Jean-Michel Basquiat DJing at Area, New York, 1985. Photo Â© Ben Buchanan/Bridgeman Images
â€œThis big smile came over his face, the greatest smile, because he remembered, and it validated that I knew him from before everything, from when we were 15 years old.â€? Matt Dike
Matt Dike and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Los Angeles, circa 1986. Photo by Salomon Emquies.
Got the Time
Matt Dike & Jean-Michel Basquiat By Peter Relic
Los Angeles, April, 1982: A top-down burgundy 900 Saab Turbo rolls up to the curb at LAX, Johnny Taylor’s “Eargasm” playing from the Blaupunkt stereo. The driver is Matt Dike, Larry Gagosian’s 20-year-old gallery assistant, there to pick up a New York artist in town for a solo gallery show. As Jean-Michel Basquiat slides into sedan’s back seat, Matt Dike thinks, ‘I know this guy!’ For the moment, he doesn’t mention that they’ve already met. To Repel Ghosts: Works by Jean-Michel Basquiat from the Collection of Matt Dike provides an extraordinary glimpse into Basquiat’s time in L.A. and his working friendship with record producer Matt Dike. The uncanny double door Self Portrait was painted by Basquiat while Dike was his assistant, and displayed for many years inside Dike’s apartment at 6122 1/2 Santa Monica Blvd. in East Hollywood. That secondstory railroad fat was also, crucially, where Dike and his musical partner Michael Ross started their legendary record label Delicious Vinyl and produced massive crossover hip-hop hits including “Wild Thing” and “Bust a Move”.
Peter Relic is a writer based in Savannah, Georgia. He is co-author, with Dan LeRoy, of For Whom The Cowbell Tolls: 25 Years of Paul’s Boutique (6623 Press, 2014).
Matt Dike and Jean-Michel Basquiat hanging artwork in Basquiat’s studio in Larry Gagosian’s home, Venice, California, 1982–1983. Photograph courtesy of Brian David Williams aka B. DUB. Artwork © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
It was while researching the history of Delicious Vinyl that I was able to interview Matt Dike in his Echo Park home. Throughout a handful of visits between 2009–2012, Dike recounted his friendship with JeanMichel with enthusiasm and love. “I worked for him for four years,” Matt Dike told me. “He was a great guy. I don’t know if the word is bohemian... he was wild. He used to buy stuf at Maxfeld’s, like an Armani suit, then go into the studio and get yellow paint all over his hands and just wipe them down the suit, a twenty-fve hundred dollar brand new suit. Like what?!” During those frst couple months together, Dike remembers, he and Jean-Michel got in a groove. “He liked the wooden frames I was making for him, and even if we weren’t working, he’d call me up: ‘What are we doing tonight?’ I was his guy.” Between painting sessions at the mid-L.A. lof of Matt’s older brother Lane and various studios Gagosian rented for Basquiat, Dike was present at the creation of a number of signifcant Basquiat artworks. “I remember Jean painting and thinking, this is the ugliest hospital green I’ve ever seen. I’m going, this is a bad choice of color. Then, I can’t believe how dope this looks! Jean is amazing with color!” It was during this time when fellow artists Rammellzee and Toxic few into L.A. at the behest of Jean-Michel to coincide with his second Gagosian solo show. Dike squired the crew around town: “I took Ramm, Jean, and Toxic to Tower Records on Sunset. I remember them buying double copies of everything. I was wondering, Why are you buying two copies of that record? That’s when I learned about using double copies to keep the break going.” That night, Rammellzee and Toxic performed at the Rhythm Lounge nightclub. Filmed on Super-8 by promoter Salomon Emquies, Basquiat bops his head to the beat as Ramm raps: “Rammellzee is in the place/ Jean-Michel rockin’ that gangster bass!” One afernoon that summer, Dike and Basquiat were hanging out alone. As Dike recalled: “I said to him, ‘Hey, I know you.’ I wanted to see what he’d say. And he said, ‘What do you mean?’”
Matt Dike, wearing a suit given to him by Jean-Michel Basquiat, and his father attend Vikyana Dike’s wedding. Photo courtesy of Vikyana Dike.
“He was a great guy. I don’t know if the word is bohemian. . .he was wild. He used to buy stuf at Maxfeld’s, like an Armani suit, then go into the studio and get yellow paint all over his hands and just wipe them down the suit, a twenty-fve hundred dollar brand new suit. Like what?!” Matt Dike
In the fall of 1978, an incoming freshman named Philip Volkof matriculated at New York University. Volkof, a childhood pal of Matt, moved into Weinstein Dormitory at 5-11 University Place, where he became friends with painting student Christopher Panzner. Panzner knew Basquiat, then still tagging obstreperous slogans around downtown under the joint pseudonym SAMO with his friend Al Diaz. Panzner: “Jean would come to my dorm—security always rang up—and we would go to Alphabet City which, at that time, looked like it had been carpet-bombed.” Panzner invited Basquiat to parties in the Weinstein basement where Dike, still a junior at Tuxedo Park High School, had his frst stints as a DJ. Dike’s initial glimpse of Basquiat remained vivid: “Jean had a mohawk with an arrow cut into it. He was wearing a bedsheet with a hole cut out of it like a poncho and it was covered in all this grafti, with Gumby stapled to it.” It was the memory of those Weinstein nights that, fve years later, hanging out in L.A., Dike recounted to Jean-Michel.
