Jean-Michel Basquiat, ‘FLEXIBLE’, 2016, Marcel Katz

Flexible, based on a panel painting created in Basquiat’s Venice, California studio in 1984, 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. Basquiat’s signature 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.

About Jean-Michel Basquiat

A poet, musician, and graffiti prodigy in late-1970s New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat had honed his signature painting style of obsessive scribbling, elusive symbols and diagrams, and mask-and-skull imagery by the time he was 20. “I don’t think about art while I work,” he once said. “I think about life.” Basquiat drew his subjects from his own Caribbean heritage—his father was Haitian and his mother of Puerto Rican descent—and a convergence of African-American, African, and Aztec cultural histories with Classical themes and contemporary heroes like athletes and musicians. Often associated with Neo-expressionism, Basquiat received massive acclaim in only a few short years, showing alongside artists like Julian Schnabel, David Salle, and Francesco Clemente. In 1983, he met Andy Warhol, who would come to be a mentor and idol. The two collaborated on a series of paintings before Warhol’s death in 1987, followed by Basquiat’s own untimely passing a year later.

American, 1960-1988, New York, New York, based in New York, New York