New – design Candy Warhol 02 & new sale items

andy Warhol new design @ Artwearness 2019

Design Candy Warhol is the fourth (and for now the last) Warhol design in line. It is also part of our Museum Collection

This could very well be seen as a big tribute to Warhol. But than again it is also a re-use of his postmodernist ideas. These ideas were rooted in the concept that every image or outing can be art, even a label of a soup can, even the face of Mao Zedong, Marylin Monroe or Beatrix the ex queen of the Netherlands. And art can be wall paper, mass print, xerox, readymade and even commercial as well. Andy Warhol was a frontman, the pusher of this concept. So, in honor of this thought we flipped Andy’s name back and forward and did the same to his face. And, he can only approve from above!

See all Museum collection designs here:

The gallery was not found!

Summersale: Oh My God & Stop

Design Stop @ Artwearness /// Summersault
design Oh God Why Am I So Fly

These two designs are our summer deals. €25,- instead of the regular price €29,95

Check these original and artful designs @

Printed on slave free and sustainable Stella & Stanley cotton

Who made our clothes? #fashionrevolution

#whomademyclothes #fashionrevolution
#fashionrevolution #whomademyclothes

(scroll down for Dutch) Clothes with consciousness– Artwearness is a company with awareness. Whats in a name. We have a message, which is more important than pure modern economics; keep your eyes open, be a conscious consumer. We share this message by the way we express ourselves on our shirts. By ironic comments, sharp graphics and somewhat provoking statements. We make statements, because we expect our buyers to be intelligent creatures. And because they are intelligent, we believe that this intelligence can be used to change the world for the better in stead of the worse. We print on demand so we choose to keep our ecological footprint small and we print on T-shirts of the slavefree and sustainable cotton-brand Stella and Stanley.

Fashion Revolution- Stella and Stanley choose to produce their clothes in a sustainable manner, with respect for planet and human. In collaboration with the Fair Wear Foundation, they work close with Bangladesh factories to guarantee high quality cloth and at the same time taking their responsibility regarding social and ecological issues. Stella and Stanley are participating in the #Fashion Revolution and asked us to participate too. And we are more than welcome to.

Who made my clothes– Fashion is one of the most polluting and exploiting industries of this modern world. The reason is simple, we want something new and we want it cheap. As fas as we are concerned, it seems easy to change starting here, now, with your own wardrobe, wishes and desires. Because currently we are not the fashion victims, but the laborers are and the planet is. It is time to change that. If you agree so share #Fashionrevolution and #whomademyclothes.

We thank you, Artwearness

#whomademyclothes #fashionrevolution
#Imadeyourclothes #fashionrevolution

(NL) Who made our clothes? #fashionrevolution

Kleding met bewustzijn- Artwearness is een bedrijf met bewustzijn. Whats in a name. We hebben een boodschap; houd je ogen open en wees een bewuste consument. Wij delen deze boodschap door de wijze waarop wij ons zelf uitdrukking in de prints op de shirts. Door ironisch commentaar, scherpe graphics en enigszins prikkelende statements. We maken statements omdat we geloven dat onze kopers inteligente wezens zijn. Wij geloven ook dat, omdat zij intelligent zijn geloven we dat hun intelligentie ook de wereld juist beter kan maken, niet slechter. We printen ‘on demand’ dat houdt in, een kleine ecologische footprint en we printen op shirts van het slaafvrije en duurzame merk, Stella & Stanley.

Fashion Revolution- Stella and Stanley kiest er voor om haar kleding productie duurzaam en met respect voor mens en planeet te produceren. In samen werking met de Fair Wear Foundation, werken ze nauw samen met Blangaleshe fabrieken om zo kwaliteit te garanderen en hun verantwoordelijkheid te nemen voor ecologische en sociale omstandigheden. Stella and Stanley doet mee aan de #Fashion Revolution en heeft ons gevraagd ook mee te doen. En dat doen we graag!

Who made my clothes– Mode is een van de meest vervuilende en mensonterende industrie in deze moderne wereld. De reden is simpel, we willen steeds iets nieuws en we willen er weinig voor betalen. Wat ons betreft is dat dus eigenlijk ook makkelijk te veranderen, beginnend bij je zelf, je eigen kledingkeuze, wensen en verlangens. Want momenteel zijn wij het niet die ‘fashion victims’ zijn maar de arbeiders en onze planeet! Als jij het hier ook mee eens bent deel dan #fashion revolution # who made my clothes.

Dank je wel, Artwearness

#whomademycloth #fashionrevolution
#Imadeyourcloth #fashionrevolution

Rebelicious Rebel

Temp model Isabel wears Artwearness design Rebelicious

Artwearness Blog, Follow us. News about our original and sustainable artwear cult & more. Artwearness – T shirt print design, printed on demand!. Top quality artprint on Stella and Stanley T shirts.

Check out our latest design Rebelicious. No design @ Artwearness  is without meaning or thought. We are here to educate you on opinion and taste. Besides we have the best and most original designs.

James Dean was a rebel without a cause, Che Guevara was a rebel with a cause. Singer Lauren Hill cries out to rebel in her song I find it hard to say. Her powerful words hits you like a sledgehammer. Her message is urgent.

I quote a few lines here: 

Lyrics: I find it hard to say. by Lauren Hill

Female round neck -white.Background portrait, Lauren Hill

“And what I gotta say, is rebel, it can’t go down this way
Choose well, choose well, choose well…
…choose well, choose well, choose well
And while the people sleep, too comfortable to face it
Your lives are so incomplete, and nothing, and no one, can replace it”

The word rebel has a brave connotation. You might even say it is Rebelicious to rebel. But it has no meaning at all if the reason or the cause it self is lame of selfish.

At this current moment people are revolting in yellow jackets

Not sure what to think of it but what we do know that social media is the  engine that fuels the mindset of the masses..

The question that raises is if the anger towards the governments is justified. Who is responsible for prices going to the roof and increasing environmental taxes and who holds the key to change. 

The truth is that we, the common people, the consumers are as much responsible as anyone else. If we make different choices, on daily basis, we are able to change our world into a better one. Even a small gesture of one person can make a difference.