“I told him, ‘I know you. I know you from Weinstein dorm. From before your fame and everything. I used to DJ those parties at Weinstein. You kept telling me to play ‘Got the Time’ by Joe Jackson.’ And when I said that detail, he knew it was true. I’d played ‘Got the Time’ twice, Jean was doing this pogo dance, and he was shaking me, ‘Play it again! GOT THE TIME! GOT THE TIME!’ This big smile came over his face, the greatest smile, because he remembered, and it validated that I knew him from before everything, from when we were 15 years old.”
Clockwise from top: Delicious Vinyl founders Mike Ross and Matt Dike in the late 1980s. Matt Dike, photographed by record producer Mario Caldato Jr. in the late 1980s. Pam Turbov, Mr. T, and Matt Dike. Photo courtesy of Vikyana Dike. Matt Dike at his night club, Power Tools, in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Michael DeMatteis.
“. . .the music Matt Dike made still brings wonder to millions of people around the world—not unlike the iconic work of his old friend Jean-Michel. The art lives on.” Peter Relic
The validation of that pre-fame connection resurfaced the last time Dike saw Jean-Michel. It was the summer of 1988, and Dike was in his home studio on Melrose, about to begin working with Beastie Boys on their opus Paul’s Boutique, when Jean-Michel showed up at the door.
“At that moment, he got very emotional. Jean was not a touchy-feely guy, not the type to put his arm around you. But he hugged me and wouldn’t let me go. He was crying. He said, ‘You’re like the only friend I’ve got right now.’ I’m not a really touchy-feely guy either, but it was really moving.”
“He’d been in Hawaii and was on his way back to New York, and he stopped in L.A. He asked me, ‘Can I stay here?’ And I was about to say, ‘Jean, what’re you talking about? You can stay at the Mondrian!’ But instead I said ‘Sure!’ I had two or three other guys crashing there already. No one knew who Jean was. No one knew he was famous. Nowadays he’s the iconic Jean-Michel. Trust me, it wasn’t like that hanging out. Nobody treated him like anything. He must’ve needed that at the time. He was in career limbo. Andy Warhol had just died. He kept bringing that up, that they’d killed Andy, that it was a conspiracy…Jean was contemplating his mortality.
Jean-Michel Basquiat died in New York City on August 12, 1988. Back in Los Angeles, Delicious Vinyl was on the brink of unimaginable success. Within six months, Tone-Loc’s singles “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina” and Young MC’s “Bust A Move” would all hit the top ten of the Billboard pop charts. Even as his record label went supernova, Matt Dike’s own issues were drawing him towards a seclusion lasting the fnal two decades of his life. Yet the music Matt Dike made still brings wonder to millions of people around the world—not unlike the iconic work of his old friend Jean-Michel. The art lives on.
Matt Dike with a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1984. Photo © Brad Branson Photography Estate, Artwork © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
20th Century & Contemporary Art New York, Evening Sale Thursday, May 16 at 5pm Lot 29. Self Portrait, 1983 Lot 37. Untitled (Piss Piss Piss Piss), 1982â€“1983
29. Jean-Michel Basquiat Self Portrait oil, acrylic, oilstick, graphite and pen on paper collage on wood with metal attachments, in 2 parts. lef panel 795/8 x 293/ 4 x 51/2 in. (202.2 x 75.6 x 14 cm.), right panel 96 3/4 x 34 x 2 in. (245.7 x 86.4 x 5.1 cm.). Executed in 1983, this work is accompanied by a certifcate of authenticity from the Authentication Committee of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Estimate $9,000,000-12,000,000 Provenance Matt Dike (acquired directly from the artist) Thence by descent to the present owner Literature Tamra Davis, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child”, July 21, 2010, 1:30:23, 1:30:36, video (illustrated in progress) Jessica Rew et. al., “Delicious Vinyl x Tamra Davis”, July 27, 2017, 0:45, 1:08, 1:25, 1:36, 1:51, video (1988 footage illustrated with Matt Dike & Mike Ross)
To Repel Ghosts
Fred Hofman, PhD, worked closely with Jean-Michel Basquiat during the artist’s residency in Venice, California in the early 1980s. He has written extensively on Basquiat’s practice, most recently authoring The Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, published in 2017.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Self Portrait, 1983 By Fred Hofman, PhD
