Chinese Man, Orange | Jean Michel Basquiat

Chinese Man, Orange 1981 | Painting 36,6 x 48,8 Inch

Discover the biography and all work of the artist

Jean-Michel Basquiat's career can be divided into three specific, highly significant phases. The one with which we are concerned here is the first, from 1980 to 1982, a period marked by the artist's obsession with death: these works are filled with skeletal profiles and concealed faces.

It was during this era that he painted Chinese Man, Orange: the black silhouette like an inanimate puppet, while the primitive, sharp, crude lines on the canvas convey a symbolic, "underground" world.

This painting was produced by Basquiat after meeting a Chinese boy who had asked if he could attend a painting session. The artist then encouraged the young man to write his name several times on a piece of paper which Basquiat would subsequently glue onto the canvas. Indeed, during this period, Jean-Michel Basquiat often used the collage technique to insert poems and texts which he wrote in parallel into his works; here, it is the boy's handwriting which brings this painting to life.

The red and orange colours in the painting are warm, representing an episode from the young boy's life in the district.

Basquiat lived in the poor district of Brooklyn during his youth where, if there was a fire, it was common for the whole house to burn down. Here, the artist shows this Chinese child who has escaped from the flames.

His racial identity is all the stronger as the roof of the house not only shelters the child but also emphasises the shape of his hat, a token of his identity in the same way as the other symbols of the Asian community, namely the bags on the yoke and the pictograms.

Lastly, the strong vertical brushstrokes underline Jean-Michel Basquiat's power as an artist, and his background as a street artist who used to paint on the walls of New York.