The media immediately appreciated Bassist’s innovative style: ‘With its public presentation, this painting declared Bassist’s rival as a new and authentic voice in the world of contemporary art’ (Hoffman 130). It continues to be a crucial work when analyzing his entire oeuvre. Richard Marshall said of this early period: “Basque used painterly gestures on canvases, most often depicting skeletal figures and mask-like faces” (CTD. In Backchat X).
Indeed, this painting depicts a solitary shape, caught somewhere between a head and a skull. Many art historians, art critics, and art lovers are mesmerism’s by this one piece, But what is it that makes this painting 50 powerful and enigmatic? Why is it so characteristic tot Basque? In January 201 1, the Mums©e d’art Modern in Paris held a retrospective of Basque’5 work. During my visit to the museum, I was instantly captivated by the striking Untitled 5 Sis-lead).Order now
To me, this painting is an iconic work and is key in understanding Basque as an artist. The intensity of the painting left a deep and lasting impression on me, I will therefore focus on the research question: why has the 1981 painting Untitled (Head) become Jean-Michel Bassist’s most celebrated work? What elements has he used to create such a paramount image? This essay will investigate the principal themes of the painting. It will evaluate the importance Of scale, and also analyze Bassists use Of color and line.
Finally, it will focus on the role of anatomy and heritage in an attempt to better comprehend the underlying meaning Of the work. 6 @Scale IF?Fig. I- Untitled (Head) 1981 Acrylic and mixed media on canvas 81 x 69 1/4 in. (205. 7 x 175. 9 CM). The Eli and Teethed L. Broad Collection, Los Angel’s 7 Fat_limited (Head) is a work of mixed media framed in a 207 x 175. 9 CM canvas. The impressive scale of the painting contributes to striking nature. During the retrospective, this particular ivory had a deep effect on me.
Indeed, the power t exudes violently captivates the viewer. Furthermore, the size of the head in relationship to the canvas is extremely important. It is placed in the centre and occupies most Of the surface in such a way that one is forced to confront it. As it is much larger than a human head, it is rather daunting, and the fact that it is so full Of life and yet so solemn makes it an incredibly powerful image, full Of emotion and inner turmoil. As previously suggested, the figure in the painting is not just a representation.
It is a “living entity’, filled With a supernatural spirit. Basque has given life to this creature. While it is contained on the surface of the canvas, it is also a container of a universe, barely held together by fragile stitches. The head creates an enclosed space; but at the same time Basque reveals the inner workings of the mind. However, it remains difficult to decipher exactly what the painter is intending on revealing. The head is prodigious but lacks heaviness, Quite on the contrary, it has a light and airy quality, as it it were floating.
Despite having seen other paintings during the exhibition, such as untitled (Boxer) 1982 or Profit 1 1982, in which are depicted physically strong figures, the overwhelming rower of Untitled (Head) was far from being contested, The viewer feels diminished by the brilliant scale of the work Color One of Bassist’s greatest strengths is his confident use of color, As Mayer noted, Basque used “unmixed color structurally, with direct and theatrically ham-fisted brushwork” (Mayer 46).
He liked a “saturated, subtropical palette with sunny Floridian pinks, 8 gape green, kindergarten yellow and wan pastel aqua” (Mayer 47). However, Basque did not consider color as a fundamental part Of his composition, and we can see that many of his works barely contain color, while others are simply n black and White. The industrial colors used in Untitled (Head) however are visually provocative. Surrounding the head sis royal blue sea, which insists upon the idea that the head is floating. The rest Of the background is an abstraction of orange, red and white.
In painting the head itself, Basque does not follow a uniform tone for skin or bones. Rather, he uses raw colors to indicate rot and decay. To create perspective. Basque uses rudimentary black strokes, casting shadows on the right side of the face. The yellows and oranges contrast by illuminating the mouth and left jailing. In addition, the entire figure is outlined y a simple yellow line. In the painting, he employs many different hues that work coherently and patch the image together, The blue and orange are complementary and create a sense tot harmony which is aesthetically pleasing.
