A Self Portrait Rooted in Expressionism

Jean-Michel had a signature painting style featuring diagrams, elusive symbols and obsessive scribbling that he depicts in the 1984 Self-Portrait. He fused paintings with poetry, music and history to enunciate the harsh realities of culture, society and race. In most of his portraits, Jean-Michel generalises the critical facial features like eyes and mouth to bring out the relevance of using body organs to inspire others. The letters around the mouth area and the red path connecting the eyes and mouth warn people to watch what they speak. The red-eye colour creates a haunted look that depicts frustration and internal anguish. Using red colours around the mouth and ears also shows the crucial organs that one needs to watch. Using a dark figure against a white backdrop with blue undertones represents his alienation and struggles as a black man.

What Themes Was Jean-Michel Basquiat Exploring?

Despite coming from a middle-class family and identifying with New York's intellectual class, Jean-Michel never forgot his identity. He was born to a Puerto-Rican mother and Haitian father, and the dual identity followed him throughout his artistic career. In the 1984 Self Portrait, he appreciates his skin colour and identifies with the racial injustices in the selective art world. He uses the duality concept to explore social, cultural and political differences between blacks and whites. However, instead of depicting two people on different sides, he uses symbols, objects, words and images to reveal alternate sides of the same reality. With the visible anger and confusion from the painting, he shows the frustration of being labelled as another black male in a white-dominated art world. Apart from race, he also explores the pressures and exploitive nature of the art industry. For instance, he uses his face as a disrupted African American mask that witnessed fear, anger and corruption.

What Inspired the 1984 Self Portrait?

Most of Jean-Michel Basquiat's paintings were inspired by his cultural heritage and his struggles as an artist. He viewed his paintings as a comical expression of life and the challenges caused by social and political injustices. That is why he painted a series of self-portraits portraying his struggle to find balance and fit into the white-dominated art industry. For instance, the 1984 Self Portrait continues his compelling depiction of himself in the 1983 self-portrait with a metaphysical subject on separate panels.