The Figure Portfolio, a posthumous release of Jean-Michel Basquiat's prints from the 1980s, showcases his distinct, chaotic style in a fresh light. Unveiled in 2023, this collection of 5 screen prints reflects Basquiat's evolution, intertwining vivid imagery and complex societal themes, offering a renewed perspective on the celebrated artist's profound impact on the art world.
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In Jean-Michel Basquiat's Figure Portfolio, a striking visual kinship with his earlier Daros Suite is immediately apparent. This collection, perhaps as an extension of the thematic momentum established in the Daros Suite, showcases a continuation of the distinctive blue colour that Basquiat used in works like Leeches and Ascent. In this new collection, however, this blue takes on a deeper, more complex role, infusing each piece with a unique personality and depth. Complementing this are the warm hues of red, orange, and yellow, which Basquiat masterfully employs to breathe life into his array of figures.
A particularly intriguing aspect of The Figure Portfolio is the introduction of a female character, maybe a first in Basquiat’s expansive body of work. The Figure III is noteworthy in this regard, featuring a female figure prominently alongside a male counterpart. This contrast is set against a backdrop of repeated triangles, patterns, and letters, maintaining consistency with other works in the series. This divergence in subject matter could suggest an exploration of gender dynamics, or perhaps a simpler, yet profound acknowledgment of the female form.
In The Figure I, we encounter a familiar character from the Daros Suite – the wolf. This character undergoes a transformation, emerging as both a dominant figure in the foreground and as repeated smaller figures in the background. The full-bodied, towering wolf, adorned with Basquiat’s iconic crown, recalls the character in Wolf Sausage. This wolf, previously linked to the narrative of Olympic and associated with Disney, reflects Basquiat’s perceptions of Walt Disney and his cultural politics. In The Figure I, however, the wolf character seems to assume a central role in its own universe (perhaps not so far removed from Disney after all), drawing a parallel, mocking Disney’s storytelling approach, with a distinctly Basquiat twist.
The Figure Portfolio stands as a compelling evolution in Basquiat's artistic journey. The introduction of new elements and themes, while maintaining a stylistic continuity with his previous works, demonstrates Basquiat's ability to explore and comment on the social and cultural landscapes of his time. Through this series, Basquiat not only revisits but also reimagines the motifs from his past, offering a fresh perspective on his enduring themes of identity, power, and societal commentary.