From creating his street art and graffiti works in 1980s New York, Jean – Michel Basquiat, the late Brooklyn born artist has had one of his paintings sold for a phenomenal $110.5 Million (£85m).
The 1982 piece named ‘Untitled’ depicts a decaying skull and references African art while using neo-expressionism and graffiti style iconography. To some it’s a harrowing self-portrait and others believe that it was inspired by a copy of Gray’s Anatomy, given to him by his mother at the age of seven, but whatever the artists true stimulus behind the piece was, it’s ability to evoke a story has made it desirable and fascinating.
Created using acrylic and oil paint stick on canvas, the piece sold for just $19,000 in 1984 which is still a long way from Basquiat’s days of selling drawings for just $50 in 1980, the artwork was sold to overjoyed Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. The bidder paid $57.3 million for Basquiat’s horned devil painting last year and shared his win on Instagram with the caption; “I am happy to announce that I just won this masterpiece. When I first encountered this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art. I want to share that experience with as many people as possible.” The piece was originally given the guaranteed price of at least $60 million, but grew to be sold at $110.5 million, setting records for the most expensive work by any American artist, African-American artist and as the first work created since 1980 to make over $100 million. It’s not the only artwork of Basquiat to cause a rise in high bidding, last year, he became the highest-grossing American artist at auction by producing $171.5 million (£131.5) from 80 pieces of his work.
It’s his compelling biography and his portrayal as a relatable artist that keeps his work thriving in the art world. His short but striking 7-year career that prematurely ended when the artist died of a drug overdose in 1988 has embedded him in our culture, painting him as a dark and romantic figure right at the surge in the popularity of modern art.
After his rise to fame in the art scene, heroin addiction alongside depression destroyed the late artist. Being characterised as ‘overdosing on art,’ Basquiat used heroin to keep quick and focused enough to create it, in line with the growing demands for his popular pieces. It seems he is still a tool of the elite art world, one that brought him to his untimely death, a death that has made his life work more popular than ever and now put him in the same financial bracket as Pablo Picasso.
His artworks, like anything, have value simply because of their perception, his life story and death have made him iconic and will see his creations attract big bidders for years to come.