(after) Jean-Michel Basquiat Figurative Print - Flexible
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(after) Jean-Michel Basquiat



"Believe it or not, I can actually draw," said Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960 - 1988). After establishing himself as a musician, poet, and graffiti artist by the time he was 20, Basquiat debuted his paintings to critical acclaim in a group exhibition sponsored by Colab and Fashion Moda. He would have his first solo show a year later, which launched a prolific but tragically short career. The artist's signature, scrawling painting style often commented on systematic racism, class struggle, and power structures. Basquiat's neo-expressionist paintings have been exhibited internationally since his death, often selling in the millions. In fact, the image from his 24-color screen print Flexible also appears in a 1984 painting that sold for $45.3 million at Phillips in 2018. The work portrays the griot—a storyteller, entertainer, and purveyor of oral history from West African culture. Referencing the artist’s exploration of and struggle with the role of artist-as-everyman, his interest in imagery from earlier cultures, an affinity for historical and contemporary black figures and an x-ray view into internal organs, Flexible conveys an examination of identity. The broad, aggressive brush strokes and flat areas of color both reveal and conceal previous layers of paint and imagery, framing one of the artist’s most arresting and iconic figures. Flexible features two of Basquiat's most famous motifs: the griot and the venerable crown. A sole black figure, half cadaver, half living entity, stares "blindly" at the viewer, its arms creating a closed circuit, perhaps a reference to spiritualized energy. With few distinguishing characteristics, the subject takes on the visage of the Everyman. At the same time, this is not just any figure, but one of African ethnicity and proud heritage a clear reference to Basquiat's own identity (note the diagrammatic rendering of the figure's lungs and abdomen, reminiscent of the young Basquiat's fascination for Gray's Anatomy sketches). Given that the griot is traditionally a kind of wandering philosopher, street performer, and social commentator all in one, it is probable that Basquiat saw himself in this role within the New York art world. Flexible is authenticated by the Basquiat Foundation and is a part of 5 Printers Proofs (PP) outside the edition of 85. It is published by Flatiron Editions, New York.


  • Condition
  • Dimensions

    H 60.25 in. x W 45.5 in.

    H 153.04 cm x W 115.57 cm

  • Gallery location
    Santa Fe, NM
  • Reference number

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