Perhaps unable to see past the superficial aesthetics conveyed through a cursory glance, some have hastily judged the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat as being childish. Often considered a neo-expressionist, known for their intense subjectivity and rough portrayal of recognizable objects, this doesn’t account for Basquiat’s tendencies to veer the polar opposite direction, employing conceptual and minimal aesthetics to great effect. But, regardless of the visual influence, a proper understanding of Basquiat requires delving into his intent, attempting to fathom the meaning behind the work. And with Kidrobot having transitioned several of Basquiat’s painting and illustrations into three-dimensional sculptural form for their Jean-Michel Basquiat Dunny Series, these limited edition vinyl pieces provide collectors a fresh perspective of the works, allowing them to decipher the elements with new eyes.

Works from the Jean-Michel Basquiat Dunny Series

Untitled (Sugar Ray Robinson), 1982

In his early years as a fine artist, exhibiting works at galleries rather than scrawling them on street walls, Basquiat was repeatedly drawn to depicting boxers, such as Cassius Clay (1982), Jersey Joe (1983), and Untitled (Sugar Ray Robinson) (1982). Perhaps done in response to his own dogged struggle as a black man in a predominately white art world, Basquiat seems to have felt a kinship with those successful in this sport, determined individuals who refused to be knocked down. In Untitled (Sugar Ray Robinson), the minimalist rendition of the pugilist recalls some of the abstract portraiture of Picasso as well as the stark appearance of African tribal masks. Interestingly, after he’d already exhibited this work at Fun Gallery in 1982, Basquiat covered his signature and the date from the painting’s lower right corner, essentially removing himself from the piece and allowing its tributary aspect to be the focus. And while the artist’s crown motif can be seen as a replacement signatory element, herein it feels more like an honorarium, placed above Robinson’s head as a symbol of his triumphant career.

Untitled (Ter Borch), c. 1987/88

Another standard throughout Basquiat’s oeuvre was to reinterpret notable works from art history, a predilection perfectly encapsulated in Untitled (Ter Borch). Painted within the last two years of his life, this is a re-imagining of The Flea-Catcher (Boy with His Dog) by the seventeenth-century Dutch Baroque master Gerard ter Borch. Condensing Ter Borch’s immaculately detailed and realistic scene into a neo-expressionist rendition that is almost absent of imagery, the insect referenced in the original is represented by two blood red dots in the upper edge of the square’s outline. Alongside these vampiric bite marks in the sea of green monochrome background, two sparse lines of text delightfully convey the context to the onlooker.

Untitled (Love is a Lie), c. 1987

Austrian art critic Dieter Buchhart and Tricia Laughlin Bloom, the curator of American art at the Newark Museum, organized Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks (2015) for the Brooklyn Museum of Art, an exhibition that focused on pages from eight of the artist’s marble composition books. Created between 1980 and 1987, these books were filled with jotted down fragments of poetry, sketched out doodles, and random thoughts about race, culture, and society. And Untitled (Love is a Lie) is a page from a notebook dated 1987, the simple block letters scrawled in blue crayon on the paper’s lined canvas. Frequently interpreted as being Basquiat reminiscing on his various failed relationships, particularly those with long-time girlfriend Suzanne Mallouk and then-up-and-coming musician Madonna, it is just as likely an introspective statement. Basquiat was purportedly a womanizer, much like his father before him, a fact that frequently caused Mallouk to wonder “if I was really special to him”.1Clement, Jennifer. Widow Basquiat: A Memoir. Bristol, England: Shearsman Books, 2010, p. 50. And if this latter analysis is accurate, then Basquiat himself is the subject of the sentiment, the artist casting himself as both the “lover” and the “liar”.

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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 from Kidrobot
Whether consciously or not, every artist has their own lexicon of images and visual cues that emerge through their works, though perhaps no one constructed as complex or diverse a visual vocabulary as Jean-Michel Basquiat. With the task of deciphering Basquiat's pieces having confounded and delighted both critics and collectors…
Jean-Michel Basquiat Dunny Series, Part Three
Jean-Michel Basquiat Dunny Series, Part Five

References   [ + ]

1. Clement, Jennifer. Widow Basquiat: A Memoir. Bristol, England: Shearsman Books, 2010, p. 50.