However, there is a contrast between the calming serenity of the blue and the tortured chaos of the colliding colors inside the head The entire painting is layered with intense color, which gives the head a graphic quality, while also creating texture. @Fig. 11- “Complementary blue and orange”, Detail of Untitled (Head) 9 ?Basque was greatly influenced by his daily life. He once said: “l don’t think about art when I’m working& try to think about life? ‘ As a result, his love of comic books, Mad, Batman, Superman, and Popeye, permeated his oeuvre and caused him to appropriate the vibrant colors of popular visual media (Emerging 38).
He was greatly influenced by Roy Liechtenstein and his use of bold, saturated colors. The reverberant pigments in Untitled (Head) translate the sense of immediacy, the spasms, the movements of Bassist’s hands, similar to a performance (Backchat XI)_ The rudimentary brushstrokes are abrupt and untidy, accentuating the crudeness of the work. Fig. 12- “Brushstroke”, Detail of Untitled (Head) Throughout history, artists have been engaged in interpreting and transmitting the ephemera Of sound into the visual. According to Katydids, “Color is the key. The eye is the hammer. Much like Katydids. Basque used color as a visual depiction of music, especially that of the jazz genre. The use of blues evokes the melodious feeling of jazz, while the reds and oranges manifest its unpredictability and liveliness. In the painting, Basque balances control and improvisation. His gestures are intuitive and swift, exuding spontaneity and energy. In Untitled (Head), Basque has mastered the use of industrial colors, and once again made them his own. Another feature that pertains to Bassist’s artistic process is the overlapping and layering tot paints. Sing a means tot cross- hatching- building up lines in layers that overrun, in a procedure similar to Jackson Pollock’s, he constructs an intricate and stunningly complex composition. 13- ‘Cross-hatching”, Detail of Untitled (Head) Bassist’s working also mirrors Charlie Parser’s re-recording technique, characterized by the superimposing of music from different instruments (Calumets 5). The build-up of colors and the collage Of fragments invites the reader to look for a deeper meaning in the picture.
In an interview by Suzanne Mallory (Clement 2000), Basque qualified his stylistic tendency to overlay and erase as his version of penitent¶’. This, in combination with his unique X-ray vision, creates a transparency effect that is so idiosyncratic Of Basque. Line According to Jean-Michel Basque, “Every line means something. ” Indeed, line is a crucial learnt of Bassist’s art. It is used to delineate shapes and figures, to imply texture, to create movement. Bassist’s line is spontaneous, confident and contributes to the improvisational feeling of his paintings. In Untitled (Head), attention to line is inevitable.
Whether it be the outline of the head, the cryptic lettering in the top left hand corner or the repeated scribbled marks, we cannot discount the effect that line has on the overall painting. In most of Bassist’s works, line remains non-dimensional, and produces images that do not have any depth. On the contrary in this painting, the use of line is extremely effective in creating perspective. Aquatic draws three-dimensional cubes within the skull. These box-like shapes produce the impression of chambers or rooms inside the head, with ladders and stairs connecting each unit. Pig. – “Chamber, Detail of ?¶©¶The fact that the face is on a slight profile also lends depth to the work. The brushstrokes and graphic patterns shape and delimit the features. In addition, Basque uses a bold black outline in this painting to establish a dichotomy between the head and its surrounding. While the background remains flat on the canvas, the figure seems to be disconnecting itself from it and coming into existence. The repetition of line creates movement and continuity: the stitch arks resemble railway tracks, beginning at the chin and traveling up the left side of the face.
In this way, Basque uses line to tell a story; he conceives a narrative inside the head. Another predominant feature is syncopation. This stems from the impact of music on Basque. In the sass, New York City had long been the home to jazz and was to become the birthplace Of hip hop. Basque was closely affiliated with the musical world, as exemplified in Eddo Vertigo’s Downtown 81. More specifically, the artist demonstrated a strong love of jazz and hip hop, and many of his revered heroes were musicians, such s Charlie Parker and Jim Hendrix.
