Flexible is a screen print in colours by Jean-Michel Basquiat, produced in 1984. This print depicts a human figure with arms which appear to be joined up. The figure is a West African griot, a storyteller who would be responsible for passing on tribal histories and genealogies. The image is a primary example of the influence of West African culture on Basquiat’s oeuvre. Basquiat made one trip to Africa, in August 1986 for an exhibition organised by art dealer Bruno Bischofberger at the French Cultural Institute of Cote D’Ivoire.
The figure, with its interlocked limbs, projects omniscience and authority. Unlike the figures surrounded by a cacophony of images, scrawls and loud colours, the figure of Flexible bears an air of stillness and calm. Nevertheless, we still see the internal body emerging through the figure’s skin, with lungs and the spine drawn in white, appearing to protrude from the subject’s body.
The print is based on a painting on wood created in the same year as the printing. Basquiat used a section of a fence from his studio in Venice, California. A similar slatted wood material was used for other works such as Gold Griot (1984) and Jim Crow (1986).