Experts at London’s Sotheby’s auction house revealed they have discovered an invisible ink signature made by US graffiti icon Jean-Michel Basquiat on his painting Orange Sports Figure. The work will go under the hammer in London on Wednesday and had been expected to sell for between 3 and 4 million pounds. But it could now fetch more after the chance discovery, which showed up when it was viewed under ultraviolet light.
“Despite the scholarship that has built up around Basquiat’s life and art since his tragic early death … we are still learning new facets of how he worked,” said Cheyenne Westphal, chairman of Contemporary Art Sotheby’s Europe. “Nobody else probably ever knew about this invisible inscription, and the prospect that he might have left other invisible writings on his canvases that are only visible under ultraviolet light is very exciting,” Westphal added.
Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York City, in 1960 and began as a graffiti artist in the late 1970s before evolving into a neo-expressionist during the next decade. During a varied career, the artist collaborated with Pop Art godfather Andy Warhol, played in a band with US film actor and director Vincent Gallo, appeared in a video for New Wave band Blondie, and even briefly dated future pop queen Madonna.
He died in 1988 of a heroin overdose. Orange Sports Figure was created in 1982, a year recognised by experts as a breakthrough for the artist, and depicts a figure emblazoned with Basquiat’s most iconic motif; the crown. According to Sotheby’s, the work combines an “astounding pluralistic command of art historical vernacular that synthesises graffiti, primitivism and abstract expressionism”.
Jean-Michel Basquiat (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988) was an American artist. He began as a graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970s and evolved into a Neo-expressionist painter during the 1980s.
Early life: Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York, the first of three children to Matilde Andrades (July 28, 1934 – November 17, 2008) and Gerard Basquiat (born 1930). He had two younger sisters: Lisane, born in 1964, and Jeanine, born in 1967.
His father, Gerard Basquiat, was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and his mother, Matilde Basquiat, was of Puerto Rican descent, born in Brooklyn, New York. Basquiat was a precocious child who learned how to read and write by age four and was a gifted artist. His teachers noticed his artistic abilities, and his mother encouraged her son’s artistic talent. By the age of eleven, Basquiat could fluently speak, read, and write French, Spanish, and English.
In September 1968, Basquiat was hit by a car while playing in the street. His arm was broken and he suffered several internal injuries, and eventually underwent a splenectomy. His parents separated that year and he and his sisters were raised by their father. The family resided in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, for five years, then moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1974. After two years, they returned to New York City.
At 15, Basquiat ran away from home. He slept on park benches in Washington Square Park, and was arrested and returned to the care of his father within a week.
Basquiat dropped out of Edward R. Murrow High School in the tenth grade. His father banished him from the household and Basquiat stayed with friends in Brooklyn. He supported himself by selling T-shirts and homemade post cards. He also worked at the Unique Clothing Warehouse in West Broadway, Manhattan.
Career: In 1976, Basquiat and friends Al Diaz and Shannon Dawson began spray-painting graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan, working under the pseudonym SAMO. The designs featured inscribed messages such as “Plush safe he think.. SAMO” and “SAMO as an escape clause.” On December 11, 1978, the Village Voice published an article about the graffiti. The SAMO project ended with the epitaph “SAMO IS DEAD,” inscribed on the walls of SoHo buildings in 1979.
In 1979, Basquiat appeared on the live public-access television cable TV show TV Party hosted by Glenn O’Brien, and the two started a friendship. Basquiat made regular appearances on the show over the next few years. That same year, Basquiat formed thenoise rock band Gray with Shannon Dawson, Michael Holman, Nick Taylor, Wayne Clifford and Vincent Gallo.
Gray performed at nightclubs such as Max’s Kansas City, CBGB, Hurrah, and the Mudd Club. In 1980, Basquiat starred in O’Brien’s independent filmDowntown 81, originally titled New York Beat. That same year, O’Brien introduced Basquiat to Andy Warhol, with whom he later collaborated. The film featured some of Gray’s recordings on its soundtrack. Basquiat also appeared in the Blondie music video “Rapture” as a nightclub disc jockey.
In June 1980, Basquiat participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated (Colab) and Fashion Moda. In 1981, Rene Ricard published “The Radiant Child” in Artforum magazine, which brought Basquiat to the attention of the art world.
