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Though typical in subject matter, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Anatomy series stands out from the artist’s oeuvre for its comparative calm and simplicity. His obsessive interest in the minutiae of the human body takes hold of his often frenetic hand in these prints, which see anatomical references closely cropped and labelled white-line drawings on black.

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Meaning & Analysis

In contrast to the chaotic, explosive character of his canvases, the Anatomy series presents the artist’s obsessive interest in the minutiae and intricate details of the human body in isolation. While the monochromatic simplicity of this series contrasts strongly with the bold use of colour with which his legacy is associated, Anatomy is inexorably linked to the entirety of his catalogue due to the way in which anatomical references are visible in pieces produced throughout his career.

Basquiat was involved in a car accident when he was eight years old, as a result of which he was taken to the hospital with multiple injuries and a broken arm. It was during this period that his mother presented him with a copy of the canonical medical encyclopaedia Gray's Anatomy (1878), which he promptly devoured. During his recuperation, he spent hours poring over the illustrations of the human body contained within the massive tome. The plethora of anatomical depictions of various kinds found in his work, ranging from the anatomical drawings featured in the frenetic collage entitled Jesse (1983) to this series of diagrammatic images showing various parts of the body, was no doubt heavily influenced by his experiences. The collection also demonstrates the influence of Leonardo Da Vinci's annotated manuscripts, which Basquiat owned.

10 Facts About Jean-Michel Basquiat's Anatomy

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Anatomy, 3 Views Of The Shoulder Joint Opened. A black screenprint featuring white drawings of a human shoulder joint with descriptive labels.

Anatomy, 3 Views Of The Shoulder Joint Opened © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982

1. It has a monochromatic colour palette

Known for his expressive, vibrant canvases, Basquiat makes a deliberate shift to a monochromatic palette in his Anatomy series. Far from diminishing his art, this minimalist approach amplifies it. The stark black and white contrast heightens every detail, proving that simplicity is equally capable of relaying depth and emotion.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Anatomy, The Scapula. A black screenprint featuring white anatomical drawings of a human scapula with descriptive labels.

Anatomy, The Scapula © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982.

2. Basquiat had a personal collection of Leonardo Da Vinci's manuscripts

Basquiat's deep immersion in anatomy wasn't solely shaped by his personal experiences with injury. His lens was further refined by his personal collection of Da Vinci's annotated manuscripts. Da Vinci’s work showcased his understanding of the body and desire to preserve its nuances through his sketches. Drawing from both personal experiences and Da Vinci's influence, Basquiat was able to develop his own style that has not only characterised this suite, but additional works be found in celebrity art collections.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Anatomy, Female Pelvis. A black screenprint featuring white anatomical drawings of a human female pelvis with descriptive labels.

Anatomy, Female Pelvis © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982.

3. Drawing is the sole medium

Basquiat's choice to use only drawing for the Anatomy series is both bold and evocative. Drawing, one of the oldest forms of art, strips away the complexities of modern mediums, focusing purely on the intimate connection between the artist's hand and his work. This collection, through its focused approach, highlights the potency of simplicity, suggesting that even basic tools can yield remarkable insights when used under Basquiat.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Anatomy, Great Wind Of Sphenoid. A black screenprint featuring white anatomical drawings of a human skull and sinuses with descriptive labels.

Anatomy, Great Wind Of Sphenoid © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982.