Basque proved his admiration for these musicians by referring to them in his works, Many of these jazz and hip hop musicians have used syncopation in their work. This is an unexpected accent on specific beats that interrupts a rhythm. In untitled (Head), Basque repeats, combines, and overlaps different lines and colors, in order to recreate a rapid tempo and an urban rhythm, He constantly interrupts his line to pick it up somewhere 12 ??;else on the canvas. ??Fig. 8- Syncopation”, Detail of There also exists a linguistic quality to Bassist’s paintings and hip hop music.
The words that cover the artist’s canvases remind us of Masc., rappers, and the oral traditions of the grits, West African storytellers. Words are of important use to them as they help to establish and project their message. Basque combined poetry and painting: his works were infused with words; ideas from music were incorporated into his art. This is also a result Of his adolescence as the graffiti poet SAMOA. Basque would use a series of “Hobo Signs” which consisted of symbols that homeless people used to communicate With catheter. In Untitled (Head), his use of these markings is apparent.
For instance this Hobo Sign signifies “you’ll be cursed out”: Fig. 9. Hobo sign”, Detail of Untitled (Head) Upon close inspection of Untitled (Head). An interesting fact emerges. In the top left corner, some words are scribbled in bold saying, “Head or’, while the name that follows is not legible, This becomes very intriguing, especially as I am confident that this is actually a self-portrait. 13 F©@Fig. 10- “Head of’ Detail of Untitled (Head) This painting is a perfect example of Basque’5 frantic pace and spontaneity. The sense tot urgency displayed in the artist’s execution is very much due to his involvement in graffiti.
Furthermore, the heavy colorful lines and cryptic text give the artwork a brut quality. Bassist’s line is often scribbled, to produce not only a child-like effect, but also a sense of electricity, as Store correctly states: “The manual static of his drawings and the manic scribbling of his paintings send charges into the atmosphere in ways that remind one that lightning is not just a blast of power descending from the heavens like a bolt thrown by God but rather is formed by the polarities between heaven and earth and so may rise up from the ground as well as travel laterally between clouds” (Store CTD. Backchat XI_)_ This quote emphasizes the movement in Bassist’s paintings. There is an incredible amount of energy that animates the painting and brings it to life. It is this energetic quality that makes Untitled (Head) a key work in Bassist’s oeuvre. With its potency and vibrancy, it can surely be considered a masterpiece. Anatomy In art history, the human body has always occupied a central role. It has been the basis Of many great artworks, such as Manatee’s Olympia or Slit’s The Kiss. Anatomy and biology have been undeniably integral to the work of many artists.
In 1746, Jacques Fabian Gaudier 14 toasty published the book Anatomical Study which contained paintings and drawings of human bodies with their skin peeled back to reveal the organs. For Basque, the human body was also a fundamental subject. As a young boy, he received a copy of the book Grays Anatomy, which remained an inspirational reticence source throughout his career. After a car accident that caused the removal of his spleen, Basque developed a fascination for anatomy which profoundly affected his later work.
In addition, the young artist greatly admired Leonardo Dad Vinci and his observational sketches of human body parts, As a exult, the artist often depicted both internal and external human anatomy in his works, What is particularly striking is the recurring representation of the human head in Bassist’s oeuvre. By contrast to most of his works however, untitled (Head) does not depict a head atop a neck and shoulders. Instead, it is disjointed from any body and seems to have simply floated onto the canvas. This large head is depicted in the Centre Of the visual field.
However, it is unclear if the form was intended to be a head, a living entity, or rather a skull. It is interesting to note hat this work has also been referred to as Untitled (Skull), Which further stresses the ambiguity of what the painting is meant to represent. It is not fully realistic, nor is it completely denatured. The fractured jawbone in the bottom left corner insists upon the skull-like appearance. Fig. 2- “Fractured jawbone”, detail of However, other facial features are noticeable. The eyes are looking down towards the @floor, while the open mouth clearly defines two rows of canine-like teeth.
