© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York 2014
This Untitled work, sometimes known as ‘Skull’ by Jean-Michel Basquiat is likely to be inspired by a key moment from his childhood.
When Jean-Michel was a boy, around seven or eight, [SOUNDFX: car screech] he was hit by a car and broke his arm.
To help him pass the time during his recovery, his mother brought him a copy of Gray’s Anatomy - a medical textbook with illustrations and diagrams of the human body.
Jean-Michel’s mom was from Puerto Rico and his dad was from Port Au Prince in Haiti - a country in the Caribbean that practices a religion called Vodou. Skulls are a common image in Vodou, and are mostly seen as symbols of death.
Because we are able to see [SOUNDFX: teeth and jaw clattering] teeth and jaw in this painting, we might think of it as a skull, but we can see eyes, a nose and an ear, and grass-like hair growing. And inside where the brain should be are different, connected room-like spaces in a variety of colors. It’s like we can see the inside and outside of this “skull” at once.
It’s a skull that’s both very alive; yet dead.
I think it’s more like a head.