Female V neck -white.Background portrait, Che Guevara

Why don’t we rebel against multinationals that are polluting our world and exploiting the less beneficial? Why are we keep shopping like crazy and ignore the sources of unrealistic cheep products? Why do we support unhealthy & powerfull companies as Mc Donnalds & Coca Cola by eating and drinking stuff that is a hazard for your body and environment? And what about the endless  support of the biggest crooks of all, Facebook? What about it? Non of this can be settled by any government.

On the brink of X mass I would say; take a closer look at your own behavior if you want to revolt and change the world. Change is possible. It starts here.

As Lauren Hill would say: And while the people sleep, too comfortable to face it. Your lives are so incomplete, and nothing, and no one, can replace it”

This cool Tee Rebelicious waiting to be worn by true soul rebels is available @ and of course @ our house dealer in hometown Zwolle; Warehouse Blauwdruck. Is your design not there? Check Jorien.

Female round neck -white.Background portrait, David Bowie

Artwearness is awarenessThe time we live in requires a different way of thinking and (re)acting. We are dealing with mass culture, overconsumption, over population and climate change. Artwearness offers the conscious consumer an original and honest product; we believe in making choices

Sustainability and fair-trade.Artwearness has no stock; each order is printed on demand for each customer. No stock means no surplus and no waste resulting in a smaller ecological footprint. We print on Stanley and Stella shirts. They produce beautiful, high quality, modern, sustainable and slave free products. We are very aware of the world around us and we offer the conscious consumer an honest alternative to the price fighting fashion industry. Currently this is still reflected in the price of our products. Artwearness is an initiative by Marit Otto ( and Erik van Scheijndel. (

Male round neck -white.Background portrait, James dean

New design Minimal

Hello, there’s some fresh new from us. Today we launched our latest design in our web-shop. It takes a good look. This design is definitely ‘not’ in your face. it is quiet modest and almost invisible at first sight. It is Minimal.

Minimal design means maximal effort of the designer.

Considering and weighing to make an intelligent choice that supports both efficiency as well as aesthetics.

Less is more and less is less.

Is there some space left for minimalism, in our ‘to the max’ society?


This design fits right into our Museum campaign as-well because it links to art as a long swift tail to a lizard. We do love minimal art @ Artwearness. 

We sample a few nice minimal artworks for you; see below

But first sample our own minimalistic presentation;

Isabelle wears design Minimal
This design is made by Damien Eektimmerman 2018, under supervision of Artwearness

And check out this cool animation

Take a glance at our shirts.

What is minimalism? 

Take notice of this short insight

Check our refreshed website too @

Hot & still looking ‘Shark as a Knife’

(naar beneden scrollen voor NL versie)

Hello to you all, our weather report is HOT…..& still looking ‘Shark as a Knife’. Smooth as jelly, slippery when wet.We just consumed a nice short holiday. Artwearness had to un-load and re-load. Therefor we used our vacation to get inspired. We went to cool musea in Prague and Vienna and enjoyed beautiful nature as well. We present our fresh discount to you ‘ Shark As a Knife’ for any sharp dresser, such as your self, of course. So check in on us and get yours!

A variety of shirts is also available @ warehouse Blauwdruck, Zwolle.

Oh and our website has a temporary different look due to ICT things we have no knowledge of. It is of no bother to you but it looks less slick as it used to look. Excuse us for the inconvenience.

We will keep you posted. See you soon., really the coolest, yet slightly undiscovered, t-shirt print design web-shop

Hot & still looking ‘Shark as a Knife’

Hallo allemaal, ons weerbericht is HEET & still looking ‘Shark as a Knife’. Smooth as jelly, slippery when wet.. We hebben net een heerlijke korte vakantie achter de rug. Artwearness moest zich even ontladen en opladen. Daarom hebben we onze vakantie gebruikt om ons weer te laten inspireren. Zo zijn we naar te gekke musea geweest in Praag en Wenen en hebben ons gelaafd aan mooie natuur. We presenteren onze frisse, verse discount aan jullie ‘ Shark As a Knife’ voor elke ‘sharp dresser’ zoals jij zelf, natuurlijk. Dus check onze website en bestel jouw shirt.

een selectie van onze shirts is ook verkrijgbaar @ warehouse Blauwdruck, Zwolle.

Oh ja, onze web shop heeft tijdelijk een iets andere aanblik. dit heeft te maken met ICT issues waar wij zelf geen weet van hebben. Het is verder niet nadelig voor jou als klant behalve dan dat het er minder slick uitziet dan je wellicht gewend bent. Wordt aan gewerkt. excuses voor enig ongemak.

We houden je op de hoogte!, echt de coolste, edoch onontdekt door enkelen, t-shirt print design web-shop

Postmodernistic quotes @ Artwearness

As Postmodernism is our week theme , we lined out a few famous quotes for you.

Vaclav Havel seeing Postmodernism in a holistic sense:

“We live in the postmodern world, where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain”.

Irving Sandler approaching it in a artistic way:

“It’s impossible in our postmodern era for anyone to be original – for anybody to do what Jackson Pollock did”.

Jean Baudrillard quotes it in a postmodern way ( :

“You are born modern, you do not become so”.

And Nawal El Saadawi lookes upon it in a cultural and femenist way:

“Plastic surgery is a postmodern veil.”

We, are simply the gateway and the visualizers…. so check us too @

Postmodernist is part of our museum campaign and available in our webshop and Warehouse Blauwdruck, Zwolle

Sneak preview

Design Surreal will be reality soon. Junior designer Damien Eektimmerman designed this interesting design for us.

What do you think??? I think it is fabulous.

Soon this design will be (freezed) available @

Also will we present this design in our ‘ Artwearness @ the museum’ catalogue. (newsflash 2. Artwearness@ the museum is also in the making)

Keep track of us….

MOMMmmmmm’s the word

Check warehouse Blauwdruck if there’s still a Mom’s shirt left…. You might as well get a great present for your mother??? right?

