Transitioning artwork intended for two-dimensional space onto a sculptural form can be a perilous task, one that involves carefully maintaining the original work’s intended aesthetic and structure while also causing it to envelop a three-dimensional space. And while an undertaking of this sort can go horribly wrong, Kidrobot have succeeded magnificently in accomplishing it with their Jean-Michel Basquiat Dunny Series. Complicating their effort further, Basquiat‘s works tend to be visually rich and complex, making Kidrobot’s ability to maintain their integrity through the transition all the more impressive. But regardless of how beautiful their limited edition vinyl production pieces are, a true understanding of them still relies on comprehending the artist and his works.

Works from the Jean-Michel Basquiat Dunny Series

Basquiat’s Crown Motif

While the symbol of a crown is nothing new, its use in art tending to be trite and clichéd, somehow Basquiat transcends this and delivers something that oozes originality from its simple three-pointed shape. Debatably the artist’s most iconic motif, one that has been emblazoned everywhere and yet maintains a counter-cultural edge, Basquiat’s crown became more than a signature element for the artist, it became a proxy signature on several of his works. One early and notable example of this imagery in Basquiat’s paintings can be seen in 1981’s Red Kings, which is often interpreted as signaling to his unbridled ambition, artistic majesty, and personal determination. But like much of Basquiat’s work, the crown lacks a one-to-one correspondence between its appearance and a predetermined value, leaving the intent and meaning to be determined by each use’s context.

Mecca, 1982

Hovering atop the blocked out banner of “EMPIRE”, Basquiat’s three-pointed crown not only serves as a proxy tag for the artist but also adorns the night sky like the North Star. From 1982, a pivotal year in his career, Basquiat’s Mecca depicts an unmistakable cityscape, its lively fluidity and illuminated shapes surely representing “The City That Never Sleeps”. With flame-like orange dancing its way across the canvas, this work reminds the viewer of how a 22-year-old Basquiat was already igniting the Empire State of New York with his creative vision and unique perspective.

Pez Dispenser, 1984

Placing a crown atop a Tyrannosaurus rex seems obvious in meaning, as the dinosaur species’ name translates to “King Tyrant Lizard”. But then one must consider why Basquiat titled this 1984 painting Pez Dispenser, especially since there is no depiction of the popular, character-headed mechanical candy dispensers included. It has been theorized that this pairing of a cartoonish dinosaur’s form with the Pez dispenser reference eludes to childhood, both being items the evoke a boy’s sense of wonder and fascination, and thus the crown signifies how children are precious, destined to be our future. This doesn’t account for the circle on the Tyrannosaurus’ chest and stomach, an element which has connotations of it being empty on the inside, unless Basquiat was specifically referencing starving children. Another interpretation accounts for this aspect by viewing the dinosaur as representative of consumer culture, like that perpetuated by companies like PEZ. In this reading, the Tyrannosaurus is a soulless force that gleefully lumbers forward, desiring only to earn a king’s ransom through its actions, uncaring of if they may lead to literal or figurative extinction. And while Basquiat’s actual intent in this work may never be properly known, it is the plethora of thoughts and discussions that his pieces evoke that elevate them to being something truly special.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat Dunny Series from Kidrobot
First and foremost, contemporary art tends to be a visceral experience, the work resonating with the viewer on an emotional level. But to fully comprehend these pieces, one must subsequently approach them from an intellectual position, considering the intent formed through a work's layers of paint and/or chosen construction. And…
Jean-Michel Basquiat Dunny Series from Kidrobot
While the three-pointed crown was undoubtedly Jean-Michel Basquiat's signature design element, his works were brimming with a myriad of references. As an artist, he is known for a visual vocabulary that embraced motif's eluding to a wide range of subjects, including his own biography, from his passionate interests to his…
Jean-Michel Basquiat Dunny Series, Part One
Jean-Michel Basquiat Dunny Series, Part Three