Basquiat’s Self-Portrait (1982)

No regular user of this site could fail to recognize that the arrow held in the outstretched arm below is a "paintbrush". It may look like an arrow but that's what paintbrushes can sometimes resemble in an artist's mind. Arrows are, in an archer's hands, accurate, swift, powerful, violent and able to penetrate the human body. See, for example, paintings of St. Sebastian under Brush and Palette. All visual poets seem to understand this though no writer on art, as far as I know, has ever noted it. Yet Jean-Michel Basquiat at the age of twenty-two had a deep, visceral understanding of art. 

He painted his Self-portrait (below) with one enormous right hand to indicate the importance of his craft, just as Michelangelo gave the Virgin enormous hands in his Vatican Pieta for the same reason. Basquiat then extended the other arm upwards like the painter he was, a gesture that poetic painters recognize as the arm reaching for the canvas. In his hand, though, he holds not a brush but an arrow. I like to think Basquiat is screaming, “This is a paintbrush”, at all those who see only an arrow. But he’d be wasting his breath.  

Captions for image(s) above:

Basquiat, Self-Portrait (1982) Acrylic and crayon. Private Collection.

Click image to enlarge.


Original Publication Date on EPPH: 20 Nov 2010. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.