Blauwdruck is located @ the Sassenstraat, Zwolle

(NL) Design Surreal zal spoedig realitiet zijn.  Junior designer Damien Eektimmerman heeft dit interessante ontwerp voor Artwearness gemaakt.


Wat vind je ervan? Ik denk dat het een geweldig ontwerp is

Dit design zal binnenkort (stilstaand) in onze webshop verschijnen 

Dit design zal ook zijn opwachting maken in onze  ‘ Artwearness @ the museum’ catalogus. (newsflash 2. Artwearness@ the museum is ook nog in de maak)

Blijf ons volgen…

MOMMmmmmm’s the word

Check warehouse Blauwdruck  of er nog Mom shirtjes zijn, je zou maar zo een geweldig cadeautje voor je moeder kunnen kopen, toch?

Blauwdruck is te vinden @ the Sassenstraat, Zwolle




New design ‘ Art Is’ @ Artwearness

Art is……………….

‘For one it’s absolutely negligible, for the other it’s a lifeline.

For one it’s utterly bullocks, for the other a necessity.

For me it’s a pleasure for the eye, a refreshment for the mind and comfort for the soul.

What about you?’

Yes a new design in our store. Artlovers, arthaters waiting to be converted (?!) check out this one @

A selection of Artwearness shirts are also available @ warehouse Blauwdruck, Zwolle & platform Made In Zwolle

Freek wears design Art Is

background image Visual Artist Tracy Emin

Background Image visual artist: Frida Kahlo

background Image Visual artist: Lucian Freud

background image visual artist: Michael Basquiat

temp Model Freek is wearing design Art Is 2018

What about art? In the promo images above few famous and admirable artist are shown (modestly on the background to support our design). Each and everyone of them mind blowing. Either because of their superb way of painting, their rebellious way of existing and working, their openness and /or vulnerability. They are the ones, and many other artist, breaking ground, challenging society and force us each and every-time to open our eyes, stretch our minds and push our own boundaries. They, and many other great artist, changed my world and support me in day to day life. Art is as far as I am concerned, the best receipt for a healthy mind and soul!

Some info for you about the mentioned artist. (it is a long read for those who like to get some refined information)

Tracy Emin:(source biography tracy Emin)

Tracey Emin is often called the “bad girl of British art” for her raucous public appearances and self-righteous art which are quite contrary to societal norms in England, and previous notions of femininity. She is best known for her deeply personal and confessional artwork that she promotes through her celebrity and use of the popular media. Personal traumatic events such as unreported rape, public humiliation, sexism, botched abortions, alcoholism, and promiscuity have been her topics. The quality of Emin’s artwork is often contested, from the critique of expressionism, to the politics of female representation. However, it is this collapse of the identity of the artist and her work that begs for rigorous thought.

Her work is often referred to as confessional, for she uses her own personal history as the subject for her artwork. She has used her own body as medium in self-portraits and performances. Her artworks enact self-mapping and self-commemorating through the possible healing and spiritual aspect of art.
The fame Emin received was more from press gossip than from critical debate for her artwork and her persona is her own brand of unapologetic artistic commodity that violated social norms (particularly British norms). Before reality television programming became as large of a phenomenon as it is today, Emin was elevated to celebrity status through the contested reception of her public appearances. Her brash unwelcomed commentary and defiant telling of a woman’s autobiography fed on the public’s love of voyeurist-like television sealed Emin’s prominence in the contemporary art world.
She rejected the stereotype of the polite modest Englishwoman, and publically aired her dirty laundry through her artwork and public appearances. Emin’s artwork has a performative quality, and has a function other than mere self-expression in that her persona has been created for her by the public, and she has played the “bad girl” that the public has critically embraced. The societal response is part of her artwork; she encourages critique even if it comes in the form of gossip tabloids.
Although she rejects any notions of her work being for a feminist greater good, her courage to be vulnerable and honest through her artwork collapses the edge between life and art, and has brought attention to the discrepancies between men and women’s ability to critically and publically engage with topics such as alcoholism, gender roles, and, most controversially, sex.

Hate and Power Can be a Terrible Thing 2004 Tracey Emin born 1963 Purchased 2004

Frida Kahlo (source : https://www.biographyfridakahlo)

Many of Frida Kahlo’s works were self-portraits. A few of her most notable paintings include:

Kahlo showed this painting at the Sixth Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Society of Women Artists, the city where she was living with Rivera at the time. In the work, painted two years after the couple married, Kahlo lightly holds Rivera’s hand as he grasps a palette and paintbrushes with the other — a stiffly formal pose hinting at the couple’s future tumultuous relationship. The work now lives at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.


Kahlo was asked to paint a portrait of Luce and Kahlo’s mutual friend, actress Dorothy Hale, who had committed suicide earlier that year by jumping from a high-rise building. The painting was intended as a gift for Hale’s grieving mother. Rather than a traditional portrait, however, Kahlo painted the story of Hale’s tragic leap. While the work has been heralded by critics, its patron was horrified at the finished painting.

One Kahlo’s most famous works, the paintings shows two versions of the artist sitting side by side, with both of their hearts exposed. One Frida is dressed nearly all in white and has a damaged heart and spots of blood on her clothing. The other wears bold-colored clothing and has an intact heart. These figures are believed to represent “unloved” and “loved” versions of Kahlo.

Kahlo shared her physical challenges through her art again with this painting, which depicted a nearly nude Frida split down the middle, revealing her spine as a shattered decorative column. She also wears a surgical brace and her skin is studded with tacks or nails. Around this time, Kahlo had several surgeries and wore special corsets to try to fix her back. She would continue to seek a variety of treatments for her chronic physical pain with little success.

On September 17, 1925, Kahlo and Alejandro Gómez Arias, a school friend with whom she was romantically involved, were traveling together on a bus when the vehicle collided with a streetcar. As a result of the collision, Kahlo was impaled by a steel handrail, which went into her hip and came out the other side. She suffered several serious injuries as a result, including fractures in her spine and pelvis.

After staying at the Red Cross Hospital in Mexico City for several weeks, Kahlo returned home to recuperate further. She began painting during her recovery and finished her first self-portrait the following year, which she gave to Gómez Arias.