The combination of sad eyes and broken teeth captures the destitute feeling that the piece intends to convey. One can notice the abrupt spiky lines on the top of the head which may hint at hair; and casuist’s use tot line also delineates the left ear and the nose. In this way, Hoffman makes a valid point that the figure resembles a head more than a skull: its senses are tally capable tot responding to external stimuli (131). R-Rutherford, there is an emanating intensity, a human emotion which engulfs the head and underlines the fact that it is a living entity.
Another pertinent feature of Bassist’s work is his unique X-ray vision, This transparency effect permeates his entire oeuvre, and contributes to the complexity of the painting. In Untitled (Head), the artist paints the exterior of a human head, while simultaneously displaying the inner workings of the brain and mind. The lines create “the subtle neural pathways connecting the sense organs to their internal processor and ultimately capturing the fluidity between external and internal” (Hoffman 131).
Although all is exposed, Basque attempts to patch the skull together using slashes and stitches. Not only do these stitch marks hold the head in place, securing it to the canvas; they also create a Prankster’s monster effect of a sewn together head. Basque weaves different elements together ND creates an entity that is in the process Of becoming real. In Untitled (Head), Bassist’s use of anatomy is crucial to our understanding of his work. The notion Of interior versus exterior strongly relates to his fascination With anatomy. 6 [email protected] Heritage Fig. 3. “Stitch marks”, Detail of Untitled (Head) ?Basque was once quoted saying: “I’d say my mother gave me all the primary things. The art came from her. ” In his childhood, Bassist’s mother was persistent in her encouragement of her son’s artistic talents. When he was six years old, she enrolled him as a junior member at the Brooklyn Museum; he kook advantage of this enrollment by visiting frequently. As an adult, Jean-Michel Basque referred to African art as inspiration, much like Picasso and Matisse before him.
Indeed, Basque constantly borrowed elements from Nubian I , Egyptian and African art (Calumets 5). This can be seen for example in his 1983 painting The Nile, Basque extracted numerous symbols and objects from Egyptian and Nubian cultures and incorporated them into his painting. However, when asked about his influences, Basque claimed that he tried to fight the inclination to paint large grotesque masks (Mayer 45). Nevertheless, we will come to see that those masks are central elements to many of Bassists paintings.
The artist was profoundly interested in his heritage and was always trying to define his cultural identity. He once said, “I’m interested in painting the black person. He’s the protagonist in most of my paintings. ” The representation of the African- American was a dominant focus Of Bassist’s work. Many art critics agree that Basque used art “to process what he knew about history, about the cultural richness Of the African Nubian is a region along the Nile, in northern Sudan and southern Egypt 17 Footpads and his Caribbean roots specifically, and about the epic historical struggle of African Americans. (Mayer 43). In untitled (Head), the face seems to be scarred by suffering. The fracture in the figure’s jawbone exposes a line of broken teeth, which emphasizes pain and torment. Although the eyes shine with angst and despair, they are full of vivacity and personality. Through his art, Basque was trying to denounce not only consumerism, but also inequality and racism. This painting could be perceived as a visual embodiment of the pain Basque was especially interested in the spirituality that radiates from African art.
The motif tot the mask, as a spiritual energy, is temperamental in his oeuvre (Carbon De la Carry©re 7), Indeed, Basque borrowed stylistic features of African masks over and over again throughout his career. In his paintings, “masks and faces engage in a macabre dance” (Bliss©nee 18). These masks are clearly identifiable in Mitchell Crew 1983. However, we can see that Basque has wholly integrated them into his work, and in the end they become defining elements of the painting. The artist transcends appropriation: he grasps the symbolism of the mask and yet makes it unique within his picture plane.
