There are several amazing and thought provoking pieces that Jean Michel has done, but the three works of art that will be discussed in this review will be, The Nile 1983, Untitled “Skull” 1984, and “Jim Crow”.
“The Nile” is a painting that explores and expresses Jean Michel’s personal assertion of history and his heritage of the United States with that of the ancient world and those conquistadores and historical tragedy. Within a great majority of Jean Michel’s painting are the expressions of history and blackness. His painting to some might look as though they were done by a child, and his style of painting is not of the classical in the sense of realistic painting style and doesn’t even resemble that of most graffiti. Though Basquiat did use materials, such as spray paint, chalk, oil sticks , paint and brushes, color pencils, lead, pastels, and even some stenciling to generate the thoughts of his inner spirit.
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Throughout ” The Nile”,there are different words placed throughout the piece including representational shapes. In the left side center of this painting there is an eye, This eye seems to represent a vision or a view placed in the center. Considering some slaves were brought from Africa, in the areas surrounding Egypt in particular the relationship could be to the eye of Horus. The Eye of Horus or Ra is known as the ancient Egyptian Sun god. The eye is also drawn right above the ship, with the words “A Men of Paths”. The “Amen of Paths” can relate to both the conquistadores and that of the slaves, moving in faith, as “Amen” by definition in the English Language refers to an expression of faith. With this in mind, the expression of faith religiously shared through the ideas of Christianity to the slaves by the priests that traveled alongside the Spanish.
The word “Mujer” in the painting, which means woman and there looks to be a halo over the head of one woman and the word Hieroglyphs over the other. As obvious historically, the man comes from woman, and they are both drawn attached to ships, in relation to the water element and birth. There is also the word “Nuba” in the upper far left hand corner of the painting. Nuba reside in the mountains of Sudan located below Egypt. Throughout the history of the Nuba people, body painting in spiritual practice and athleticism were strongly recognized in the culture. Tribal art symbolically related and athleticism are two an expression also in relation to heritage and the African American people, Basquiat illustrates.
Hieroglyphs as they are forms of written communication on walls, which is in relation to Basquiats personal history as a street artist, relate to histories narration of ancient communication. The word “Sickle” is written on center panel, most likely representing the pillaging and reaping most recognized in depictions of the grim reaper and the African people throughout slavery. This tool is used in fields to cut or chop down. “The sickle in the center panel also is a undeviating mention to the slave operations in the United States, and slave industry under the plantation system. According to Andrea Frohne, one anilization of “The word “salt” that appears on the right panel of the work refers to the Atlantic Slave trade, as salt was another important commodity to be traded at that time”.
Memphis and Thebes were important cities in ancient Egypt. Basquiat links them to the present day by reminding us to the present day that there is also a Memphis Tennessee Hence slaves and slavery. These were placed in the far right of the thirds bottom panel.
Basquiats, Untitled “Skull” is a creation mixed media piece predominately acrylic paint on canvas. The piece features a head which is more depictive of a skull seemingly held together by stitches, almost like that of a black Frankenstein. The head looks to be broken in several different places, in the mouth area and teeth, and near the back of the head. This Head/skull depiction doesn’t not follow any particular skin tone or bone structure in representation. Relatively this painting is acclimates a grim pattern of raw colors, symbolizing an idea of death and decay.
The appearance lends itself to somewhat of a Folk or Tribal Art” depiction. The eyes of this painting which is probably the most captivating outside of the colors, depicts despair with flair. This recipe in combination of technique and style draws the viewer in suggestive of a mixture of gloom and fear. The background is and abstraction of blues, orangey reds, with little white and black, a different color scheme in relation to the symbolic blacks used regularly. “Skull” is a bit of a classic example of Basquiats’ tempo frenzy and impulsive thought provoking untried style.
Basquiates Jim Crow presents a comparatively obvious social proclamation. Like most all Jean’s art, the textual and pictorial sign illustrates scenery to institute a mental and very familiar context. This painting is done on wood panel that has the facade of a sheet of paper/ white wall. According to, Annette Labedski, “whitewashed walls of a house or barn are aesthetic common and familiar in the American Deep South”. Listed within the picture are various rivers of the south, Ohio River, Mississippi River, Hudson River, including Thames River, ect.. Scribbled repeatedly is the Mississippi river, and in the center is a large black head and skeletal figure, beneath a sign labeled “Jim Crow”
The allusion to the American South is solidified by these multiple symbols.
The whitewashed wood is significant because of its pointed effect of regionalism,
but furthermore, it harks back to a graffiti artist’s intent. Knowing that
Basquiat started his career spray painting a tag SAMO on subway cars and SoHo buildings, along with puzzling slogans like “SAMO as a defiant art form” and. Many of these taglines seemed to mock the New York avant-garde scene, especially the nearly incestuous New York art world, which Basquiat would ironically enter and conquer shortly after his graffiti heyday”. Marc Mayer 2005
Additionally, much of Jeans’street art ridiculed consumer American culture,while organically attaching patenting symbols to is “Samo” Tag
Remarking on the structure of ownership in not only public spaces but culture itself. These points help one recognize the ridiculous commercial presence and the omnipresence urban culture.
Undoubtedly Jeans urban street art background represents his artistic tribal urban style, and as a result there is something about drawing on a wall or the side of a building that is essential to many of Basquiat’s paintings and communication of history and culture, including Jim Crow.
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