In 1929, Frida Kahlo and famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera married. Kahlo and Rivera first met in 1922 when he went to work on a project at her high school. Kahlo often watched as Rivera created a mural called The Creation in the school’s lecture hall. According to some reports, she told a friend that she would someday have Rivera’s baby.

Kahlo reconnected with Rivera in 1928. He encouraged her artwork, and the two began a relationship. During their early years together, Kahlo often followed Rivera based on where the commissions that Rivera received were. In 1930, they lived in San Francisco, California. They then went to New York City for Rivera’s show at the Museum of Modern Art and later moved to Detroit for Rivera’s commission with the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Kahlo and Rivera’s time in New York City in 1933 was surrounded by controversy. Commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller, Rivera created a mural entitled Man at the Crossroads in the RCA Building at Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller halted the work on the project after Rivera included a portrait of communist leader Vladimir Leninin the mural, which was later painted over. Months after this incident, the couple returned to Mexico and went to live in San Angel, Mexico.

Never a traditional union, Kahlo and Rivera kept separate, but adjoining homes and studios in San Angel. She was saddened by his many infidelities, including an affair with her sister Cristina. In response to this familial betrayal, Kahlo cut off most of her trademark long dark hair. Desperately wanting to have a child, she again experienced heartbreak when she miscarried in 1934.

Kahlo and Rivera went through periods of separation, but they joined together to help exiled Soviet communist Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia in 1937. The Trotskys came to stay with them at the Blue House (Frida’s childhood home) for a time in 1937 as Trotsky had received asylum in Mexico. Once a rival of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, Trotsky feared that he would be assassinated by his old nemesis. Kahlo and Trotsky reportedly had a brief affair during this time.

Kahlo divorced Rivera in 1939. They did not stay divorced for long, remarrying in 1940. The couple continued to lead largely separate lives, both becoming involved with other people over the years.

Lucian Freud (source:

Lucian Freud, renowned for his unflinching observations of anatomy and psychology, made even the beautiful people (including Kate Moss) look ugly. One of the late twentieth-century’s most celebrated portraitists, Freud painted only those closest to him: friends and family, wives and mistresses, and, last but not least, himself. His insightful series of self-portraits spanned over six decades. Unusual among artists with such long careers, his style remained remarkably consistent. Perhaps inevitably, the psychic intensity of his portraits, and his notoriously long sessions with sitters have been compared with the psychoanalytic practice of his famous grandfather, Sigmund Freud.

 Unapologetically self-absorbed, Freud embodied a notion that comes to us from the Renaissance, and which has been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci: “Every artist paints himself.” Freud remained aloof from his sitters, a rapport that comes through in his work, referring to the work as “purely autobiographical” and the people he painted as merely the vehicle for figurative innovations: “I use the people to invent my pictures with, and I can work more freely when they are there.”
 Freud was one of the founders of the so-called School of London, a group of artists dedicated to figurative realism, considered somewhat reactionary at the time because it eschewed the presence of avant-garde movements at the time, such as Minimalism, Pop, and Conceptual art. Compared with David Hockney, or even Francis Bacon, his contemporaries, Freud is stylistically conventional. The subject matter, however, is anything but.
While life drawing classes had long included nude models, the expressive detail with which Freud paints genitals sets him apart from other artists in the history of portraiture. With the analytic scrutiny and detail a botanical illustrator might devote to a rare flower, Freud paints primary and secondary sex characteristics.
Freud owes much to the early-20th-century Expressionists. His pronounced, expressive strokes recall Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch, and the tilted perspective and anthropomorphic depictions of chairs, shoes, and other inanimate objects bring to mind Vincent van Gogh.
Freud was one of the great self-portraitists of the 20thh century. He painted himself obsessively. While it may lack the range of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, or Schiele, Freud’s self-portraits form one of the most complete visual autobiographies of any painter, yielding insight into the self-absorption and relentless drive that fueled the artist.

Working Title/Artist: Naked Man, Back ViewDepartment: Modern and Contemporary ArtCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: 11Working Date: 1991-92
photography by mma, Digital File: DT6995.tif
retouched by film and media (kah) 03_27_14

Michael Basquiat (source:

The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
Just because the body is rotten—
That is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
You will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.

Underlying Jean-Michel Basquiat’s sense of himself as an artist was his innate capacity to function as something like an oracle, distilling his perceptions of the outside world down to their essence and, in turn, projecting them outward through his creative acts. This recognition of his role first manifested itself in street actions wherein, under the tag name of SAMO, he transformed his own observations into pithy text messages inscribed on the edifices of the urban environment. This effort quickly became the basis for his early artistic output, including a series of text-image drawings executed in early 1981. Containing a single word, a short phrase, or a simple image referring to a person, event, or recent observation, each drawing refined an external perception down to its core.

As an exhibiting painter, Basquiat was informed by the same process of distillation in both his work’s content and its stylistic strategy. His paintings proclaimed the existence of a more basic truth locked within a given event or thought. As his career unfolded, the young artist applied the same intense scrutiny previously reserved for the world around him to the emotional and spiritual aspects of his own being.

Beginning in the early part of 1981, when he was barely twenty years of age, Basquiat went through what would be a defining period in his career. Homing in on the possibilities implicit in drawing from his own life experiences as a means of addressing larger human concerns, he produced five key works over an eighteen-month period: Untitled (Head) (1981), Acque Pericolose (1981), Per Capita (1981), Notary (1983), and La Colomba (1983). These works not only offer insight into this period in Basquiat’s career but reveal the depth of his concern for portraying spiritual experience. Though much has been written about the artist’s almost mythic persona and his role in revitalizing the New York art world in the early 1980s, little discussion has focused on the works’ irrefutable power to transcend the individual and address broader issues and universal themes.

In pursuing these key works, their way of handling dualities—that is, fundamentally opposing ideas or belief systems—can be seen as an underlying pictorial strategy for the artist. In this regard, I note the 1981 drawing depicting balancing scales with the words GOD and LAW positioned below the two scales (figure 1). Basquiat saw that drawing as capturing what was for him the dichotomy that existed between the freedom of expression demanded by his own creative activity and the requirements of societal responsibility.

