Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Overrun, 1985 sold for £1,127,650 at the Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 17 February 2011, London.
In a manner similar to the French painter Jean Dubuffet, Overrun’s heavily vertical format and its five black window frames at the top are suggestive of a vibrant urban landscape. Basquiat was greatly influenced by the high-rise skyscrapers of his native New York City and continuously referenced it. His teenage years spent as a wandering homeless artist, during which time he tagged mysterious and witty statements under the pseudonym SAMO, left a lasting impression. Art historians have long drawn comparisons with Jean Dubuffet’s childlike and naïve style and his lack of interest in rationally coherent compositions with a central perspective – a comparison most striking when comparing Dubuffet’s series Views of Paris with Overrun. Like Basquiat, Dubuffet made graffiti the central motif of his art.
Another important feature to be seen here, and which can be seen elsewhere in Basquiat’s output, is the use of language, in the form of consciously child-like scribbles and cryptic writings. While painting in the basement of Annina Nosei’s gallery, Basquiat had a book open to pages illustrating Twombly’s large, lyrical compositions which incorporate text and image. While recalling similar inscriptions in the works of Jean Dubuffet and Cy Twombly, Basquiat’s words, whether crossed out, repeated, or naively spelled, signify both the urgency and power with which he could communicate through his art. Paradoxically, this was an ability he so cruelly lacked in the real world so it is all the more affecting when seen in his paintings.