10 Facts About Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Daros Suite

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Ascent. A Neo Expressionist screenprint of abstract symbols and religious figures and texts across a white and blue background.Ascent © Jean-Michel Basquiat 2017
Rebecca Marsham

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Jean-Michel Basquiat's Daros Suite serves as a canvas of complexity and simplicity, weaving together a host of themes from the struggles of Black icons to abstract anatomical symbols. Through the collection of drawings inspired by Basquiat's original paintings, viewers are immersed in a playground of narratives rich in political and societal commentary. From the intricate storytelling of Boxer Rebellion to the exploration of divinity in Ascent, Basquiat masterfully combines his frenzied sketches with profound depths of meaning. Anchored in his improvisational style, the series encapsulates his unmatched ability to communicate intricate tales through both visuals and text.


It’s named after the Daros Collection

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Daros Suite. A Neo Expressionist screenprint featuring four of Basquiat’s works in the series: Ascent, Olympic, Leeches, and Liberty. Daros Suite © Jean-Michel Basquiat 2017.

The actual name of the series is intrinsically linked to its prestigious housing at the Daros Collection in Zurich, a renowned institution known for its extensive assemblage of modern and contemporary art. This collection not only provides a sheltering haven for the series but also aligns Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work with a lineage of artistic brilliance and innovation housed within the same space. The naming signifies a relationship between the art and its residing environment, echoing the same energy Basquiat often explored in his work.


It’s made up of 32 drawings

A Neo Expressionist screenprint of a collection of texts, figures, and images across a white background. 50 Cent Piece © Jean-Michel Basquiat 2019

The Daros suite features 32 drawings inspired by Basquiat's original paintings. This esteemed collection, deeply rooted in Basquiat's improvisational style, provides viewers with a carefully curated journey through his unique lens. Far from being simple reproductions, each print stands as a thoughtful, intentional reflection of the original.


Basquiat's love for anatomy is adequately displayed

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Dog Leg Study. A Neo Expressionist screenprint of various texts including "Famous Dog Leg Study" combined with anatomical figures and characters against a white background. Dog Leg Study © Jean-Michel Basquiat 2019

Anatomy takes centre stage with bones, skulls, and feet recurring frequently throughout the series. While other pieces subtly incorporate these motifs, Dog Led Study places them in relief against a minimalist white background. This deliberate choice accentuates features like eyes and various body parts, encapsulating Basquiat's fascination with the human form and its symbolic resonance.


Basquiat paints double entendres in Boxer Rebellion

 Jean-Michel Basquiat's Boxer Rebellion. A Neo Expressionist screenprint of two abstract figures boxing in the centre of a white background with various texts and characters.Boxer Rebellion © Jean-Michel Basquiat 2018

In the case of Basquiat’s Boxer Rebellion, you could argue that he employs a kind of visual double entendre by intertwining two distinct cultural narratives within a singular artistic expression. Here, the title Boxer Rebellion overtly references the historic Chinese Boxer Rebellion, depicting aspects of struggle and resistance inherent to this uprising. Simultaneously, it acts as a metaphorical layer, alluding to Basquiat’s boxing heroes, figures who, in their time, rebelled injustice in their own way while displaying an unapologetic sense of pride at the same time. This duality in narrative not only enriches the piece's interpretative depth but also highlights Basquiat’s intricate storytelling, his ability to overlay multiple threads of meaning within his work, and his profound connection to themes of rebellion and identity politics.


It blends narratives through recurring themes

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Leeches. A Neo Expressionist screenprint of a red skull in the middle of a white background with blue in the centre along with a variety of texts and symbols. Leeches © Jean-Michel Basquiat 2017

All the works in this series reveal a much larger narrative than what meets the eye. Although Leeches appears to have fewer abstract depictions of human figures, its use of words and language help contextualise the entire series. For instance, beyond providing a linguistic context, the pests illustrated in Leeches also recur in Wolf Sausage. Once more, the presence of the 'Big Bad Wolf' in Wolf Sausage is curiously positioned above the name 'Walt Disney' in Olympic. The interrelation of visual and textual elements across the pieces accentuates the nuanced narrative by Basquiat, enriching the interpretative exploration of his work.


It hides deities in plain sight

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Ascent. A Neo Expressionist screenprint of abstract symbols and religious figures and texts across a white and blue background.Ascent © Jean-Michel Basquiat 2017

Basquiat's use of names like Eckartshausen and Plotinus in Ascent hints at a deeper exploration of diverse philosophical and spiritual concepts, offering insights into his own reflections on truth and enlightenment. Plotinus, a philosopher who influenced the world’s major religions today, has his name placard in close proximity to Basquiat's integration of Christian mysticism, symbols representing the sun, and references to Egyptian deities suggests a synthesis of spiritual knowledge, reaching beyond traditional viewpoints. These varied elements, closely arranged, may depict his endeavour to discern a path that goes beyond established beliefs.


The crown isn’t the focal point

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Olympic. A Neo Expressionist screenprint of a variety of texts and symbols against a predominately white background. Olympic © Jean-Michel Basquiat 2017

Though Basquiat’s name has become synonymous with his three-pronged crown, the motif is used sparingly in this series. Throughout the entire collection, viewers only meet with the crown in Olympic. It’s seen twice, each time above a Basquiat-style Superman logo, positioned near a red sports car and a bar of soap.


It’s filled with Basquiat’s signature iconography

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Wolf Sausage. A Neo Expressionist screenprint of a wolf character with a link of sausage below it surrounded by texts and various icons.Wolf Sausage © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982.

Overflowing with frenzied iconography, each print pairs with a unique set of symbols: bones, bars of soap, the Big Bad Wolf, and the Statue of Liberty—all finding a home in Daros. Basquiat's works in this collection are evidence of his fusion of street art and formalism. This convergence of high and low cultural references, from cartoons to iconic landmarks, offers a commentary on societal structures and challenges the boundaries of traditional art, making each print a conversation piece.


They resemble journals

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Undiscovered Genius. A Neo Expressionist screenprint of a man holding a guitar in the centre of a white background surrounded by texts and an assortment of images. Undiscovered Genius © Jean-Michel Basquiat 2019

Basquiat’s art has long presented itself as a field journal, equally composed of observation and documentation. This journal-esque quality is prevalent across his works, each rich with political and societal commentary, punctuated with fitting visuals. Together, they narrate multiple tales concurrently, yet it maintains a singular identity. Undiscovered Genius may best illustrate this approach. The words “Griot” “Mississippi” “Genius”, and “Liberty” are situated among images of a slave ship, a black man holding a guitar, and the dollar sign. This vivid portrayal narrates multiple tales concurrently, yet it maintains a singular identity.


It tackles complex subjects with simplicity

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Liberty. A Neo Expressionist screenprint of anatomical figures, texts, and images, including red, yellow, and blue colouring.Liberty © Jean-Michel Basquiat 2017

Basquiat brilliantly balances complexity with simplicity in this collection full with the themes and text throughout the series that reveal his intent to both showcase his artistic prowess and reflect the world's events. Despite sketches that might seem abstract or even child-like, they communicate profound narratives eloquently. From theology and racial inequality to significant historical moments, each topic finds its voice in Basquiat's Daros works, underscoring his capacity to weave multifaceted stories through seemingly simplistic designs.

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