Many of the dualities suggested in his work evolve out of the recognition of his predicament as a young black man in a white art world. Having worked closely with the artist in the production of his editioned silkscreens as well as his first unique paintings utilizing silkscreen-generated imagery, I became acutely aware of the extent of Basquiat’s concern for incorporating the dichotomy between black and white into both the content and the strategies of his artistic production. A primary example is the artist’s fraught self-transformation from black to white in the untitled silkscreen on canvas of 1983:2 in the original artwork,3 the artist depicted a black head set on top of a ground of texts and images; but the silkscreen reverses the positive imagery and texts, turning everything originally depicted in black into white, and everything white into black. Basquiat throughout his career focused on other suggestive dichotomies, including wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. This examination of five key paintings will show how Basquiat’s handling of such dichotomies came to define his work.

Untitled (Head)

Sometime in the early months of 1981, Basquiat began a painting depicting an oversized head extending across the pictorial field, an image that had no precedent in earlier sketches, drawings, or paintings. Showing little regard for either physiognomic accuracy or individual likeness, Basquiat chose to emphasize the expressive qualities of the head. With its public presentation, this painting declared Basquiat’s arrival as a new and authentic voice in the world of contemporary art.

Unlike many of his later paintings, which were completed quickly, Untitled (Head) (page 35) was begun and then put aside for several months,4 to be completed later in the year.5 One can only speculate about the reasons for this hesitation, but several individuals close to the artist—including myself and Annina Nosei, the artist’s dealer at the time—suspect that this young, unseasoned artist hesitated to complete the work because he was caught off guard, possibly even frightened, by the power and energy emanating from this unexpected image. Others had a comparable reaction, later in the year, shortly after the work was first publicly exhibited.

While the painting was presented in the artist’s debut exhibition in New York as Untitled, when it entered the collection of its current owners a few months later the word “Skull” had been appended to the designation Untitled and has accompanied the painting ever since, through numerous exhibitions.6 This renaming represents a misinterpretation of the work that may be attributable to both the uniqueness of its subject matter and the way it is presented. Most likely, the change in title was the result of confusing the work with the more traditional iconography of the memento mori, in which a skull implies death. However, Basquiat’s head—having little if any precedent in modern art history—requires more careful analysis. Close inspection reveals that this head, unlike a skull, is alive and responsive to external stimuli; as such, it seems alert to our world while simultaneously allowing us to penetrate its psycho-spiritual recesses. Basquiat’s representation of a single enlarged head is a breakthrough. The visual information it contains provides insight into many of the strategies of dichotomy the artist would adopt over the following eighteen months.

Untitled (Head) depicts the left upper and lower teeth, possibly accounting for the work’s misinterpretation as a skull by some. But Untitled (Head) clearly also depicts functioning facial features as well: the left ear, both eyes, and the nose. There is even a suggestion of hair. While the handling of these features could hardly be characterized as realistic, neither are they grossly distorted or misrepresented. Rather, the way they are portrayed clarifies the artist’s intent in depicting a vitally interactive being fully in possession of the means to process external stimuli. That is, the artist also reveals less tangible aspects of the head, such as the subtle neural pathways connecting the sense organs to their internal processor. This concern for sensory and cognitive activity negates the interpretation of the head as an inanimate skull. What this work ultimately captures is the fluidity between external and internal—the complex, living processes connecting seeing, hearing, smelling, and knowing.

Untitled (Head) indicates that, from the outset, Basquiat was fascinated by greater realities than meet the eye. This work introduces the unique X-ray-like vision he brought to his subjects. His work appears to break down the dichotomy between the external and the internal, intuiting and revealing the innermost aspects of psychic life. In so doing, the artist extends the concern for spiritual truths advanced most notably by the Abstract Expressionists four decades earlier. This formative generation of American artists sought to capture man’s inherent nature and deal with the question of identity by reasserting “man’s natural desire for the exalted, for a concern with our relationships to the absolute emotions…. We are freeing ourselves of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth.… The image we produce is the self-evident one of revelation.”7Artists with these aspirations, such as Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock, and Barnett Newman, attempted to represent a world beyond that which is identified solely with physical experience. Though Basquiat came from a completely different social milieu and historical context, he was similarly engaged in the pursuit of fundamental truths. However, he did not achieve this through abstraction, but through newly discovered possibilities for representation. As he pursued his creative activities, the young painter recognized that his breakthroughs would occur in direct relationship to his ability to penetrate intuitively the façade of physical form and appearance and allow other truths and realities to surface.

Acque Pericolose

If Untitled (Head) announced Basquiat’s arrival, the magnitude of that event was only enhanced by the realization of two other works within a matter of weeks, the first of which was Acque Pericolose (pages 28-29). Depicting a single black male figure (a subject that would reappear throughout Basquiat’s oeuvre), it represents the first time the artist undertook complex narrative subject matter. The work centers on a full-length male nude whose arms are folded across his chest and who is placed in a vaguely defined landscape setting, midway between a coiled snake and a seemingly decomposing cow with two flies hovering over the remains of its head. The figure’s head, arms, and hands reveal a Cubist-inspired reductivism used as a means to organize as well as consolidate the information included.

The mystery and power of this haunting figure are reinforced by the rich, atmospheric landscape into which it has been placed. To the right of the central figure, multiple hints of sky and subtle tonal modulations suggesting atmospheric effects invite the viewer to enter a hospitable space of sensual pleasure. By contrast, the shrill tones of red, orange, and yellow appearing on the other side of the figure allude to something other than realism. These colors are not employed for their representational credibility but for their expressive power and symbolic associations: while the artist’s color certainly exudes sensuality, possibly even the hint of earthly pleasure, its chromatic intensity connotes an apocalyptic world of fire and upheaval.

