Van de Weghe is pleased to present, in its newly opened East Hampton gallery at 66 Newtown Lane, an exhibition of works on paper by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). The works date from the early 1980s and focus on the figure as subject. The selection of works on view highlights the intensity of the artist’s gesture as well as a rich vocabulary of iconography and symbolism.
Basquiat is among the most important American artists of the latter half of the 20th century. A self-taught East Village graffiti artist, he began his career circa 1980 at the age of 19 and in a single decade secured his place in art history, becoming 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.
Untitled (Figure Holding Up Fish), 1981 depicts a totem-like figure standing on the shore, arms protruding horizontally. A fish hangs from each like weights on a scale. Zigzags of red and blue waves are stacked behind him. Basquiat’s uncensored mark-making conveys an urgency that is at odds with the figure’s mask-like face which betrays little. The exhibition contains two Untitled works from 1982, the artist’s most productive year. The first, a figure from the waist up, rendered in bold, black oilstick. We see the influence of Gray’s Anatomy, a book given to the artist by his mother while recovering from being hit by a car as a child, which made a lasting impression on him. Basquiat’s line speaks volumes, giving a sense of the figure’s insides. It twists and pulsates, evoking muscles, tendons and veins; it shifts to hard and straight and skeletal with the sharp curve of ribs that contain the figure’s left side. A second work from 1982 presents a large-mouthed figure grimacing, smears of yellow over its eyes. The figure’s head is topped by Basquiat’s signature drawing of a crown which is then encircled by a halo or a crown of thorns. The figure is at once a king, a saint, and a sinner.
Drawing for Basquiat was an important means of expression and demonstrates the uncensored, spontaneous energy that pervades his output. The artist’s work has an immediacy and unselfconscious vitality that continues to resonate strongly. East Hampton gallery hours are Tuesday - Sunday, from 11:00am to 6:00pm, and by appointment. For further information, please contact Pierre Ravelle-Chapuis at email@example.com.