Jean-Michel Basquiat and Antiquity

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Antiquity Abstract Classical antiquity was a significant but overlooked interlocutor in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s well-studied conversations with black history and his contemporary world. Basquiat drew on his knowledge of classical antiquity to explore issues of culture and heritage, imperialism, and social exclusion. The interaction of themes from ancient history, black history, and American history in his paintings provided him ways to think about military, political, and cultural imperialism in America’s past and present. His references to classical antiquity are part of a larger investigation into the dynamics of power that grows out of his own complex background, experiences, and self-education. The Greco-Roman world was a significant source of inspiration and an overlooked interlocutor in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s well-studied explorations of black history. I argue that Basquiat drew on his knowledge of the ancient world to explore issues of power and subjugation in both American history and his immediate context. But his responses to the ancient world are complicated: ancient states and their leaders can be forces for good, bad and sometimes both; Christianity is a resistance movement that, following its triumph, acquires the very powers it once resisted. The complexity of Basquiat's reception of classical antiquity is important for increasing our appreciation of non-European and, importantly, non-white reception of antiquity in the late twentieth century.1 Jean-Michel Basquiat, precocious, well read and sophisticated, became one of the best known artists of the twentieth century, and while his paintings are widely known, he is also remembered for his exciting, but brief life.2 His artistic career began on the fringes of the New York City graffiti scene, but moved quickly from there into the downtown art world. His addiction to drugs caused his untimely death in 1988 aged 27. Basquiat’s background was complex: his father was Haitian, a middle-class accountant, who despite living in diverse Brooklyn, did not socialize with the Haitian community there. Basquiat never visited Haiti and seems not to have been exposed to Haitian culture at home beyond the French language. His father’s primary cultural influence was to inspire Basquiat’s love of jazz. His mother was born in New York to Puerto Rican parents and spoke Spanish with Jean-Michel. He lived in Puerto Rico briefly, but he was taken by his father, not his mother. Basquiat’s place of birth was New York, and his community of friends as a teenager was diverse, as were the friends of his adult years, though the mix had by then changed to include white luminaries of the art world, most notably Andy Warhol. Basquiat does not fit neatly into any obvious socio-economic or ethnic categories: of Haitian and Puerto Rican extraction, but exposed only partially to their cultures, he was also a New Yorker and an American. He was also African American. While he suffered discrimination because of his colour, in his childhood he did not experience the economic insecurity or challenges faced by a significant number of African American New Yorkers. His education in the 1970s, in a mix of New York public and private Catholic schools, will have privileged white-generated culture and its achievements and white-centric modes of knowing and understanding. He enjoyed one visit to Africa and had planned a second, but his introduction to African art came from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection, and he greatly admired Robert Farris Thompson’s 1983 Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. Basquiat also asserted that the white Yale professor’s writing on his art was the best he had read. Basquiat’s paintings teem with words, arranged singly, in phrases, connected, unconnected. The viewer is left to find meaning in the sometimes clear, but oftentimes only apparent connections between them. Key words and phrases reappear from painting to painting; they are taken from Basquiat’s New York, television and movies, and, especially in the case of the paintings examined in this article, from books. Though a high-school drop-out, we know that Basquiat read widely: books on history, as well as mythology, art history, and travel guides.3 He once explained, ‘I get my background from studying books. I put what I like from them in my paintings’.4 Analysis of his paintings has focused on a core set of themes, most notably race, in particular the contemporary treatment and experience of African Americans and also black history, especially the histories of the African continent, the ancient history of Egypt, and American slavery.5 While the issue of race predominates in Basquiat’s art, there has been little sustained discussion of the intersection of race and classical antiquity in his paintings. Gail Levin’s two paragraph survey of Basquiat and antiquity, appearing in the Blackwell Companion to the Classical Tradition, is the most prominent treatment of the topic to date. She lists the classical elements in three paintings, including Speaks for Itself and False, though limitations of space seem to have precluded any analysis. Jordana Moore Saggese’s important recent work on Basquiat and race mentions classical antiquity in passing, while Susanne Reichling devotes about two pages of her