A comparable duality is asserted by the brushwork and handling of line. The cow’s skeletal remains are represented through a half dozen paint-loaded black brushstrokes along with a very few lines drawn in oil paintstick. However, it is unclear whether the animal is represented as alive or dead, since thinly layered sepia brown brushstrokes also suggest corpulent mass. While the artist’s subtle modeling of form suggest life, his equally adept use of line suggests a moment of transition from life to death. A coiled snake and a pair of hovering flies imply imminent death, a reading echoed by the artist’s inclusion of the Greek symbols alpha and omega interspersed between arrows pointing both to the earth and to the heavens. Basquiat’s inclusion of these dichotomous symbols, here used consistently with their rich iconographic history, alludes to “the beginning and the ending” (Revelation 1:8) as expressed in religious and spiritual texts and traditions.

Acque Pericolose (or Poison Oasis, as the work has often been called)8hints at mortality. The image of a towering, nude male figure—with long, flowing dreadlocks that in places become intertwined with (and consequently are often confused with) the accompanying halo—stands not only as the artist’s representation of the transcendence of the mortality of human flesh; and in its details reveals the artist’s insight into the means of achieving such a state. In what may be interpreted as Basquiat’s first major self-portrait, the artist has depicted himself as vulnerable, yet possessed of pride and authority.9 Thus, the man’s arms are positioned across his chest in a gesture symbolically associated with self-surrender—a sense of being at peace with himself even though he is surrounded by death and upheaval.

This inner harmony is ratified by the halo hovering above and behind the figure’s head.10 The preponderance of halo or crown-like imagery in Basquiat’s oeuvre asserts a spiritual aspect to the work, but the specific meaning of this symbolism thus far remains largely unexplained. It should be kept in mind that his use of such symbolism changed over time. By 1982, Basquiat had more or less replaced the halo with a personalized, even trademark, image of a three-pointed crown. The crown often accompanied a figure but occasionally appeared on its own throughout the remainder of the artist’s career. The intent behind this symbol is revealed in the 1982 silkscreen on canvas called Tuxedo (page 118), in which a crown is the culminating image atop tiers of texts and images alluding to diverse political, historical, social, and cultural events. The crown hovering over manifestations of the temporal/phenomenal world signifies a “going beyond,” or transcendence, as suggested by the numerous ladders and arrows leading up to it.11

In Acque Pericolose, the artist’s juxtaposition of the figure’s head and a radiant orb implies inward reflection—the figure consumed by a transformative force or power. This reading is supported by the inclusion of a small, lit flashlight (or torch) positioned vertically alongside the figure’s head. This image was Basquiat’s affirmation of the mind’s central role in self-realization.12 This simple yet profound understanding of the role of the mind is the basis of all spiritual pursuit. In Basquiat’s case, the use of symbolic references of this kind was entirely intuitive and did not incorporate any particular religious doctrine. His symbolism of the mind does, however, roughly correspond, for example, to Christ’s response to Mary Magdalene as given in apocryphal sources: she asks “how one who sees a vision knows it to be true through the soul or through the spirit? The savior answered and said, one does not see through the soul, nor through the spirit, but the mind which is between the two: that is what sees the vision.”13 In this light, Basquiat’s depiction of himself—as alone and stripped bare at the crossroads between life and death—takes its place alongside countless representations of saints and historical figures at their moments of self-realization.

That a man of less than twenty-one years old was able to capture convincingly his own mortality is in itself noteworthy. That he could instill this subject with such credibility, and at the same time acknowledge the enlightenment of the soul, is nothing less than remarkable.

Per Capita

The isolated male figure announced in Acque Pericolose in the middle of 1981 underwent a significant transition over the subsequent twelve months. While this iconic subject was first represented as a raw, fully exposed, and humbled youth, it quickly morphed within a series of paintings, each depicting a now fully mature male figure filling a significant portion of the pictorial field and accompanied by a compendium of symbolic references. Indicative of newfound power and emerging identity, these works were Basquiat’s declaration of artistic freedom of expression. Showing the assimilation of figure, text, and symbolic references into compelling narrative content, this group of works largely became the basis for the artist’s public reception.

Per Capita (page 31-31) is Basquiat’s third major painting from 1981. It depicts a single male figure wearing Everlast boxing shorts, positioned halfway between a vaguely defined cityscape and a surrounding pictorial field of abstract atmospheric effects. The work evolved out of an earlier group of untitled works that I refer to as Cityscapes, which were the first artworks Basquiat executed in a strictly studio context.14 Each of the Cityscapes contains aspects of the pictorial techniques and imagery previously used in his graffiti works executed under the SAMO tag in 1979 and 1980. Unleashed at the moment of his initial public recognition (first in Diego Cortez’s Times Square Show, then through Basquiat’s lead role in Glenn O’Brien’s film New York Beat), Per Capita initiates the iconography of male boxers, red and black warriors, and other male figures evincing heroic, even exalted, gestures that characterize some of his most recognized paintings, including Untitled (Self-Portrait),15 Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump (1982), Untitled (Boxer) (1982), and Profit I (1982), (pages 74, 75, 78, 98).

The iconographic breakthroughs of Per Capita were a result of the artist’s pursuit of specific pictorial strategies. As part and parcel of this newfound concern for thematic content, Basquiat implemented two new devices, both of which would become mainstays of his pictorial vocabulary. In addition to exploring the integration of image and text, Basquiat discovered more complex and elaborate means of “layering” the distinct planes of illusionistic space created by form, color, line, and atmospheric effects into a unified composition. These strategies became especially pronounced through the artist’s practice of collaging both original and photocopied drawings directly onto the canvas. While there are no collaged drawings in Per Capita, this work signaled to the artist the possibility of introducing new source material in his quest for the unification of text and image. The subsequent introduction of a collaged ground not only facilitated the union of image and text but enabled a more seamless integration of an “exterior” world into the fictive pictorial realm. Basquiat also reaffirmed what he had initially resolved in Acque Pericolose—that by applying thin, subtly modulated hues, he could build up rich atmospheric effects, thereby creating an arena in which his figures could breathe and interact. Thus text-image integration and pictorial layering went hand in hand. Enhanced by the artist’s experience as a graffiti tagger, where he reveled in the pictorial qualities of walls overlaid with layers of history (including the words Basquiat himself might apply), these new artistic discoveries reached their first phase of resolution in Per Capita.