As one of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s most compelling depictions of himself, Self Portrait, 1983 presents a metaphysical subject on two related panels. The full-length representation of the artist is juxtaposed with an adjacent panel portraying both his personal incantation, “To Repel Ghosts”, and his characterization of the passage from the material to the eternal. Self Portrait is unique, having been executed on two found doors, one which also includes an attached plywood panel. This singular painting was executed in Venice, California sometime in 1983 at New City Editions, the print studio where Basquiat produced his now acclaimed silkscreen works, Tuxedo, 1983, Untitled, 1983 and Back of the Neck, 1983. The creation of this painting is recorded in flmmaker Tamra Davis’ acclaimed documentary, The Radiant Child, possibly the only extant flm documentation of Basquiat working on a painting. As conveyed to the author by Tamra Davis, afer having completed the work, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Tamra Davis moved the work to the studio of Matt Dike in West Hollywood. The work is also documented in Tamra Davis’ 1988 promotional video for Matt Dike’s record label Delicious Vinyl, in which Matt Dike and his business partner Mike Ross are flmed sitting on a couch with Self Portrait in the background. Matt Dike frst met Jean-Michel Basquiat at a party at New York University in the late 1970s. In 1982 Matt Dike was the 21-year-old gallery assistant at
Gagosian Gallery in West Hollywood. His interest in both art and music led to his friendship with Tamra Davis, then the young gallery assistant at Ulrike Kantor Gallery also in West Hollywood. When Larry Gagosian invited Jean-Michel Basquiat to live and work in his new Venice residence, Larry suggested to Matt and Tamra that they get together with Jean-Michel, knowing that the young artist would enjoy hanging out with two people of his own generation. Both of them quickly bonded with Basquiat, spending time with him in his new studio, equally exploring and having fun around Los Angeles. Dike soon became Basquiat’s go-to assistant in his studio. As documented in recently discovered photos taken by Brian Williams in early 1983, Dike worked closely with Basquiat as he prepared for his April exhibition at Gagosian Gallery. Later that year, when Basquiat moved into his own studio, also on Market Street in Venice, Dike was part of the crew who assisted the artist with the production of his silkscreen-based paintings. This is documented in the wonderful photo taken in the Venice studio of Dike standing alongside one of the 1984 silkscreen paintings in progress. While Dike played an important role in Basquiat’s Venice studio production, the young painter equally found his way into Dike’s music world, regularly hanging out and spinning records with the soon to become hip hop record producer at the club Power Tools located in Central Los Angeles.
Jean-Michel Basquiat working on Self Portrait in Tamra Davis: A Conversation With Basquiat. Courtesy of Tamra Davis. Artwork © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
On Basquiat’s Self Portraiture
Robert Rauschenberg, Bed, 1955. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/ Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2019 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Self Portrait is one of the most compelling portraits Basquiat rendered. In its scale, it is rivaled by only one work, Basquiat’s heroic depiction of himself as a full-length black man, his lef hand holding at arrow in a gesture of pride and dignity set against a background of abstract passages of paint, intermixed with marginal references to the urban milieu. First exhibited in the artist’s debut one-person exhibition in New York, the work announced Basquiat as a new and authoritative voice in the contemporary art world. Painted approximately one year later, Self Portrait is signifcantly diferent. It is the frst, and retrospectively, the most important self-portrait presented as a multi-part structure. Here the artist’s self-image is countered by a compendium panel conveying insight into not only how the artist viewed himself, but also his larger “world view”. While Basquiat would explore a formal structure of dichotomy in other self-portraits, such as the 1985 two-part painting in which the head-torso image of the artist is juxtaposed with a second panel comprised of six vertical rows of bottle caps adhered to a wooden panel, Self Portrait is still the largest and most complex multi-faceted self-portrait in the artist’s oeuvre.
