- 款識：藝術家簽名並紀年 NYC 83（背面）
- 30 x 22 1/8 英寸；76.2 x 56.5 公分
Phoebe Chason, New York
Sotheby’s, New York, May 7, 1997, Lot 166
Acquired by the present owner from the above
As a vehicle for the many tributaries of thought that informed Basquiat's aesthetic process, Untitled stands out as one of the most energetic of the artist's early works; a bravura piece of painting that leaves the viewer spellbound. Untitled exemplifies Basquiat’s boldly heroic presentation of the grandly isolated human form. In this vein it advances a venerable tradition epitomized by the tragic protagonists of Picasso’s Blue and Rose Periods, de Kooning’s corporeally introverted series of Women, and the searing existential isolation of Bacon’s full-length male figures of the 1960s and 1970s. Composed of a flurry of red scrawls, the crimson figure is imbued with a fiery intensity commensurate with his belligerent stance. The face, mask-like in its construction, is surmounted by a three-pointed crown, perhaps the artist’s best known motif, referencing his proclivity toward self-portraiture. An impassioned outbreak of oil stick marks, the defining medium of Basquiat’s corpus, delineates the upper left and the entire lower right margins of the painting.
Dominating the composition, the raw, violent figure stands poised ready for conflict, evoking notions both of mankind’s earliest ancestors, as well as countless depictions of warriors throughout history, from Medieval and Renaissance archetypes of courtly knights, through the grand staged portraits of military heroes during the Enlightenment, to distinctly postmodern riffs on the genre such as Andy Warhol’s rendering of Elvis as gun-slinging cowboy. This violent figure is also crudely defined with a stark frontality and prostrated fixity that is connotative of the loaded image of Christ on the cross – a visual reference reinforced by the suggestion of jagged barbs punctuating the halo that surrounds the figure’s crowned head. At once entirely exposed and also primed for conflict, the central figure becomes a physical embodiment of Basquiat’s formative concerns of race, identity, and mortality. The combination of crown and heroic posture proclaim a new found freedom and liberation from the social, economic, and political constraints traditionally identified with the young black male, positioning himself as a sort of Christ figure in the horizontally protruding arms and dangling feet.
Shamanistic, the figure resonates with an aggression that is part violent and part spiritual. Unequivocally inspired by the Cubism of his great hero Picasso, the figure also looks back to the older artist’s sources in primitive African art, in itself a validation of Basquiat’s own cultural heritage. In particular, Basquiat’s figure, with the haptic emphasis on the ribcage and pelvis, bears striking similarities to African tribal figures. Fused with the graffiti style which first brought him the attention of the New York art establishment, Basquiat’s wholly inimitable symbolism is enmeshed in a complex matrix of signifiers steeped in indigenous and ancient artistic traditions of African tribal art and channeled through the influence of Picasso, Twombly, and the Abstract Expressionist masters. In Untitled, the talon-like fingers of the figure’s left hand resemble the nails hammered into the sacred nkisi nkondi figurines native to the Congo, in which each nail represents an oath, adding to the talismanic power of the icon. For Picasso, primitivism was an antidote to the conservatism of the academies: similarly Basquiat found in his own recourse to primitivism a corrective to the chaste intellectual coolness of late modernism and a powerful mode of expressing overtly contemporary angst. Self-taught and formatively nourished by childhood visits to the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, the archaeological excavation of Basquiat’s multifaceted visual lexicon reveals a voluminous integration of art history’s wider topography. Distinctly evocative of his encyclopedic absorptive relationship with visual culture, Untitled embodies a distinctive and commanding essay on the reductive referential power of Basquiat’s commanding orchestration of culturally loaded sign and symbol.
Basquiat often painted himself, and the present work shares many of the traits found in works openly designated as self-portraits, particularly the proliferation of Basquiat’s identifying three-pointed crown as well as the artist’s compulsive obsession with the inner machinations of the body. Fascinated by anatomy ever since he was hospitalized as a boy after a car accident, the depiction of the human form here evinces Basquiat’s preoccupation with the interior architecture of the human animal. Seemingly viewed both externally and in x-ray, in places the form is entirely skeletal, as in the schematic rendering of the torso where the suggestion of internal organs reads like a distorted diagram from Gray’s Anatomy, which Basquiat read avidly as a child. This interest in the human body spreads to the background, where lattices of vigorously applied oil-stick patch the environment like scars. Surrounding this singular figure is a complex web of signs, symbols and hieroglyphics, constituting the vocabulary of Basquiat’s unique pictorial language. Like his great Abstract Expressionist antecedent Cy Twombly, semiotics and the illustrative power of words and letters plays a critical role in Basquiat’s art. Though seemingly frenzied and chaotic, the background of Untitled is highly structured by the presence of immediately identifiable words and symbols. In the tradition of Andy Warhol’s silkscreened images of death and disaster, the highlighted, boxed, and circled word “TAR” to the left of the figure in Untitled can be read as Basquiat’s attempt to simultaneously refer to and supersede the suffering implied in the social connotations of slavery, archetypal of the artist’s career-long meditations on the deeply ingrained histories of race and migration.