In late 1981, he joined the Annina Nosei gallery in SoHo. By 1982, Basquiat was showing regularly alongside other Neo-expressionist artists including Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Francesco Clemente, and Enzo Cucchi. He was represented in Los Angeles by the Larry Gagosian gallery and throughout Europe by Bruno Bischofberger. He briefly dated then-aspiring performer, Madonna, in late 1982. That same year, Basquiat also worked briefly with musician and artist David Bowie.
In 1983, Basquiat produced a 12″ rap single featuring hip-hop artists, Rammellzee and K-Rob. Billed as Rammellzee vs. K-Rob, the single contained two versions of the same track: Beat Bop on side one with vocals and Beat Bop on side two as an instrumental.
The single was pressed in limited quantities on the one-off Tartown Record Company label. The single’s cover featured Basquiat’s artwork making the pressing highly desirable among both record and art collectors.
Basquiat often painted in expensive Armani suits and would even appear in public in the same paint-splattered suits.
Final years and death: By 1986, Basquiat had left the Annina Nosei gallery, and was showing in the famous Mary Boone gallery in SoHo. On February 10, 1986, he appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled “New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist”. He was a successful artist in this period, but his growing heroin addiction began to interfere with his personal relationships.
When Andy Warhol died on February 22, 1987, Basquiat became increasingly isolated, and his heroin addiction and depression grew more severe. Despite an attempt at sobriety during a trip to Maui, Hawaii, Basquiat died on August 12, 1988, of a heroin overdose at his art studio in Great Jones Street in New York City’s NoHo neighborhood. He was 27.
Artistic Styles: Continuing his activities as a graffiti artist, Basquiat often incorporated words into his paintings. Before his career as a painter began, he produced punk-inspired postcards for sale on the street, and became known for the political–poetical graffiti under the name of SAMO. On one occasion Basquiat painted his girlfriend’s dress with the words “Little Shit Brown”. He would often draw on random objects and surfaces, including other people’s property.
The conjunction of various media is an integral element of Basquiat’s art. His paintings are typically covered with text and codes of all kinds: words, letters, numerals, pictograms, logos, map symbols, diagrams and more.
A middle period from late 1982 to 1985 featured multi-panel paintings and individual canvases with exposed stretcher bars, the surface dense with writing, collage and imagery. The years 1984-85 were also the main period of the Basquiat–Warhol collaborations, even if, in general, they weren’t very well received by the critics.
A major reference source used by Basquiat throughout his career was the book Gray’s Anatomy, which his mother gave to him while in the hospital at age seven. It remained influential in his depictions of internal human anatomy, and in its mixture of image and text. Other major sources were Henry Dreyfuss Symbol Sourcebook, Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks, and Brentjes African Rock Art.
Basquiat doodled often and some of his later pieces exhibited this; they were often colored pencil on paper with a loose, spontaneous, and dirty style much like his paintings. His work across all mediums display a child-like fascination with the process of creating.
Basquiat’s Heritage In His Art: According to Andrea Frohne, Basquiat’s 1983 painting “Untitled (History of the Black People)” “reclaims Egyptians as African and subverts the concept of ancient Egypt as the cradle of Western Civilization”. At the center of the painting, Basquiat depicts an Egyptian boat being guided down the Nile River by Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead. On the right panel of the painting appear the words “Esclave, Slave, Esclave”. Two letters of the word “Nile” are crossed out and Frohne suggests that, “The letters that are wiped out and scribbled over perhaps reflect the acts of historians who have conveniently forgotten that Egyptians were black and blacks were enslaved.” On the left panel of the painting Basquiat, has illustrated two Nubian style masks. The Nubians historically were darker in skin color, and were considered to be slaves by the Egyptian people. Throughout the rest of the painting, images of the Atlantic slave trade are juxtaposed with images of theEgyptian slave trade centuries before. The sickle in the center panel is a direct reference to the slave trade in the United States, and slave labor under the plantation system. The word “salt” that appears on the right panel of the work refers to the Atlantic Slave Trade, as salt was another important commodity to be traded at that time.