Basquiat’s rendering of his head in Self Portrait is consistent with many of the artist’s other self-portraits, such as Untitled (1960), 1983, a work that the artist retained for his personal collection and which is documented in Tseng Kwong Chi’s memorable 1987 photograph of Basquiat crouched on a box in front of a grouping of paintings including a portrait of the artist by Andy Warhol. Another example is the rendering of the head in the 1985 painting/construction Untitled. What most of Basquiat’s self-portraits share is the generalized manner in which the artist has captured his own key facial features such as the eyes and mouth. In the Venice self-portrait, the rendering of his eyes is especially haunting. Painted in a cool grey-white, Basquiat’s eyes block interior penetration, almost functioning as the exterior-directed glow of a machine whose rays pulsate out into the realm of the viewer. The somewhat harsh, clearly confrontational efect of these eyes, which is only enhanced by similar treatment of the mouth, is made even more haunting as they are now part of a full-length fgure depicted on an object conveying the reality of our daily-lived experience. Separating itself from almost all other self-portraits is Basquiat’s treatment of the fgure’s chest as well as the lower portion of his fgure. He has outlined portions of the ribs as well as a small segment of the spinal column in the same grey-white pigment. Basquiat has essentially X-rayed himself, revealing his internal channel of energy. While the chest cavity is more or less an accurate representation of this portion of the human anatomy, the suggestion of skin and muscle encasing both arms is not apparent; these limbs having
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Self-Portrait, 1983. Private Collection, Photo Credit Banque d’Images, ADAGP/Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
been reduced down to the bone. Setting this fgure even further apart from his other self-portraits is the artist’s treatment of his lower limbs and pelvic region. Again, portraying what is beneath both skin and muscle, Basquiat has depicted his right hip/pelvic bone in profle, as well as his extended, fully exposed femur bone. This treatment of the fgure’s lower extremities reminds us of the artist’s continued fascination with both Gray’s Anatomy and the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. Equally relevant is what Basquiat has not included: both his fbula and tibia bones and any suggestion of the foot. Further distinguishing this fgure, the artist has lef a virtual void in the place where we would expect to fnd the lower lef portions of his anatomy. In place of the lower lef region Basquiat has painted a red linear-shaped form, presumably his means of depicting the passage of vitally circulating blood from his heart to the region of his lower limbs. Basquiat’s inclusion of a bloodline leaves no mistake that the fgure depicted is a fully functioning human being.
Matt Dike with the present work, 1988. Courtesy of Tamra Davis.
“To Repel Ghosts”
What makes Self Portrait most unique in Basquiat’s oeuvre is the artist’s juxtaposition of an image of himself with the second panel full of symbolic imagery conveying both a personal narrative and larger world-view. In the lower portion of the second door, Basquiat collaged two original graphite and ink drawings. The drawing to the lef presents an array of text references to our lives and our world, including sodium water copper, pine tree, silver, mexico, information, billion quality and moose. The second accompanying drawing is unique in Basquiat’s oeuvre: a dense, seemingly non-directional map, a frenetic linear cacophony of lines suggesting movement through a maze executed in the unusual medium of a rolling ballpoint pen. Together these two works on paper collaged onto the picture support literally “ground” the work, capturing aspects of how we navigate, what we uncover and what we experience. Immediately above these two images, Basquiat has layered abstract passages of bright, colorful paint. We know that this portion of the work is in fact the result of multiple paint applications from the evidence provided in the flm The Radiant Child, in which Davis captures Basquiat laying down an initial layer of both text and imagery in this section of the composition. As the flm footage shows, he began this part of his work with the letters nit below which he seems to have repeated the same letters and then partially painted them out. To the immediate right he possibly wrote the word (or name) dogen, having made this reference unclear by the painting over of the d. More revealing, directly below, Basquiat began to depict a human head with the outline of two large, almond shaped eyes. In the fnal painting, what remains from these initial pictorial actions are two haunting eyes peering through a rich passage of colorful green, red, orange and brown layers of paint. These pentimenti deliver Basquiat’s intended result of portraying the haunting presence of a personage coming forth from a distant place, another world. They
remind us of other examples of Basquiat integration of imagery from the underpainting into a “fnal” image. Interestingly, in another example of this pictorial strategy, Masonic Lodge, painted around the same time as Self Portrait, a number of ghost-like human heads emerge out of the background and into the viewer’s realm. But Basquiat does not stop with these subtle and mysterious references to another reality. Partially covered over by his rich pictorial paint application, yet equally legible, the artist has painted the words to repel ghosts ©”. This is Basquiat’s earliest reference to this phrase, which he would later repeat in a select few other works, and which has become synonymous with Basquiat’s declaration of his own identity. Positioned halfway between his drawings of a map, a mixed assortment of material references, and the top portion of the work, an additional wooden panel with the images of spaceships, a ladder and forms suggestive of natural vegetation (possibly tree branches), Basquiat’s incantation functions as a declaration of a rite of passage. The ever insightful and masterful Basquiat enhances this conclusion with the subtle addition of a thin red vertical line starting below one of the two collaged drawings, passing both through and across the central passages of paint and running up to, and virtually touching his assorted symbolic references to transcendence.
