Direct references to the styles of these iconic artists crop up in early canvases by Basquiat like Untitled (1981) and The Ruffians (1982). Twombly’s influence, in particular, surfaces in the former. “One of the few artworks that Basquiat ever cited as an influence was Twombly’s Apollo and the Artist (1975),” wrote Marshall. “And its impact is apparent in numerous loose, collaged, and scribbled Basquiat works, such as Untitled, 1981.”
In The Ruffians, on the other hand, Basquiat nods to Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953) through his use of appropriation and layering. Basquiat probably saw Rauschenberg’s subversive drawing when it was included in the artist’s 1977 retrospective at MoMA.
Basquiat siphoned elements from the work of these mid-20th-century artist icons, remixing them with symbols drawn from his own experiences as a street artist, a musician, an artist of color, and a kid reared in the ’70s and surrounded by Brooklyn, jazz, T.V., and baseball.
In Deitch’s May 1982 review of Basquiat’s first New York solo show at Annina Nosei Gallery, he nodded to Basquiat’s expert weaving together of these wide-ranging references: “Basquiat’s great strength is his ability to merge his absorption of imagery from the streets, the newspapers, and TV with the spiritualism of his Haitian heritage, injecting both into a marvelously intuitive understanding of the language of modern painting.”