Another of Basquiat’s pieces, “Irony of Negro Policeman” (1981), is intended to illustrate how African-Americans have been controlled by a predominantly Caucasian society. Basquiat sought to portray how complicit African-Americans have become with the “institutionalized forms of whiteness and corrupt white regimes of power” years after the Jim Crow era had ended. Basquiat found the concept of a “Negro policeman” utterly ironic. It would seem that this policeman should sympathize with his black friends, family and ancestors, yet instead he was there to enforce the rules designed by “white society.” The Negro policeman had “black skin but wore a white mask”. In the painting, Basquiat depicted the policeman as large in order to suggest an “excessive and totalizing power”, but made the policeman’s body fragmented and broken. The hat that frames the head of the Negro policeman resembles a cage, and represents how constrained the independent perceptions of African-American’s were at the time, and how constrained the policeman’s own perceptions were within white society. Basquiat drew upon his Haitian heritage by painting a hat that resembles the top hat associated with the Haitian trickster lwa, leader of the Gede family of lwas and guardian of death and the dead in vodou.
Legacy: The first retrospective was the “Jean-Michel Basquiat” exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art from October 1992 to February 1993. It subsequently traveled to museums in Texas, Iowa, and Alabama from 1993 to 1994. The catalog for this exhibition, edited by Richard Marshall and including several essays of differing styles, was a groundbreaking piece of scholarship into Basquiat’s work and still a major source. Another influential showing was the “Basquiat” exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum March–June 2005 (which subsequently traveled to Los Angeles and Houston from 2005 to 2006).
Until 2002, the highest money paid for an original work of Basquiat’s was US$3,302,500, set on November 12, 1998 at Christie’s. On May 14, 2002, Basquiat’s Profit I (a large piece measuring 86.5″/220 cm by 157.5″/400 cm), owned by drummer Lars Ulrich of the heavy metal band Metallica, was set for auction again at Christie’s. It sold for US$5,509,500. The proceedings of the auction are documented in the film Some Kind of Monster.
On November 12, 2008, at another auction at Christie’s, Ulrich sold a 1982 Basquiat piece, Untitled (Boxer), for US$13,522,500 to an anonymous telephone bidder. The record price for a Basquiat painting was made on May 15, 2007, when an untitled Basquiat work from 1981 sold at Sotheby’s in New York for US$14.6 million.
In 1996, seven years after his death, a biopic titled Basquiat was released, directed by Julian Schnabel, with actor Jeffrey Wright playing Basquiat. David Bowie played the part of Andy Warhol. Schnabel purchased the rights to the project after being interviewed, as a personal acquaintance of Basquiat, during its script development and realizing that he could do a better film.
In 1991, poet Kevin Young produced a book, To Repel Ghosts, a compendium of 117 poems relating to Basquiat’s life, individual paintings, and social themes found in the artist’s work. He published a “remix” of the book in 2005.
In 2005, poet M.K. Asante, Jr. published the poem “SAMO,” dedicated to Basquiat, in his book Beautiful. And Ugly Too.
A 2009 documentary film, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, directed by Tamra Davis, was first screened as part of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was shown on the PBS series Independent Lens in 2011.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s productive career spanned just one short decade, yet he is considered one of the best-known artists of his generation and one of only a small number of Hispanic-African-American artists to have achieved international recognition. Graduating from subway walls to canvas and from the streets of New York to the galleries of SoHo, the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and his work will forever remain a mystery to those who seek explanation. Popular Jean Michel Basquiat works include graffiti influenced naive, expressionist paintings, often including text and images from popular culture. Many paintings were also painted on found objects, old boards, and furniture.
It cannot be denied that during the eight years that Jean-Michel Basquiat painted, his work examines the legacy of the colonial enterprise and his relationship to that legacy. Whether recasting the work of European masters like Leonardo da Vinci in his own terms or recounting events from Haitian, Puerto Rican, African and African American history, Jean-Michel Basquiat presented a vision of a fragmented self in search of an organizing principle. Basquiat’s paintings continue to influence modern-day artists and command high prices.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Gerard Basquiat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and his mother, Matilde was born in Brooklyn of Puerto Rican parents. Because of his parents’ nationalities, Basquiat was fluent in French, Spanish, and English and often read Symbolist poetry, mythology, history and medical texts, particularly Gray’s Anatomy in those languages Early on, Basquiat displayed a proficiency in art which was encouraged by his mother. Jean-Michel’s early years were spent with his middle class Haitian father, Gerard, who was unable to fulfill his son’s need for nurturing and recognition.