The Artist’s Ascendance
The imagery depicted on this attached upper wood panel is Basquiat’s means of declaring ascent, not merely something physical (the spaceships), but something psycho-spiritual—a transcendence, a liberation from the confnes of one’s worldly experience. This was a central theme for the artist, something that he explored throughout his short career as a painter. In this light the artist’s usage of two doors as his picture support must be viewed as much more than the act of bringing the outside world into the studio. While Basquiat’s act may be considered a new contribution to a postwar artistic practice (in the lineage with Rauschenberg’s Bed), it is much more. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s presentation of his monumental self portrait on two found doors reveals a highly considered and insightful understanding that the doors themselves signify the portal between these two realms of experience. Jean-Michel Basquiat integrated the subject of transcendence into many of his most important artistic contributions. It underlies works as diverse as Untitled, 1981, Broad Collection, Notary, 1983, Schorr Collection, Tuxedo, 1983, and Pegassus, 1987. In each of these works Basquiat alludes to the transformative experience—a rite of passage from the transitory nature of phenomenal experience to the realization of a more fundamental state of being.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Back of the Neck, 1983. Private Collection, Photo © Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images, Artwork © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Tseng Kwong Chi photograph of Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York, 1987. Photograph by Tseng Kwong Chi. © Muna Tseng Dance Projects, Inc. New York. Artwork © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Throughout Basquiat’s short career, he continually sought out new means of capturing this dichotomy, the duality of flesh and spirit, the play between god and law. In Self Portrait Basquiat captures this same expression in diferent ways. For one, he juxtaposes a full-length portrait of himself with a second panel that essentially serves as a “roadmap” from earth to heaven. Equally notable, and in many ways separating itself from Basquiat’s other depictions of the dichotomy of flesh and spirit, the right half of Self Portrait declares that this rite of passage “moves” from our comings and goings in the material world into an encounter with our demons, our ghosts—those forces that continually weigh on us and limit recognition of a truer sense of self. This right panel of Self Portrait was for Basquiat a Rosetta Stone, his means of capturing the stages of life, the path toward liberation. Not unlike Dante’s Divine Comedy, a text which Basquiat must have considered (as it clearly underlies portions of Untitled, 1984-1987, a work also depicted in the background of the previously referred to Tseng Kwong Chi photo of Basquiat in his studio), the artist’s declaration to repel ghosts was his means of expressing a decent into hell. Like Dante, Self Portrait portrays a journey. That this is Basquiat’s journey is made explicit by his depiction of himself on one panel of the painting. The journey begins as a twisting passage through the muck of the here and now. Not only has the artist alluded to this in the two collaged drawings, but the fact that the picture support for this work is an object from our daily lived experience, gives additional credence to Basquiat’s subject. As the right panel continues to suggest, we are lead from the world of our observations to an encounter with our fears—those aspects of one’s life that are haunting and threatening. Only then, as Basquiat portrays, are we capable to repel ghosts. Basquiat characterizes this passage as an ascent, a rite of passage from adversity to the recognition of a truer sense of self. Supporting this conclusion, in a later, 1985 painting Basquiat returns to this iconography, depicting a head/torso image in profle with the text autoportrait © beneath, above which he has written inside a diamond-shaped form the word heaven ©.
© Fred Hofman/2019
“I remember Jean painting and thinking, this is the ugliest hospital green I’ve ever seen. I’m going, this is a bad choice of color. Then, I can’t believe how dope this looks! Jean is amazing with color!” Matt Dike
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s life was short, and his career as an artist only ten years. It is hard to understand how this young man could create the number of important contributions to 20th century art that he did. Even more impressive is Basquiat’s awareness and sophisticated interpretation of his world. He must have been aware of his unique gif long before he began his practice as an artist. By the time of his frst one-person exhibition, the depth of his insight was apparent. His themes had profound meaning, were rendered with a mature artist’s recognition of traditions and techniques that had gone before him; Basquiat leapt forth with a totally new voice. Like the spiritual masters, Basquiat seemed to possess an understanding of fundamental truths.
The Self Portraits
1. Self-Portrait, 1983. © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2. Texas, 1983. © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 3. Untitled, circa 1984. © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 4. Untitled (1960), 1983. © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 5. Heaven, 1985. © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 6. Self-Portrait, 1983. © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 7. Untitled, circa 1984. © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 8. Untitled, 1985. © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 4.