Having synthesized his means of expression, Basquiat felt comfortable adapting a number of well recognized, even populist symbols for his personal iconography.16 In Per Capita, the Latin words E PLURIBUS—part of the motto “E pluribus unum,” meaning “out of many, one”—are inscribed in the topmost portion of the painting. These words are often associated with the image of a hand holding a bouquet of flowers and are found on the Great Seal of the United States, where they refer to the historical unification of the thirteen original American colonies into one Union, and they also appear on U.S. currency. By including E PLURIBUS along with, in the upper left, a partial alphabetical listing of states in the Union and the respective per capita income of their citizens, Basquiat points to the inequities of monetary distribution that divide the wealthy (CALIFORNIA 10,856 ) and the impoverished (ALABAMA $7,484), the dichotomy of rich versus poor. Per Capita thereby extends the artist’s concern for the common people and their labor found in many of his earliest paintings, such as an untitled work (1981; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) in which a prison inmate, wearing a number, holds a rake or broom, the tool of his labor.

Throughout Basquiat’s career, political and social commentary functioned as a springboard to deeper truths about the individual. Thus, in Per Capita the radiating halo hovering over the black boxer’s head as he holds a burning torch in his left hand seems to assert a universal theme. While the social-political commentary is undeniable, that does not adequately reflect the totality of the work. Equally, the inclusion of a lit torch—replacing the more traditional “E pluribus unum” bouquet—could possibly refer to the torch traditionally carried from Olympus and used at the ceremonies inaugurating Olympic competitions. In view of the painting Cassius Clay and several others devoted to the same subject, it would not be far-fetched, then, to conclude that Basquiat’s figure in Per Capita, too, pays homage to the legendary Olympic boxing champion and role model.17 More important, however, the nimbus and torch in Per Capita allude to what the myth scholar Joseph Campbell called “a unity that already exists,”18 an underlying set of truths that binds all peoples in all times. Seen this way, Basquiat’s black male—who first surfaces in Acque Pericolose, finds definition and clarification in Per Capita, and is subsequently developed in works such as Untitled (Self-Portrait), Profit I, and Untitled (Boxer) (pages 74, 78, 98)—declares the birthright of all humankind: the idea that each individual shares in, and is entitled to, his or her “per capita” distribution of God-given rights and responsibilities. It is this democratic ideal that is proclaimed by Basquiat’s champion as he enters the stadium of self-realization.


By the spring of 1983, Basquiat was immersed in a number of highly complex paintings using themes and pictorial strategies developed over the previous eighteen months. The culmination of these is Notary (page 108-09), completed in New York in March 1983.

A comprehensive indicator of how the artist viewed himself at the apex of his career,19 Notary is a rich compendium of figurative imagery and references accompanied by an array of specific textual references to Greek mythology, Roman history, African tribal culture, systems of monetary exchange, and natural commodities, as well as states of health and well-being. The images and texts are presented as part of one loosely unified web or network. Indeed, Notary may be seen as a summation of the artist’s interest in integrating image and text, as well as painting and drawing. In addition, the work evidences Basquiat’s slow and methodical building-up of the picture’s surface, layer upon layer—sometimes by painting over an image, sometimes by crossing one out; and in a few areas he allows traces of collaged silkscreen prints to be seen beneath the picture’s surface.20

Notary, along with several other key works from this period, was painted using an unusual system of open stretcher bars; that is, the canvas picture support actually wraps behind the stretcher bars at the points where the bars cross each other. The stretcher bars overlap at the corners of the picture as well as on both top and bottom, where the three separate pieces of canvas butt together. This novel method frames the work’s content in such a way as to declare that the fractured glimpses that the artist permits into his psyche requires patience. Unraveling his non-hierarchical presentation takes time. With some physical junctions and transitional passages remaining hidden, the work’s meaning unfolds only after hints and speculations are tested, slowly building up a more comprehensive set of conclusions.

The dual inscription of the word DUMARIUS21 in Notary further suggests that Basquiat saw it as his obligation to guide us through his psychic self-portrayal. The word, which also appears in The Nile (page 106), executed at the same time, is derived from a Greek inscription that appeared in connection with the reproduction of an African rock painting in Burchard Brentjes’s well-known reference on this subject;22 Brentjes’s discussion of the nomadic Blemyan tribe in the Eastern Sahara includes an image of Saint George accompanied by the Greek inscription (figure 2). As Brentjes notes, disparate images scratched on the rocks by the Blemyans—including images of Egyptian gods, an ox with the ancient Libyan decorated horns, Bedouin camels, and old Arabian altars, all depicted side by side—were the tribesmen’s means of recording their presence at a specific location for the benefit of fellow tribesmen who would follow them. In essence, the images functioned as a seal, declaring the existence—both physical and spiritual—of the Blemyan tribesmen. Basquiat’s reasons for including the reference are not documented, but in keeping with his self-image as an oracle—one who provides insight into a greater truth—it is likely, I feel, that he found not only affirmation of his own nomadic journey in the practices of an earlier black culture, but validation of his own artistic activities in the idea that one’s marks and gestures could play a determining role in linking one person to another and guiding the passage of others.

Notary, then, can be seen as the summation of how Basquiat saw himself as he consolidated his creative achievements. Having mastered many of his formal strategies and extended his ability to address profound psychic experience, Basquiat revealed the depth of his own pathos in the work. Notary invites the viewer to penetrate visually into the core of the centrally positioned figure’s nervous system, suggesting the introspection of an individual confronted by pain and suffering. Through text references to LEECHES, FLEAS, and PARASITES who are destined to DEHYDRATE, and diminish the FLESH of this MALE TORSO, it also shows the artist’s vitality and energy being continually challenged by life-draining organisms. Notary concerns itself with the darker aspects of human existence, as suggested by no fewer than four references to the Greek god of the underworld, Pluto. So, as much as Notary reveals the artist’s spiritual journey, it also exposes the plights and pitfalls along his path. Notary can be seen as Basquiat’s portrayal of his own inner turmoil—his grappling with the contradictions between a realization of profound inner truths and the responsibilities accompanying public notoriety —at the very moment that his art had obtained public recognition and market value. Hence the ambiguous, and perhaps apologetic, inscription borrowed from U.S. currency: THIS NOTE FOR ALL DEBTS PUBLIC + PRIVATE.

