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Basquiat's Breakthrough in 'Untitled (Head)'

In his essay, “The Defining Years: Notes on Five Key Works,” art historian Fred Hoffman writes about one of Jean-Michel’s most iconic motifs, the human head.

“Sometime in the early months of 1981, Basquiat began a painting depicting an oversized head extending across the pictorial field, an image that had no precedent in earlier sketches, drawings, or paintings. Showing little regard for either physiognomic accuracy or individual likeness, Basquiat chose to emphasize the expressive qualities of the head.

Close inspection reveals that this head, unlike a skull, is alive and responsive to external stimuli; as such, it seems alert to our world while simultaneously allowing us to penetrate its psycho-spiritual recesses. Basquiat’s representation of a single enlarged head is a breakthrough. The visual information it contains provides insight into many of the strategies of dichotomy the artist would adopt over the following eighteen months.

With its public presentation, this painting declared Basquiat’s arrival as a new and authentic voice in the world of contemporary art.” 

–– Fred Hoffman

Artwork: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Head), 1981

Source: Fred Hoffman, “The Defining Years: Notes on Five Key Works.”

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