dissertation to discussing Basquiat’s opposition of Africa (especially Egypt and Carthage) to Europe, as represented by Greece and Rome.6 For Basquiat the histories of the ancient world were significant because the interaction of themes from ancient European history, black history, and American history in his paintings provided him ways to think about military, political, and cultural imperialism in America’s past and present. His roots—Haitian through his father, Puerto Rican through his mother, and ultimately African too—made Basquiat keenly aware of the consequences of imperialism and conquest, as we can see in many of his paintings. Yet the tangle of influences and referents in Basquiat’s family background, the cultural–geographical context of his youth, and his education complicated his response to classical antiquity. I argue that the references to classical antiquity are part of a larger investigation into the dynamics of power in Basquiat’s contemporary context, one that is complex and challenging to disentangle.7 Much of Basquiat’s interest in power is focused on his contemporary USA, the recent past, and the discrimination he experienced.8 But a number of paintings speak to his concern with the longer history of black peoples and their interactions with and treatment at the hands of whites: for example, through economic exploitation in Per Capita (1981), long-standing military subjugation and cultural prejudice in All Colored Cast (Part III) (1982), and political and cultural imperialism in Native Carrying Some Guns, Bibles, Amorites On Safari (1982). Basquiat’s interest in the ancient world seems to have been strongest in 1982–83: nearly all of his paintings that touch upon classical antiquity date to those two years. Of these paintings, my discussion focuses on those that have the highest concentration of motifs or elements that relate to the ancient world. I show how those elements are incorporated, what connections Basquiat makes between them and other elements in a painting, and what those connections might tell us about the artist’s use of the ancient world and his reception of it.9 Basquiat painted Jawbone of an Ass (Fig. 1) in 1982. The title, written across the top centre of the piece, refers to the story of Samson’s killing of one thousand Philistines using the jawbone of an ass after they had captured him.10 This episode is part of the larger story of conflict between the Israelites and Philistines, which itself is one stage in a history of conflict between oppressors and the oppressed that Basquiat explores in this painting. I analyse Jawbone in detail because it showcases Basquiat’s use of history, including ancient history, in his exploration of the theme of power and its effects on those exploited or victimized by holders of power. That exploration, especially in this painting, takes in other periods, and their representation by Basquiat must also be examined so as to make sense of the role of ancient history in his work. Fig. 1 View largeDownload slide Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–88), Jawbone of an Ass, 1982. Larry Qualls Archive, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York 2017. Fig. 1 View largeDownload slide Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–88), Jawbone of an Ass, 1982. Larry Qualls Archive, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York 2017. In Jawbone, Basquiat has entered into artistic competition with Rodin to create a large-scale visual history. At top left we see RODIN’S THINKER, written twice and struck through, and below a sketch of a man wearing a beret, his right hand gesturing towards the right side of his face, perhaps in a contemplative or wondering pose, while his staring eyes look over to the central panel. The beret and the posing of the hand suggest that the figure is a composite of Rodin and his thinker, and he stares at what Basquiat has created: a history of power and conflict, a visual epic perhaps intended to rival Rodin’s Gates of Hell, a work that Rodin struggled with and left unfinished at his death. At the right are two groupings of fearsome sharp-toothed creatures who, though cartoon-like, may be meant to represent hellish beasts. In the bottom right corner, two figures, one black and the other white, box. Basquiat used the motif of boxing to suggest artistic competition: he often declared that he wanted to box the artist Julian Schnabel, and he was photographed pretending to box with Andy Warhol.11 His competition with Rodin is made clear again on the left: below Rodin he has painted a blue crown, a symbol he often used for himself.12 Divided into three vertical zones, this painting on canvas comprises paper collage with pencil drawing along with applications of paint — hence the apparent incompleteness of some of the scenes, and the obscuration of others. This is a favoured technique of Basquiat: he took a piecemeal approach in much of his work, adding elements only to paint over and around them or to cross them out. Basquiat was interested in the presence and deletion of words and their significance once deleted. He explained, ‘I cross out words so you will see them more: the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them’.13 Basquiat also included Roman numerals in a number of his paintings, including at the bottom of Jawbone. Though apparently dates, their meaning is unclear. He sometimes placed them next to depictions or names of historically