9. Self-Portrait, 1985. © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
37. Jean-Michel Basquiat 1960-1988 Untitled (Piss Piss Piss Piss) acrylic and oilstick on plywood. 37 1/4 x 14 7/8 in. (94.6 x 37.8 cm.). Executed in 1982â€“1983. Estimate $600,000-800,000 Provenance Matt Dike (acquired directly from the artist) Thence by descent to the present owner
Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1982. Artwork © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting Untitled (Piss Piss Piss Piss), 1982-1983, projects the expressive rawness for which his work is renowned. Executed on plywood in acrylic and oilstick, the looping streaks of yellow and a dashed, arcing line in black imbue the work with a sense of movement and action, mirrored in the repetition of the word “PISS” in the composition’s lower half. The black shape at its top reads alternately as a head or mask, an important leitmotif for the artist. From the collection of Matt Dike, this provocative painting has never before been publicly exhibited. Untitled (Piss Piss Piss Piss) contains the key themes of Basquiat’s oeuvre: grafti, the body, and identity. Moreover, it illuminates our understanding of the early stages of his artistic relationship with Andy Warhol, who would come to play an important role in his career. With its graphic insistency and explicit subject, this is a painting with the confrontational immediacy of grafti. Grafti provided a key artistic means for Basquiat, who frst gained the attention of the art world in the late 1970s for the conceptually and
politically charged works that he spray-painted around downtown Manhattan in collaboration with his friend Al Diaz under the tag SAMO©. Moving to painted, drawn, and multimedia work by late 1980, Basquiat retained and expanded his striking use of writing and his improvisational approach. As Klaus Kertess stated, Basquiat was motivated by “a pure voracity for words, a reveling in the vernacular, and a desire to reinvent and claim language” (Klaus Kertess, “Brushes with Beatitude”, in Jean-Michel Basquiat, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1992, p. 53). Ofen repeating words in columns, crossing them out, and painting over them, he retained their verbal and allusive content while employing them as key compositional elements. Basquiat combined street vernacular with a style inspired in part by the balance of crudity and sophistication pioneered by Cy Twombly. Twombly’s 1979 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art had a great impact on him, with the artist revealing in a 1983 interview that his favorite work by Twombly was Apollo and The Artist, 1975. As Richard D. Marshall
has noted, “from Twombly, Basquiat took license and instruction about how to draw, scribble, write, collage, and paint simultaneously” (Richard D. Marshall, JeanMichel Basquiat, Paris, 2000, p. 40). The present painting echoes Twombly’s style in its incorporation of language and gesture, strategies that Basquiat made his own and combined with expressive fguration. The themes of Untitled (Piss Piss Piss Piss) also recall those of Andy Warhol’s Oxidation Paintings – known casually as the Piss Paintings – and highlight Basquiat’s history with the Pop artist. Warhol created most of these works in 1977 and 1978, painting canvases with copper pigment, laying them on the foor, and inviting his Factory members to urinate on them. This process transformed their surfaces to areas of black or green
Kore mask of a hyena, Bamanana Peoples, Mali. Musee du Quai Branly/Paris/France, Photo: Jean Gilles Berizzi © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY
through a chemical reaction, in a transgressive parody of Abstract Expressionism. The Oxidation Paintings are abstract, with a prominent exception that is key to understanding the present work. When Basquiat visited Warhol’s studio in October of 1982 with Swiss dealer Bruno Bischoferger, Warhol took Polaroids of the younger artist, silk-screening them onto 40-by-40-inch canvases that had been covered with cooper paint, then creating three Oxidation Paintings featuring Basquiat’s image. Produced before the later collaborations by the two artists in the mid-1980s, these portraits are unique in Warhol’s oeuvre. As Neil Printz speculates, “Precisely why Warhol chose to revive a technique from four years before as a background for Basquiat’s portraits is not clear— possibly Basquiat suggested it, or perhaps Warhol was drawn to the idea by the way the surface wed associations with the precious and abject” (Neil Printz, The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings, 1976-1978, vol. 5B, London, 2018, p. 132). Therefore, it is interesting to consider the present work as a painterly response to, or perhaps even an inspiration for, Warhol’s extraordinary portraits of Basquiat. With its black color and oblong slits in the place of eyes, the head on the painting’s top suggests a mask, evoking themes of both anonymity and assumed character. In addition, Basquiat’s heads and masks played of the abstract forms of African art and their interpretations by modernist painters. For this young African American painter, this motif constituted both an expressive subject and an assertion of his identity. As Marc Meyer has noted about Basquiat, “many of his works maintain a sub-textual argument with his predecessors, full of corrections, challenges, homages and some spectacular showing of” (Marc Meyer, “Basquiat in History” in Basquiat, exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum, New York, 2005, p. 44). These themes, in conjunction with this unique painting’s confrontational subject and tone, convey the complexity of Basquiat’s work and his negotiation of his artistic self through it.
“If you read the canvases out loud to yourself, the repetition, the rhythm, you can hear Jean-Michel thinking.” Fab 5 Freddy
20th Century & Contemporary Art New York, Day Sale Morning Session Wednesday, May 15 at 11am Lot 151. Untitled (Red/Black Figure), 1982 Lot 152. Untitled (Standing Male Figure), 1982–1983 Lot 153. Untitled (Figure with Blue Head), 1983 Lot 154. Untitled (Insect Order), 1982–1983
Works on Paper in the Oeuvre of Jean-Michel Basquiat By Fred Hofman, PhD
Jean-Michel Basquiat distinguished himself from his contemporaries by the number of works on paper he executed, as well as by the level of artistic achievement he realized in the medium. In nine years of art production, Basquiat created an astounding number of works on paper, including many masterworks rivaling his paintings.
There is no precise documentation of the number of works on paper Basquiat executed between 1980 and 1988. It is my estimation that Basquiat produced approximately 1000 works on paper. Of the known works on paper, close to half were produced in just two years, 1982 and 1983. The four works on paper from the collection of Matt Dike date to these years.
For most contemporary painters, the process of drawing is a means of working out pictorial solutions to be integrated into a painting. With the exception of Picasso, Basquiat was one of the few acclaimed painters of the 20th century that invested the same time and energy to works on paper that they did in their painting.
