Basquiat was a self–taught artist whose experience in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s helped define the rawness and aggression of his work. This untitled drawing, composed of expressive lines, vivid colors, accidental marks, figures, and symbols, exemplifies his visual aesthetic. In it three schematic, blank–faced male figures, their body parts and expressions depicted with simple, gestural lines, carry weapons at their sides and exude a mystical aura that is reinforced by the halos hovering around their heads. Crownlike imagery is a trademark of Basquiat's oeuvre; for him it symbolized what he saw as the spiritual superiority of African American men in modern society.
The landscape surrounding the figures is composed of prehistoric symbols and Egyptian hieroglyphs depicting natural elements such as the sun, the moon, stars, and water. The two central animals—one vicious and feral, the other decomposed and almost skeletal—represent death and mortality. Through masterful manipulation of line, color, and symbol, Basquiat explores life, death, the spiritual, the supernatural, and the physical in a concrete, visual space.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 22.