significant events or people, perhaps suggesting that the presence of Roman numerals might endow them with age and authority. The central zone is filled with names of people and places that evoke political, territorial and ethnic conflict, often resulting in the oppression of less powerful groups. Though the painting’s title, positioned along the top, refers to an episode of the Hebrew Bible, what follows does not form a chronological narrative. Instead, Basquiat begins his history of power and conflict with Renaissance and Early Modern Europe, moves back in time to antiquity, and finally jumps to the modern New World. Within these rough temporal groupings, there is some chronological progression, but Basquiat also sets together names that have thematic connections. He also includes a couple of circled Arabic numerals, which render this a history with sub-headers, an authoritative history that reflects I argue, the power he gives to himself to fashion his own history. At the top, we begin with Early Modern France and the young French nobleman HENRI CINQ-MARS, who conspired unsuccessfully against Richelieu; below him comes CHARLES IX, whose reign, as Basquiat reminds us with BARTHOLOMEW, saw the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Huguenots; finally, LOUIS XVI, was the last king of France. Basquiat shifts to Renaissance Italy and BORGIA, which presumably stands for the Borgia family, powerful in Italy during the Renaissance; the diplomacy of MACHIAVELLI on behalf of the Florentine state put him in opposition to the Borgias, and SAVONAROLA was their enemy. The conflict between the GUELPHS and GHIBELLINES ran through Renaissance Italy. Slightly detached from this group, Basquiat has included RIENZI, best known as the title of a Wagner opera about the eponymous late medieval champion of the Italian people against the predations of nobles.14 In the opera, Rienzi repeatedly invokes the challenges to and victories of the Italians’ ancient forbears, a fact that must have been known to Basquiat, who places RIENZI between NERO, which is circled and twice struck through, and VIRGIL, writer of the epic pre-history of the Romans. The themes of Basquiat’s histories of France and Italy are conflict between those in power and their weaker enemies, also intrigue and ongoing and unyielding hatred. Basquiat’s history now jumps back in time to Biblical and Egyptian history with a cluster of names in the first of three roughly formed columns. The Israelites’ conflict with the Philistines, which gave the painting its title, is not referenced again, but Basquiat’s knowledge of it from the Bible would have rendered the Philistines the oppressors and the Israelites the oppressed. The trials of the Israelites are picked up again in the references to PHARAOH (once partially written and crossed out, then repeated in full) and EGYPT, with JOSEPH, as an example (albeit an anachronistic one) of a Jew whose family suffered at the hands of a foreign power, placed in between. PYRAMIDS may represent the power of the pharaohs who commissioned them and is followed by RAMESES, the repetition of whose name may be an allusion to Rameses II (an identification confirmed by the ‘2’ that follows both names), the most celebrated of all the pharaohs, who waged successful campaigns in Syria, the Levant and North Africa, and who commissioned magnificent building projects in THEBES. Egypt plays an ambiguous role in Basquiat’s history: on the one hand, as well as being itself an ancient power, Egypt may stand for the power, independence, and self-determination of ancient Africa; on the other, the power of the pharaohs over the people sets a precedent for the subjugation of ordinary Africans first by African leaders (their own or others’) and then by Europeans and Americans.15 CAMBYSES is most likely here Cambyses II, the Achaemenid ruler who conquered Egypt in the sixth century BCE.16 With this defeat, according to Basquiat’s history, Egypt is colonized and its power ends. But Cambyses is, in turn, succeeded by (and perhaps killed under the orders of) DARIUS, whose name is second in the next column. We are perhaps meant to conclude from the list that power is fleeting and even the mightiest rulers are vulnerable to changes of fortune. The appearance of ALEXANDRIA, appearing three times in a central position next to Darius, underscores the importance of Egypt to Basquiat. Before Darius, however, comes MITHRIDATES, though it is unclear which Mithridates is meant. The best-known, Mithridates VI of Pontus (also known as Mithridates the Great), seems most likely, who claimed to be a descendant of Darius (and apparently also had a son of the same name) and was a well-known foe of the growing Roman Empire. Basquiat begins his treatment of Greece (whose protector Mithridates claimed to be) with its earliest literature: HOMER, ILIAD, TROY, ACHILLES, respectively the supposed author, title, location and a hero of the epic recounting the Fall of Troy — another example of a once-great power overcome by another. Next to Troy, Basquiat has painted (HECTOR), the fallen Trojan hero. While parentheses should reduce the prominence of the word or words contained within them, in this painting they seem instead to render HECTOR more noticeable, just as Basquiat’s strikethroughs make you ‘see them more’. We focus on the once-powerful Hector more than on Achilles, his killer. Yet the now-powerful Achilles — he of the famously exposed heel — will in turn be killed. HYPATIA, the Alexandrian mathematician murdered by Christians, is named twice, with a line separating the names, perhaps to emphasize them. The proximity of her name to CLEOPATRA and also to ALEXANDRIA is meant, I think, to associate her with North African achievements and also as an example of female victims of power: Hypatia, Cleopatra, and Dido, all North Africans, are included in the painting. The placement of VIRGIL and AENEID around CLEOPATRA suggests that we are to think of Dido and anticipate the appearance of her name below: it has long been observed that Vergil fashions his Dido as a pre-figurement of Cleopatra, the other North African female ruler. Basquiat follows with a brief cluster of Greeks: ALCIBIADES, ANAXAGORAS, ARISTOPHANES, SAPPHO (who appears in the column to the left), SOCRATES, and SOPHOCLES.17 The first in the list, Alcibiades, was a statesman who served variously the Athenians, Spartans and Persians. Perhaps Basquiat is interested in his apparent lack of loyalty in the search for power and influence. The others are Greek thinkers and writers active in the sixth and fifth centuries, but they have no greater connection as a group. Their alphabetical arrangement, on the model of a dictionary, an encyclopaedia or even simply an index, suggests to me that Basquiat means them to stand for the richness of classical Greek culture.18 Next to the Greeks and inscribed within a square we read PUNIC WARS and, to the left, HAMILCAR, HANNIBAL, SCIPIO, all key figures in the wars. Beneath them, Basquiat has painted H. and another crown; next to it is CARTHAGE and beneath it another HANNIBAL, this time underlined. The wars between Carthage and Rome seem to have been highly significant for Basquiat: they stood as a key episode in his history of conflict and power, not least because they pitted an emerging European imperial power against a North African power keen to assert its influence over the Western Mediterranean and Iberian Peninsula. Hannibal has emerged as the most visible individual in the conflict: the general who crossed the Alps with his elephants led the only recorded invasion of Europe by Africans, the sole counter example to the myriad invasions and settlements of Africa undertaken by Europeans. The eventual defeat and destruction of Carthage brought with it also the enslavement of the city’s inhabitants: Rome had entered into an African slave trade. The placement of the crown — often standing for Basquiat — next to H. and above HANNIBAL may suggest that the artist identified with or emulated the Carthaginian leader. If this is correct, the identification is not so surprising: Hannibal had long been a hero to African American thinkers, orators and pamphleteers, who viewed him as a black antagonist to whites’ imperialist aggression.19 The fact that Basquiat painted a portrait of Hannibal (Hannibal, 1983) the following year underscores his importance to the artist. But he is just as interested in Greek and Roman leaders: to the right of the crown and CARTHAGE we see JULIUS CEASER (sic) and ALEXANDER THE GREAT. In 1983 Basquiat also painted a portrait of Caesar (Julius Caesar) — he and Hannibal are the only figures of antiquity (and among the very few of any period) Basquiat depicted in individual portraits. The placement of Alexander so close to Hannibal and Caesar suggests that Basquiat perceived similarities between them: perhaps that all three experienced and enjoyed power and aimed at increasing it; but their plans were thwarted (by an early death for Alexander, by Roman military superiority and Carthaginian opposition for Hannibal, and by assassination for Caesar) and their power reversed. Alexander was a figure that Basquiat made complex. In Jawbone, he seems to rank alongside Hannibal and Caesar as one of the foremost ancient leaders. In History of Black People (1983), Basquiat’s most sustained examination of power and exploitation, the European presence in Africa begins with Alexander’s conquest of Egypt.20 Similarly in All Colored Cast (Part III) (1982), ALEXANDER THE GREAT, top left, is accompanied by a Roman date, perhaps Basquiat’s way of suggesting that Alexander marked the beginning of the history of white exploitation of blacks; below that, Basquiat has painted DIPSOMANIA. In the 1871 Chamber’s Encyclopedia, the entry on Diogenes closes with an account of his meeting with Alexander; the entry that follows is, coincidentally, on dipsomania. But Basquiat’s inclusion of its headword is surely meant as a reproach. In False (1983), where Alexander is named three times, he is rendered as faceless and featureless, riding on a horse that is by comparison oversized; a Greek soldier to the right likewise dwarfs Alexander. Perhaps Basquiat aims to belittle him and to render him a(nother) ancient European military leader who annexes African territory.21 On the right of the central zone, in the middle, Basquiat has painted ROMOLA above NERO. One might have expected NERO here to refer to the Roman emperor, and it may do so. But in George Eliot’s Romola, a story set in Renaissance Florence, the title character’s godfather is Bernardo del Nero. I suggest that the placement of these two names, with ROMOLA at first sight misplaced, is an example of Basquiat playing a highly intellectual game, in which he challenges viewers of his paintings to identify the connections between seemingly unrelated elements. If we take NERO as referring also to