Busted Atlas 2, 1982
Acrylic on canvas mounted on tied wooden stretcher bars with twine
60 1/4 x 60 1/4 inches
Van de Weghe is pleased to present an exhibition of paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) at 66 Newtown Lane, East Hampton. A self-taught East Village graffiti artist, he began his career circa 1980 at the age of 19 and in a single decade became a superstar of the art world. In spite of the artist’s death in 1988, he was extremely prolific and there is a seemingly endless depth and breadth to his output that has made him one of the most important American artists of the latter half of the 20th century. The works on view date from 1982 and 1984
Three of the paintings on view, each from 1982 and which focus on the figure, are painted on canvases mounted on hand-tied wooden supports. Basquiat makes extraordinary use of this device in Crisis X. At once sculpture and painting, the stretcher bars are arranged in a cross, protruding far outside the canvas, incorporating the space around it. The central totemic figure, a brown skull atop a body comprised of thick lines mimicking the wooden stretcher, seems to hang somewhere between or apart from life and death. In Santo #1, the figure’s forearms dangle as if hinged, echoing the overlap of the wood supports visible at the painting’s corners. The artist highlights the figure’s insides - veins and arteries, windpipe and organs - in red and blue. The influence of Gray’s Anatomy, a book first studied by Basquiat while hospitalized as a child and a source he returned to repeatedly throughout his career, is apparent.
The exhibition also highlights Basquiat’s masterful use of color. Pink Elephant with Fire Engine, one of two works on view from 1984, is an inferno of brushy yellow paint that envelopes moments of figuration. The child-like rendering of an elephant and fire truck punctuate the blaze, glowing embers in hot-pink and red, while a black char-like line courses down the left side of the canvas. The painting bursts with a hot, youthful energy at once cheerful and dangerous. Tuxedo, 1982, a towering canvas in black and white, is an elegant interpretation of its title, a dense amalgam of hand-written text, symbols and hieroglyphs topped with Basquiat’s signature crown. The first of the artist’s large-scale silkscreen works, the canvas on view is totally unique as Basquiat hand-painted on top of the silkscreen, with gestural marks and crossed out text. He obscures his words in order to bring attention to them, understanding that we want most what is withheld. This powerful work is a wonderful representation of Basquiat’s entire oeuvre.
Basquiat’s work is intensely charged with an expressive rawness that is balanced by a rich vocabulary of iconography and symbolism. The graphic lyricism and brilliant vigor demonstrate an immediacy and unselfconscious vitality that continues to resonate strongly. East Hampton gallery hours are Wednesday - Sunday, from 11:00am to 5:00pm, and by appointment. For further information, please contact Pierre Ravelle-Chapuis at firstname.lastname@example.org.