Although Untitled (Head) does not overtly depict a mask, there are elements of it which, when deciphered, show that it does contain the stylistic features of a mask. African Inflicted upon African-Americans, which underlines the idea that Bassist’s art is “an art of rage and revolt”2 (Emerging 37). F-gig_ 4- “Eyes”, Detail Of Untitled (Head) Quote translated by the author of the essay ?masks are usually highly complex and difficult to interpret, much like the head in this painting.
The overlay Of colors and the repeated gig Gag Of the lines ornament the head and emphasize the decorative mask-like appearance. Furthermore, the grimace of the face strongly evokes the menacing expression seen on many masks. Another characteristic of a mask is the elongation of facial features. In Untitled (Head), Basque tries to contain the features in a proportional head. However, their exaggeration is still apparent: a single white line trickles down from the forehead and traces the form of the nose. The continuous stroke puts emphasis on the lengthening of the physiognomy.
The mouth is reminiscent of an African mask: it is highly detailed and also enlarged in size, The slight elliptical shape of the eyes further reflects this influence, In African rituals, masks represent deities, supernatural forces that allow the wearer to possess a divine quality. Basque used these traditions and symbols as a way of reconnecting art to the human soul. In addition, the artist painted the grits fewest Africa. Grits were revered traveling storytellers who used an oral tradition of poetry and rhythm to teach people about a community history, its cultural traditions etc.
Jean-Michel Basque repeatedly painted grits throughout his artistic career. They are usually presented with grinning expressions, round smooth heads and elliptical eyes, as seen in Gold Grist (1984), Flexible Gig r Grill (1384). Ay contrast, in Untitled (Head), the link to grits is not as explicit. Rather it is the figure’s living quality that establishes its relation to West Africa. The head takes on the role off grist: is alive with a human spirit, much like traditional African masks. In this way, Bassist’s painting takes on a mythical dimension.
He captures the magic and power of a rich and varied heritage. The head is not simply a representation, it is a powerful and sacred talisman. Furthermore, “Grits, it is decreed, are left to rot in hollow trees way on the outskirts often” (Tate 2). The broken lines and use of dark colors suggest that the figure in Bassist’s painting is decaying and rotting itself. Moreover, a mask hovers between something that is inanimate, and something that is brought to life by ritual. In untitled (Head), the head is also trapped between two states, which emphasizes its mystical aspect.
Fig. 6- “Rotting”, Detail of The painting is also remarkable on an emotional level, the scarred head mirroring Bassist’s torment and struggle as an African-Armenian. “In drawing upon Africa and its Diaspora, Basque rendered himself as a celebration and embodiment of rower, as a participant and rebel against an oppressive colonial and post-colonial world, and as a victim of subjugation” (Frowner 439). Few critics have actually labeled Untitled (Head) as self- portrait; but in the course of research, it appears to me that the painting is in fact a self- representation. 0 disillusion has Bassist’s Untitled (Head) become his most celebrated painting? From my analysis, all of the aspects discussed are key elements in creating such an iconic painting. With this work, Basque introduces perhaps the most important motif of his entire oeuvre, the head. While weaving together various ICC influences, Basque managed to metabolize elements from his daily life, and assimilate them wholly into his work. In this way, untitled (Head) becomes Bassist’s ultimate painting. In my opinion, Basque has used these elements to reveal his identity.
I have reached the conclusion that untitled (Head) is most likely a sellџportrait, displaying the inner workings of his mind. However, the fragmented images and hybrid aesthetic also produce an ambiguous and cryptic dimension that make his work rebellious and impenetrable. Art historians will continue to classify Basque in an attempt to define his art, but as Tate erectly states: Min the end, his work evades the grasp of every camp because his originality can’t be reduced to the sum of his inspirations, his associations, or his generation” (Tate 34).
Indeed, tailing somewhere between Neo-Expressionism, postmodernism, and Tribal Art, Basque is not easily categorized, In trying to define Basque, art critics not only restrict him and contain his work, but they also take away the magical otherworldliness and mystical depth of his paintings. It seems that the artist himself knew this: “l don’t listen to what art critics say. I onto know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is” (CTD_ in Emerging 75).