the ancient figure (as it does elsewhere), then he is a natural choice for this painting: he is the emperor par excellence, the emperor who misuses his power and famously fiddles while Rome burns, and the holder of ultimate power, who in his whims and caprices is the threat from within. The remaining names continue the theme of opposition to great or overwhelming power. To the left, below Basquiat’s crown and HANNIBAL, he has painted SPARTACUS (underlined) and GOTHS, both enemies of Rome. The first, who fought an unsuccessful, but temporarily destabilizing campaign, may have interested Basquiat both as a leader fighting for freedom and also as a namesake for the later leader of the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint L'Ouverture, or the ‘Black Spartacus’.22 Haiti, the birthplace of Basquiat’s father, was also the first western predominantly black sovereign nation and perhaps a locus of pride for him. GOTHS, named here and on the furthest right of the central panel, appear in several of Basquiat’s paintings presumably as foes of Rome. IL REPUBLICO, seemingly a blending of Spanish el repúblico and Italian la repubblica, is followed by RUBICON. Perhaps Basquiat is making the point that Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon marked the end of the Republic and the beginning of monarchical rule. Does Basquiat mourn this shift? His position on republics and monarchies is unclear — perhaps he had no position. The American Revolution had ended the strictures and impositions of a distant monarchy, but its replacement, which guaranteed liberty for all, had enslaved blacks. Underneath, SCIPIO, SECOND AND THIRD PUNIC WAR, and HANNIBAL pick up the earlier theme of Rome’s destruction of Carthage, as does DIDO, another North African who suffers at Roman hands. But new elements appear too: JESUS CHRIST, JERUSALEM, JEWS and JOSEPHUS. Jesus was crucified just outside Jerusalem following a trial before the Sanhedrin in Roman-controlled Judaea. Mocked at his crucifixion as ‘King of the Jews’, Jesus was viewed as a threat to Roman power, while, as Basquiat is perhaps suggesting, the Jews were complicit in his death, a complicity with Roman power exemplified by Josephus, a Jew who became a Roman citizen following his enslavement. By contrast, the fictional Jewish prince BEN-HUR, named at the right of the central column, upon his manumission becomes a Christian. For Basquiat Roman power is a malign force that threatens illustrious foes — Carthage, Egypt, and Judaea — and weaker enemies, such as Hypatia, Dido, and the Christians. Yet Rome is vulnerable: at the bottom of this section of the painting, Basquiat has included VESUVIUS and POMPEII. These may have been included simply as evocations of antiquity. But we can perhaps go further: to be sure, neither the eruption of Vesuvius nor the resulting destruction of Pompeii posed any threat to Roman power, though they may have symbolized to Basquiat the possibility that even the mightiest powers can be undone, by man or nature. The bottom of the central panel features names from American history: CREOLE refers to French and Spanish colonial residents of Louisiana, as well as — and especially — later Haitian émigrés. OSSOLI is presumably a reference to Margaret Fuller Ossoli, the abolitionist writer and journalist who broadly adhered to the transcendentalist movement. Basquiat has included TRANSCENDENTALISM below, though oddly he has connected it with an arrow to EMANCIPATION PROC. The meaning of the connection is unclear, but perhaps it is an attempt to give a double meaning to emancipation: the liberation of African Americans from slavery and the liberation of every individual from the bounds of state institutions. The word below OSSOLI, partly obscured by an overlay of black paint, is illegible. To the right, we see JOHN PAUL JONES, naval captain of the Revolutionary War and a controversial figure, perhaps here because his command was frequently undermined by politics. To the far right of him, TORY and WHIG refer to the political parties of the Revolutionary War. These flank XYZ PAPERS, a political intrigue that led to the Quasi War against the French, and LOUISIANA PURCHASE, the sale by the French of territory west of the Mississippi to the USA. Napoleon was forced to the sale by his failure to re-take Haiti and by impending war with the British, though some politicians, French and American, opposed the deal. In this first section of his American history, Basquiat emphasizes politics, political change, and internal political strife, a continuation from his French and Italian histories. With the line Basquiat paints underneath LOUISIANA PURCHASE, we move to the Civil War. There is LINCOLN, A. (partially obscured) to the left and SLAVES underneath that; EMANCIPATION PROC. is to the right. VAN BUREN is presumably a reference to Martin Van Buren, a President who held abolitionist views. REDSKINS, a derogatory term for Native Americans, may be an allusion to the effects of actions taken by powerful and racist European Americans, and HARRISON, Van Buren’s successor to the Presidency, had been a prominent figure in the Battle of Tippecanoe against Native American forces. TYLER, here hyphenated with Harrison, since he had served as Harrison’s running mate and succeeded him upon his brief tenure, held pro-abolition views, but was nevertheless a slave-holder; he spearheaded the annexation of Texas, a slave-holding territory, in opposition to Van Buren. The final words of the painting, PERRY, OH, bring us back in time: it was the site of a battle that marked the turning point in the War of 1812 against the British and their Native American allies. This second section of Basquiat’s American history seems to focus on the repercussions of politics for slave populations and Native Americans. