
Stockholms Auktionsverk, Stockholm, December 6, 2016, lot 145
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale

Tony Shafrazi, Jean-Michel Basquiat, New York, 1999, p. 30, illustrated in color

Vibrantly and densely-layered, Untitled from 1980-1981, is a masterful example of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s instinctive and lauded abilities as one of the greatest draughtsman of the Twentieth Century whose forceful graphic vernacular is typified within the present work. Exemplary of his works on paper, the frenetic urgency of the mark-making, the unique variance in color strikingly defines one of the artist’s most prolific and iconic motifs of the ‘black athlete,’ singularly combined in an effortless, sizzling composition, buttresses Basquiat’s enduring creative genius. Intricately impastoed layers of oilstick are scrawled upon the surface of Untitled, culminating in the central development of the black male athlete, a visual and textual idiom that recurs throughout the artist’s body of work. With an exceptional level of completeness, the corporal density of the central figure in Untitled is undeniably mesmerizing, its presence intensified by the artist’s repeated strokes of colored oilsticks – red, orange, pink, yellow and blue markings – bursting with expressionistic fervor, the kinetically layered and re-worked setting surrounding the central figure is the ultimate expression of the artist’s innovative visual language.

Created at the apex of Basquiat’s meteoric rise to international artistic acclaim, Untitled is replete of the artist’s aesthetic vocabulary and elevation of idiosyncratic emblems, such as the black athlete. The signature motif of the black athlete, halo adorned, densely worked surface of oilstick incisions and positively and negatively created space, intensifies the quasi-canonized icons of popular culture referenced in the present work. The famous black athletes Basquiat championed throughout his artistic oeuvre, Cassius Clay (Mohammad Ali), Jersey Joe Walcott, Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron are collapsed into a singular, iconic, inscrutable symbol of the black male athlete in Untitled, intended to unpack the entrenched systemic barriers that prohibit marginalized groups from excelling outside what few professions are considered acceptable by society’s hegemonic forces. “The piece was political in the sense that it presented so simply how society expected black people to be athletes and not painters” (Glenn O’Brien cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Deitch Projects, Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981: The Studio of the Street, May 2006, p. 19).

Untitled is thus not only an exquisite creation by a master illustrator, it is an explicit reference to Basquiat’s idiom of the black athlete that engenders a prescient view on the hefty societal imbalances that prevailed during the artist’s lifetime and today.

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