With the exception of The Daros Suite of 32 drawings Basquiat produced in 1982–1983, none of the works on paper produced by Basquiat were titled by the artist, and only a very few were signed. While an evaluation of the artist’s works on paper reveals a tremendous range of subject matter and techniques utilized in their production, what is especially striking is the intensity of focus conveyed in many of these works. When Basquiat was working on a sheet of paper, he was either on the foor, seated at a table, or reclining on a bed or couch. The paper upon which he was working would have been beneath his head and his focus down, away from the environment around him so that he could be completely immersed in the work.
Basquiat did not make “studies” to work out ideas or themes to apply to a more complete work of art. Basquiat discovered that drawing was a process of “channeling” in which he essentially functioned as a medium, without editing, prioritizing, or judgment. Basquiat’s natural tendency was to treat each drawing as a discrete work of art that could stand on its own. In many ways, Basquiat felt most at ease when working on paper. He could work on paper virtually anywhere, at any time, without needing studio space. One of my most indelible impressions of Basquiat is that he always seemed to be at work. Whether in a restaurant, car, or hotel room, he ofen had an oil paint stick or pencil in his hand, and a sheet of paper. Basquiat was regularly on the move. As a traveling young artist, it was common practice for Basquiat to undertake works on paper—a fexible, portable medium—enabling him to create while fulflling his need to explore. Holed up in a hotel room, Basquiat spent a good deal of time with his drawing materials. © Fred Hofman/2019
For Basquiat, drawing began with conscious as well as unconscious observation and processing of source material. He approached this with eyes and mind wide open, constantly absorbing, rarely judging. His sources were an amalgamation of his own personal experiences combined with his continually inquisitive engagement with a plethora of subjects: world history, mythology, scientifc data, sports, music personalities and history, anthropology, human anatomy and physiology, and non-Western cultures. Basquiat also used the drawing medium to express his awareness of more elusive, less tangible aspects of our human experience.
Fab 5 Freddy and Jean-Michel Basquiat at Anita Sarkoâ€™s Voodoo Party at the Palladium, June 13, 1986. Photo by Patrick McMullan/Getty Images
“The way he would hold a pencil. . . He wouldn’t hold it in a formal way. He would stick it through the fourth fnger. . .so that when he drew, the pencil would just kind of slip out of his hand. He’d let it go that way, then grab it and bring it down, then let it drift. It was amazing, this whole dance he did with the pencil.” Fab 5 Freddy
151. Jean-Michel Basquiat 1960-1988 Untitled (Red/Black Figure) oilstick on Arches paper. 22 x 19 1/2 in. (55.9 x 49.5 cm.). Executed in 1982. Estimate $400,000-600,000 Provenance Matt Dike (acquired directly from the artist) Thence by descent to the present owner
152. Jean-Michel Basquiat 1960-1988 Untitled (Standing Male Figure) felt-tip pen, crayon and colored pencil on paper. 17 7/8 x 12 in. (45.4 x 30.5 cm.). Executed circa 1982-1983. Estimate $700,000-1,000,000 Provenance Matt Dike (acquired directly from the artist) Thence by descent to the present owner
Executed at the apex of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s prodigious career, Untitled (Standing Male Figure) seethes with the emotional expressivity and palpable energy that distinguishes it as an exceptional masterwork on paper. Created in the seminal years of 1982 and 1983, Untitled (Standing Male Figure) puts forth a raw and existential portrait of a full-length fgure who confronts the viewer with a gaze that is equally tortured and prophetic. Drawn with confdent felt-tip pen, crayon and pencil lines, the work speaks to the assured hand of a fully mature artist who at merely 20 years of age had burst onto the New York art scene, following his inclusion in the watershed Times Square Show in June 1980 and the New York/New Wave exhibition at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City in February 1981. Held in the collection of Matt Dike for over three decades, Untitled (Standing Male Figure) reminds us of Basquiat’s enduring legacy that is currently being celebrated at The Brant Foundation in New York. It was above all Basquiat’s re-introduction of the human fgure into contemporary art that garnered him widespread acclaim. “Basquiat’s canon,” as Kellie Jones has indeed noted, “revolves around single heroic fgures: athletes, prophets, warriors, cops, musicians, kings and the artist himself” (Kellie Jones, “Lost in
Translation: Jean-Michel in the (Re)Mix”, in Basquiat, exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum, New York, 2005, p. 43). Untitled (Standing Male Figure) presents us with such a single heroic fgure, here rendered with dreadlocks that suggest it may in fact be a self-portrait of the artist. While the stick-like fgure points to his fascination with comic books, it also points to the wealth of inspiration Basquiat found in ancient pictographs. Works such as the present one demonstrate the incredibly mature pictorial idiom of Basquiat’s breakthrough work, one that built upon his lifelong fxation with drawing. For Basquiat, drawing was akin to a performative act – it was not simply the means of working out pictorial solutions to be integrated into a painting, rather, each drawing presented a discrete work in of itself. The present work pulsates with the unbridled immediacy that the act of drawing provided him: the expressive lines evidence the swif and sure movements with which Basquiat would feverishly move his hand across the paper. It is in works such as Untitled (Standing Male Figure) that we recognize how, as Dieter Buchhart argued, “Basquiat’s works [in 1983] achieved their greatest complexity, in terms of both subject matter and artistic strategies” (Dieter Buchhart, “Against All Odds”, Now’s The Time, exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Bilbao, 2015, p. 20).
