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Blending Past and Present: Basquiat's Collage Techniques in 'Tenor'

In 1985, Jean-Michel painted Tenor, considered a major work within a series of paintings he began in the mid-1980’s. In this piece, he used Xerox images from a selection of his earlier works to adorn the canvas background.

According to Sotheby’s curator Richard Marshall,

“Basquiat’s appropriation of the potentials of collage and other closely connected techniques such as silkscreen can be linked to the impact of the works of Andy Warhol (with whom Basquiat was collaborating in the mid-1980’s) and Robert Rauschenberg.

The presence of animals – a relatively unusual occurrence within Basquiat’s work compared to the prevalence of figural imagery – recalls the style and ideas contained within a medieval Bestiary: a compendium of animal lore and symbolism.

The central positioning of the oversized rodent at the heart of the composition provides a thoroughly modern take on historical symbolism, perhaps referencing the prevalence of rats within the bustling conurbation of New York, whilst the crows arguably allude to the presence of scavengers within the city.” 

– Sotheby's

Artwork: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Tenor (1985)

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