La Colomba

La Colomba (page 114), painted at about the same time as Notary, also reveals anguish at this point in the artist’s career. With this work Basquiat returned to the representation of a large head, similar to the one that eighteen months earlier had announced his debut. In contrast to Untitled (Head), however, La Colomba also depicts the upper torso, including portions of the arms, and further distinguishes itself in its distortion of human physiognomy.

Particularly notable in La Colomba is the shape of the head. In naturalistic terms, the length of the head, from front to back, would appear to be more than twice its height; and the neck, wide enough to support two heads, looks awkward. The head seems grossly distorted, possibly even deformed. Yet, rather than presume that such distortion exists purely as a means to evoke psychological content, we would do well to consider this image in relation to the simultaneous presentation of two different views in a canonical work such as Picasso’s Girl Before a Mirror (figure 3). In the Picasso painting, the youthful female figure filling the left half of the canvas contrasts with the depiction of an aged woman reflected in the mirror on the right. The duality has been interpreted as suggesting maturation or the passage of time. In the Basquiat painting, the left and right halves of the composition would seem to show two different views of the head, which meet at the center. Basquiat used this organizational device not for the intent of representing the passage of time, however, but as a means of distinguishing the externally oriented facial features (on the left) from the internal workings of the mind (on the right).

As with Untitled (Head), the facial features of La Colomba mark the portals of sensory perception, admitting external stimuli, while the inside of the head suggests the capacity for the mind within to process the totality of experience. However, La Colomba, realized eighteen months later, enhances the drama unfolding between the internal and the external. Drips from the mouth, gestural slashes of red paint along the edge of the face, and the fact that the figure’s right arm seems to have been amputated contribute to the sense of an extreme emotional state.

These features link this work to personal pathos of the kind expressed in Notary, but here the suggestions of physical pain and emotional suffering are offset by the artist’s portrayal of the mind’s inner recesses. In contrast to the amputated limb, a passage of white brushwork more or less extending the figure’s other arm may be read as raising a symbolic white flag. In contrast to the anger and helpless rage consuming the externally directed senses, seen on the left of the picture, the raised limb on the right, associated with the mind, appears engaged in an act of surrender to something that we do not see. Tellingly, the title La Colomba translates from the Italian as “The Dove,”23 and while the symbolism traditionally associated with that bird refers to the peaceful resolution of a conflict, or good tidings, it can also be seen as signifying a victorious act of deliverance. In this way, perhaps, through the idea of deliverance, the work becomes linked to the artist’s heroic black male figures.

To support this conclusion, we may note one of the many photocopied text drawings collaged into the painting. Directly below the back portion of the head, Basquiat refers to two biblical passages, writing: “1. REVELATION I, 11, 12 / 2. KINGS VII, 21, 22.” The citation of the First Book of Kings, chapter 7, is especially helpful in deciphering La Colomba as it describes the construction of King Solomon’s temple. Verses 21 and 22 refer to the construction of the left and right pillars in the porch of the temple; verse 22 reads (in King James): “And upon the top of the pillars was lily work: so was the work of the pillars finished.” While this may account for the floral work to the right of the head in La Colomba, we might nonetheless ask why the artist is at all interested in this particular passage of Scripture in the first place. As I have already said, the artist was rarely interested in any particular religious practice nor its scriptural offerings. Nonetheless, his quotation of Scripture evidences his continual consumption of any and all source material that would support or validate his more intuitively discovered spiritual insights. Basquiat found in the symbolic architectural forms and their accompanying floral coronation of First Kings an expression of his own attempt at unifying the seemingly conflicting aspects of external experience (anguished facial features, a severed arm) and internal understanding (a white flag of surrender).

It seems doubtful that the young painter was concerned with the architecture of a historical temple, but perhaps the implied duality suggested by the two pillars, crowned by lilies, captured his imagination. By referring to the symbolism of this passage of Scripture, Basquiat was able to represent the duality of an external reality consumed by pain and suffering counterbalanced by surrender and an equally obtainable internal reality.

La Colomba’s other scriptural citation, Revelation 1:11, also describes a kind of duality. The verse reads: “… saying, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches….” Some eighteen months after Acqua Pericolose’s reference to the union of a beginning (alpha) and end (omega), Basquiat returned to these symbols, perhaps as a means of envisioning his own transcendence of pain and suffering. At the top of La Colomba’s head sits a very small crown, the artist’s trademark substitute for the halo of the spiritual realm. In the context of the artist’s personal iconography, used consistently with crown symbolism in other portrayals of the inner life, Basquiat’s coronation of the head of La Colomba alludes to the king’s central role as the provider of the resolution of conflict. For in essence the king commands his position because he either provides security and peace (the resolution or absence of conflict) or rightly or wrongly makes his subjects believe that they are attainable.

La Colomba captures aspects of Basquiat’s personal sense of depletion, and possibly even anticipates his eventual demise, but what elevates this work is the artist’s implied understanding of the means to traverse the troubled grounds of his life experience. Recalling his practice of crossing out words and images in works such as Notary, we realize that by negating certain references, Basquiat was essentially declaring that he was, so to speak, “not this, not that.” By so doing, he refused to be identified with the limiting, transitory nature of his own life experience. This particular practice in his art recognizes the way people have, as the Buddhist monk and scholar Bhante Henepola Gunaratana puts it, “arbitrarily selected a certain bundle of perceptions, chopped them off from the surging flow of experience, and conceptualized them as separate, enduring entities.” Understanding the burden of our individual “bundle of perceptions,” Basquiat affirms the mind’s ability to get beyond them. In such a state, all becomes one, one becomes all; distinctions and differentiations are extinguished. Basquiat had indeed reached this artistic and spiritual turning point. He was at peace with the world.

Fred Hoffman


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