153. Jean-Michel Basquiat 1960-1988 Untitled (Figure with Blue Head) oilstick and India ink on Arches paper. 21 x 15 in. (53.3 x 38.1 cm.). Executed in 1983. Estimate $500,000-700,000 Provenance Matt Dike (acquired directly from the artist) Thence by descent to the present owner
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Figure with Blue Head), 1982 By Fred Hofman, PhD
Untitled (Figure with Blue Head) is one of the most unique works on paper in the oeuvre of Jean-Michel Basquiat. In fact, there is no other comparable work on paper. The irregular edge of the sheet of paper separates this work from other drawings. Afer having drawn both the fgure and the surrounding array of linear markings, the artist tore away portions of the edge of the paper, resulting in an even more intense focus on the fgure’s gestures and emotive expression. Basquiat’s paring down of the sheet was highly considered and deliberate; these were not random actions. The resulting edges of the work are of equal intentional consequence as the artist’s application of colored oil paint stick and India ink. In many ways, Untitled (Figure with Blue Head) has more in common with Basquiat’s 1982 painting practice than with his works on paper. One could even make the case that this work is more a painting on paper than a drawing. While the work is executed in oil paint stick, the fgure is built up, much like his paintings, from the layering of multiple applications of an array of colorful hues. The ways in which Basquiat has built up his fgure, at least partially resulting in a tactile form, is consistent with the artist’s use of brushwork. Basquiat’s rendering of the fgure’s chest cavity further links this work to key paintings executed by the artist around this same period of 1982-1983. This portion of the fgure’s anatomy has been opened up, revealing neither anatomical structure nor physiological functions. Rather, the artist has portrayed the fgure’s central channel of energy—something subtler, not necessarily observable. Basquiat treats this aspect of his fgure as
something real, full of power and energy. This aspect of Basquiat’s fgure links it to the central fgures in two major paintings, Philistines, 1982, and Notary, 1983. In both paintings Basquiat has torn open the chest cavity, exposing and revealing the spinal column, the conveyor of stimuli to the brain. In Untitled (Figure with Blue Head), the artist has also exposed the chest cavity; now however, the central channel is much broader and intensely pulsating with energy. It almost feels like this fgure is on fre from the inside, internally erupting from below the pelvic region all the way up to its neck. What results from this energetic force is the illumination of the fgure’s head, depicted as an activated blue mass. That the energy suggested in the fgure’s interior is both stronger and subtler than something physical, is made evident in Basquiat’s placement of a nimbus above his fgure’s head. Basquiat’s depiction of the movement of an energetic force was his means of capturing psycho-spiritual transformation, and the resulting sanctifcation of his fgure. This is a fgure in the act of transcendence, moving beyond the realm of fesh into the realm of spirit. Untitled (Figure with Blue Head) indicates that from the outset, Basquiat was fascinated by greater realities than meet the eye. This work presents the unique X-ray-like vision he brought to his subjects, breaking down the dichotomy between the external and the internal. As Untitled (Figure with Blue Head) demonstrates, JeanMichel Basquiat’s breakthroughs would occur in direct relationship to his ability to penetrate intuitively the façade of physical form and appearance, and allow other truths and realities to surface.
154. Jean-Michel Basquiat 1960-1988 Untitled (Insect Order) graphite on paper. 30 x 22 3/8 in. (76.2 x 56.8 cm.). Executed circa 1982-1983. Estimate $150,000-200,000 Provenance Matt Dike (acquired directly from the artist) Thence by descent to the present owner
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Front cover Matt Dike and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Los Angeles, circa 1986. Photo by Salomon Emquies. Back cover Jean-Michel Basquiat, Self Portrait, 1983, lot 29 (detail) © 2019 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
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Jean-Michel Basquiat. Prod DB © Alexis Adler - Hells Kitten Productions/BOOM FOR REAL: THE LATE TEENAGE YEARS OF JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, 2017. Image courtesy TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy Stock Photo.
“Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Self Portrait, 1983 announces that the world we inhabit opens onto another, that the image of the earthly gives way to the heavenly, the miraculous. What could convey the world of our earth-bound existence more convincingly than the matter-of-factness of two common doors?” Fred Hofman, PhD
Discover important works by Jean-Michel Basquiat.