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Heroes and saints


“Jean-Michel’s crown has three peaks, for his three royal lineages: the poet, the musician, the great boxing champion. Jean measured his skill against all he deemed strong, without prejudice as to their taste or age.”
– Francesco Clemente, artist

Basquiat challenges Western histories by creating images that honour black men as kings and saints. With his signature recurring motif – the crown – the artist recognizes the majesty of his heroes: groundbreaking athletes, musicians and writers. Inspired by their accomplishments, Basquiat believed he was continuing the work of this noble lineage: he often depicts himself wearing the same crown in his self-portraits. Basquiat’s crown is a changeable symbol. It is sometimes a halo and sometimes a crown of thorns, as the artist emphasizes the martyrdom often involved with sainthood. For Basquiat, these heroes and saints are warriors – sometimes rendered triumphant, their arms raised in victory.

Jean-Michel Basquiat
The Ring, 1981
Acrylic on canvas
152.4 x 121.9 cm
Private Collection, Courtesy Acquavella Galleries
© Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Untitled, 1982
Acrylic and oil on linen
193 x 239 cm
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Photogapher: Studio Tromp, Totterdam
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York