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued following decades of political manoeuvring and wrangling; the plight of Native Americans finds only partial resolution in the establishment of reservations and extension of citizenship. Jawbone sets the resistance of Native Americans and African Americans in the context of earlier politics and historical resistance movements, and classical antiquity helps to provide the long view: its history lays the foundation for struggles to follow.23 Basquiat encourages us to see Rome — and elsewhere Egypt too — as an analogue to the USA, a monolith whose power, like that of Rome, may also be vulnerable to threats external and internal.24 Basquiat’s Speaks for Itself (Fig. 2), painted in 1982, explores further the exercise of power and threats to it. In the left-hand panel of this triptych Basquiat begins with names that appeared already in Jawbone as threats to Roman power: GOTHS, here named several times, CARTHAGE, and NERO. If this painting is a brief history of the relationship between Christianity and power, then the history begins with SIXTY SEVEN UNDER NERO, the year of the earliest persecutions of Christians.25 If we are to find some connection between the phrases on this panel, perhaps it is that Rome rendered CARTHAGE DESTROYED, yet was later SACKED BY GOTHS; likewise, Nero used his power to persecute Christians, yet Christianity later supplanted paganism on the imperial throne. Fig. 2 View largeDownload slide Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–88), Speaks for Itself, 1982. Larry Qualls Archive, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York 2017. Fig. 2 View largeDownload slide Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–88), Speaks for Itself, 1982. Larry Qualls Archive, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York 2017. The central panel may present the death of paganism with 361 HE IS KILLED IN THE BATTLE OF PERSIA. If so, JUL, a fragment of a word struck through several times, refers to the death of the last pagan emperor Julian.26 The victory of Christianity would then be the theme of the right-hand panel:27 HE REMOVES THE SEAT OF THE EMPIRE FROM ROME TO BYZANTIUM; ON HIS DEATH BED HE RECEIVES BAPTISM AT NICOMEDIA 331.28 To the right of the text, stylized thorns entwine a heart and cross, and an arrow (perhaps, here, two) pierces the heart. The flames that usually top the sacred heart are absent, replaced instead by a crown representing perhaps Basquiat or Christ the King. Elsewhere, Basquiat used the figure of Jesus to explore issues of exploitation, mistreatment by the powerful, and victimization.29 But the crown here may also represent Christianity’s new power: the victims are now the victors.30 In 1983, Basquiat devoted an entire painting to Greek and Roman history. False (Fig. 3) begins with Alexander, literally belittled (see above). It moves through a series of images, some of famous pieces, all helpfully labelled: a GREEK SOLDIER, THEATER SEATS, APHRODITE of Knidos, and PERICLES along the top of the painting.31 Below left, PLATO, HOMER, SOCRATES and a listing of dates round out Basquiat’s greatest hits of ancient Greece, all symbols of its political, military and cultural power. Basquiat has a quiz for us: TRUE or FALSE?32 We have to supply the introduction to the question ourselves: ‘What we see in this painting is a true history. True or false?’ The box marked FALSE is checked, then scratched out; TRUE is now checked. But Basquiat scratches things out to make you see them more, and the painting is titled FALSE. So the answer to Basquiat’s question may be TRUE or it may be FALSE, and our knowledge of Greek history, from textbooks and the history of art, cannot help us. We are disoriented. What about the Roman history that follows? Fig. 3 View largeDownload slide Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–88), False, 1983. Daros Collection, Switzerland. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York 2017. Fig. 3 View largeDownload slide Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–88), False, 1983. Daros Collection, Switzerland. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York 2017. A (fake) Roman date brings us to a history of Rome, told out of temporal sequence. It is heralded by her destruction of CARTHAGE in 146 BC, but ROME IS SACKED BY GOTHS. The Roman monarchy is founded by ROMULUS + REMUS, but the former, not content with sharing power, kills the latter — only one baby feeds from the Capitoline wolf — and the phrase is scratched out; power resides in ROMULUS alone. BRUTUS AS 1ST CONSUL, written along with Basquiat’s rendering of the Capitoline Brutus, heralds the Republic, which places power and justice (‘JUS’) in the hands of the people: SPQR.33 The Republic ends, and power now resides in Augustus alone. But his DEMISE comes in 14 AD (painted twice). Roman power also resides in the FORUM AT ROME, but it is in Rome that ST. PAUL will preach, and when a BARBARIAN INVADER SEES ROME FOR THE FIRST TIME, he is shocked by what he sees, though he will come to seek possession of