Art became an outlet for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s anger and empty childhood. In 1977, Basquiat, along with friend Al Diaz begins spray painting cryptic aphorisms on subway trains and around lower Manhattan and signing them with the name SAMO© (Same Old Shit). Sample sayings by SAMO include: SAMO as a neo art form, SAMO as an end to to mind wash religion, nowhere politics and bogus philosophy, SAMO as an escape clause, SAMO as an end to playing art, SAMO as an end to bogus pseudo intellectual. My mouth, therefore an error. Plush safe.. he think, SAMO as an alternative 2 playing art with the ‘radical chic’ sect on Daddy’s $ funds. In December 1978, the Village Voice published an article about the writings. The SAMO project ended with the epitaph “SAMO IS DEAD” written on the walls of SoHo buildings.
In 1978 Jean-Michel Basquiat left home for good and quit school just one year before graduating form high school. He lived with friends and began selling hand painted postcards and T-shirts. Jean-Michel was 18 when Jean-Michel Basquiat approached Geldzahler and Andy Warhol in a SoHo restaurant. He sold Andy a postcard for one dollar but was dismissed by Geldzahler as “too young.” In June of 1980, Basquiat’s art was publicly exhibited for the first time in a show sponsored by Colab (Collaborative Projects Incorporated) along with the work of Jenny Holzer, Lee Quinones, Kenny Scharf, Kiki Smith, Robin Winters, John Ahearn, Jane Dickson, Mike Glier, Mimi Gross, and David Hammons. Basquiat continued to exhibit his work around New York City and in Europe, participating in shows along with the likes of Keith Haring, Barbara Kruger. In 1981 Jean-Michel Basquiat was invited by artist and filmmaker, Diego Cortez, to participate in the P.S. 1 show, (Institute for Art and Urban Resources), alongside more than twenty artists including Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, Kenny Sharf and Andy Warhol.
Later that year poet and artist Rene Ricard published the first major article on Basquiat entitled “The Radiant Child” in Artforum. The following year, in 1982 Basquiat was featured in the group show “Transavanguardia: Italia/America”. Jean-Michel took the art world by storm with his rampageous one-man show at Annina Nosei’s gallery. This momentum propelled him to the forefront of the Neo-Expressionist movement which was characterized by intense subjectivity of feeling and aggressively raw handling of materials. Jean-Michel, accustomed to pushing the envelope in all aspects of his life, had something special to offer the neo-expressionist admirer: “I cross out words so you will see them more – the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them.” By the age of 24 Jean-Michel would be a veteran of one-man shows. Bruno Bischofberger introduced Jean-Michel’s art overseas as well as orchestrated the joint collaboration of Warhol and Basquiat in 1985 which involved some 60 works.
In 1985,Jean-Michel Basquiat was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine as the epitome of the hot, young artist in a booming market. In March of the same year , Basquiat had his second one-artist show at the Mary Boone Gallery. In the exhibition catalogue, Robert Farris Thompson spoke of Basquiat’s work in terms of an Afro-Atlantic tradition, a context in which this art had never been discussed. During 1986, Basquiat travelled to Africa for the first time and his work was shown in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. In November, a large exhibition of more than sixty paintings and drawings opened at the Kestner-Gesellschaft in Hannover. Just twenty-five,Jean-Michel Basquiat was the youngest artist ever given an exhibition there. In 1988, Basquiat had shows in both Paris and New York; the New York show was praised by some critics, an encouraging development. As early as 1984, many of Basquiat’s friends had become quite concerned about his excessive drug use, often finding him unkempt and in a state of paranoia. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paranoia was also fueled by the very real threat of people stealing work from his apartment and of art dealers taking unfinished work from his studio. Basquiat attempted to kick his heroin addiction by leaving the temptations of New York for his ranch in Hawaii. Jean-Michel Basquiat returned to New York in June claiming to be drug-free. On August 12 , Basquiat died as the result of a heroin overdose.