Photo Credit: Slate Magazine

Van Gogh, Shiela, Edvard Munch, and Picasso; All their portraits sat the spark behind the eyes. The Masters from Paris, Oslo, and London also directed their works to the human head. It is essential to know the memento mori of the old masters; From the anatomical analysis of Leonardo da Vinci all the way to the torments of 19th-century romantics, and fractured features of the modernist portraiture. And then in the early 1980s, a young and brilliant artist from Brooklyn collided with the timeless subject. John Michel Basquiat brought his clutter to the skull, featuring expressions and electric eyes. The pulse and a group of masterpieces were alive to the rising hip-hop culture's chaotic rhythms and his life's story. Painted in 1982, Basquiat's Untitled head is the jump-cut journey into the artist's mind--perhaps everyone's mind. It's one of his series of head paintings that are rigorous in their way and constant in their topicality. The visceral untangled head composed with extreme velocity becomes Basquiat's key motif. 

Famous Head Portraits of Van Gogh, Shiela, Edvard Munch, and Picasso
Anatomical analysis of Leonardo da Vinci

"Basquiat was by no means the first artist to see the human head's potential as a vehicle for communicating the psychology of his subject. With Untitled (Head), he locates himself within a canon of artists who have used the human head as a psychological examination vehicle. In doing so, he has created some of the most enduring masterpieces of their respective periods. "

In 1982, Basquiat was in the ascendant. A few years earlier he had been making his mark in the city's streets as part of the graffiti duo SAMO. And now he is weathering the amount of success and temptation. Suddenly he found himself painting in Italy and California, living with Madonna and a friend named Warhol. Taking his tumultuous vision from Brooklyn's downtown sidewalks to pristine galleries. Basquiat's heads captured that confusion, combined physiognomy and psychology, and altered egos that are both warriors and worriers. Arching back to the African Mask, a contemporary and metro map is full of stops, starts, and junctions.

(Untitled) Boxer 1982

Basquiat himself quoted that his works were 80% anger. Intuitively composed in colored oil sticks over a set of black India ink, The painting shows an eruption of colors in greens, blues, reds, oranges and yellows. Featuring the bright orange eyes giving a glare above a deep-set mouth, and the head's thorny outlines. The work was included in Basquiat's personal pages, where he has been keeping on his own. It was then discovered in his studio following his premature death in 1988. There were inspirations to where he repeatedly returned. They possess remarkable similarities to perhaps his most extraordinary works, a monumental canvass of 1981, which is now in a Museum in Los Angeles. 

"Basquiat poured out his anxiety in all his canvas, and he was a constant draftsman. There was no distinction between drawing and painting, It was all his fierce reflex. In this work, He was able to get the manic core of the human condition. This is an existential portraiture of an unflinching kind."


After Van Gogh, Shiela, Edvard Munch, and Picasso there is Basquiat--the myth-making, risk-taking genius who turned art history on its head. 

Untitled, 1981 – Jean-Michel Basquiat © Broad Collection, Los Angeles, USA