it.34 Struggles for power dominate Basquiat’s history of Rome, as we have seen before, rather than her achievements. False reflects the conflicting power classical antiquity had over Basquiat. He knew its artistic achievements well and depicts some of them here, and he was keenly interested in its major figures and key events — he includes them in this painting and in Jawbone, for example. Yet he repeatedly sets ancient Europe in opposition to the achievements and subsequent subjugation of his Africa. Perhaps the artist, whose favourite painting was Picasso’s Guernica, could not wholly reject Europeans’ (and whites’) artistic achievement, even while excoriating their treatment of Africans and African Americans.35 Basquiat’s history paintings take in a wide array of referents across time and space. American history dominates, especially that of the twentieth century, as Basquiat explores, in particular, issues of power in historical and contemporary racism and the economic exploitation of non-whites.36 But he is also fond of pulling together references to different periods across Europe, Africa, and the New World.37 For example, he brings together Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and the USA to explore economic and political power as expressed through the slave trade, European colonialism, and the ongoing mistreatment of blacks by whites.38 Egypt, which looms large in Basquiat’s work, appears as a key early site in black history and also as an analogue to the USA, albeit a complex one: ancient Egypt had enslaved Nubians, and its pharaohs had been oppressive rulers, yet ancient Egypt was a source of black pride.39 The Greco-Roman world is significant as the site from which white aggression towards blacks first appears. As a power that threatens non-whites, it too may function for Basquiat as an American analogue, but it is simpler than Egypt: it was a white slave-owning culture that had ambitions to control black territories. Alongside racism, Basquiat is interested in the strengths and weaknesses of leaders, a theme he explores especially in European contexts.40 The inclusion in his paintings of Alexander the Great, as well as Julius Caesar and Augustus — and indeed Hannibal, Dido and Cleopatra — should be considered as part of this broader exploration of power. Early Christianity is also an important element in Basquiat’s investigations into issues of power in classical antiquity. Yet despite Basquiat’s attendance at Catholic school, references to Christianity otherwise appear infrequently in his work.41 By contrast, he is keenly interested in West African Vodun and Haitian Vodou both spiritually and culturally, and references them more often in his work.42 Cultural tradition is another key theme and takes us outside of Basquiat’s history paintings. He celebrates Caribbean and African culture (and religion), as well as contemporary or near-contemporary American and African American culture, for which ancient Egypt appears sometimes as a source.43 His engagement with white European culture is, by contrast, complex: for example, while he embraces Da Vinci, he is highly critical of the interplay of race and power in Manet’s Olympia.44 References to classical antique culture are scattered through Basquiat’s work, though in False he seems to question whether its influence, bound as it is with whites’ historical power, is wholly positive. The paintings discussed in this article are the work of an artist interested in historical issues of power that mapped onto his contemporary lived experience. But since Basquiat’s experience was so richly complex in influence, his investigations into power were necessarily complex too. His experiences led him to create a new history, one in which Carthage, Alexandria, Dido, Cleopatra, Hannibal, and Hypatia are conflated, condensed and shuffled across time to become part of a longer history of white versus black, in which the white man centuries later still uses his political and economic power to subjugate Africans.45 Yet the power wielded by the white man through his artistic contributions is less easy for Basquiat to disdain, and he even finds himself incorporating them into his own art.46 Basquiat had a historical precedent for the conflict within him.47 Robert Farris Thompson recognized an adaptation of Blemmyan graffiti in one of Basquiat’s paintings, Frogmen (1983).48 The ancient Blemmyes were a nomadic people living south-east of Egypt who, as their power and territory grew, came increasingly into contact and often conflict with the Romans. As Thompson observes, Basquiat found his graffiti on a page of Burchard Brentjes’ African Rock Art; on the facing page, in a paragraph Basquiat surely read, Brentjes describes Blemmyan artistic production: ‘Among these tribes of Upper Egypt, waging constant frontier war against the Romans, old African traditions and Egyptian religious forms, Christian concepts and classical stylistic motives were mixed together’.49 Brentjes provides examples of the multiplicity of their influences and images: Egyptian gods, oxen in the Libyan style, Bedouin camel drivers, Christian crosses, and Greek graffiti. Basquiat includes Blemmyan graffiti in at least four of his paintings: besides Frogmen, they appear also in Chinese, History of Black People and Notary (all 1983).50 He surely identified with the African Blemmyes, who, in a history filled with conflict, resisted Roman imperialism. But interestingly — and as Basquiat must have seen, as he copied their Greek-lettered graffiti and read of their ‘classical stylistic motives’ — they also appropriated the culture of those whose power they encountered and even resisted. Blemmyan art, with its combination of word and image, records their history, but also their complex reception of others’ power and culture. Basquiat’s paintings likewise record his version of history, but also a highly complex reception of white and black power and culture from classical antiquity. The precise nature of that complexity is, of course, unique to Basquiat. But his reception of classical antiquity can serve as a useful analogue to earlier African American responses and as a spur to investigate more fully the reception of antiquity in the modern and postmodern visual arts. Finally, it offers a productive and constructive complication of and counter to some current reductive and politicized receptions of antiquity from outside the field of Classics.51 Serena Connolly is Associate Professor of Classics at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Her research interests are in Roman social history and she has published on ancient Romans' legal problems, prisoners of war, and Roman self-help texts, among other topics. Footnotes 1 White discourse on African American history and artistic expression has long been rooted in white privilege and whites’ presumption to comment on them. I fully acknowledge the limitations and subjectivity that my own ethnicity and nationality — I am white and British — will necessarily place on this article, as well as the possible irony of my commentary, as a white academic, on Basquiat’s exploration of whites’ historical exercise of power over black peoples. As a classicist interested in issues of reception and, admittedly, as an admirer of Basquiat’s work, I have learned much from the scholarship; I hope this article will be a constructive addition to it. I am indebted to the Journal’s anonymous referees and associate editor and to the editor Constanze Güthenke for their incisive comments and many constructive suggestions. 2 Julian Schnabel’s film Basquiat(1996) and Hoban’s biography (1998), which have both focused on Basquiat’s life and lifestyle, have contributed to the popular emphasis on the man, rather than his work. On the film, see especially Codell (2011). 3 Basquiat’s friend Glenn O’Brien recalls seeing him paint with a television on and music playing, accompanied by a large stack of books (interview in Davis 2010). According to Rene Ricard (2014: 179–80), Basquiat owned an unidentified textbook on classical Greece and Rome. He also knew Janson’s monumental History of Art (Saggese 2014: 63, n. 13) and had a guide to Italy and a book on Roman sculpture (Geldzahler 1983: 46). Jennifer Stein, who worked as Basquiat’s cook in about 1982, recalls being asked by Basquiat to buy books; her purchases included books on ancient history (Hoban 1998: 170). Lorraine O’Grady, a Haitian American artist, gave Basquiat her copy of Burchard Brentjes’ African Rock Art around 1982 or 1983 (Fretz 2010: 112). The timing of Stein’s purchases and O’Grady’s significant gift corresponds with a period of especially intense interest in the ancient world for Basquiat. 4 The reference is from Saggese (2014: 63). 5 On this topic, see most recently, Saggese (2014), chap. 1, as well as Tate (1989), hooks (1993), Reichling (1999), Pinn (2013), Almiron (2013) and Emmerling (2015, especially 87–89). 6 Saggese (2014: 53, 73). Reichling, in her wide-ranging dissertation (1999), discusses Jawbone of An Ass, pointing out the importance of antiquity as a way of presenting the longevity and therefore fundamental importance of white-versus-black conflict (pp. 95–98). But she limits her discussion to this one painting and does not explore Basquiat’s comparison of the USA to Rome. Almiron (2013) explores themes of race in Basquiat’s work, but she does not discuss his use of antiquity. 7 I owe this formulation to one of the Journal’s anonymous reviewers. 8 So, for example, Irony of the Negro Policeman (1981); Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart) (1983); and Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta (1983). In Hollywood Africans (1983), the figure on the left, the artist Toxic, wears an American baseball cap; the central figure is labeled RMLZ, standing for the rapper and artist Rammellzee; the right-hand figure, who wears long dreadlocks, is Basquiat, who was wearing his hair in this style at the time. In 1982 Toxic and Rammellzee had gone to Los Angeles to meet up with their friend Basquiat, a trip that this painting commemorates. Basquiat presents himself and his friends as ‘Africans’, yet it is unclear whether he ascribes this label to Hollywood and the entertainment industry (which Basquiat here skewers for its prejudice and stereotyping) or instead takes it for himself. On this painting, see Saggese (2014: 23–25). 9 Other paintings from 1982–83 also reference antiquity, including Dos Cabezas 2, Notary, Ascent and Monticello (all from 1983), but the relative paucity of their references limits the possibility for substantial analysis. To be sure, Basquiat’s investigations into power through the history of antiquity are not his only interest during these two years: according to his catalogue raisonée, fifty-nine paintings can be dated to 1982–83 and these concern such varied subjects as the status of African American athletes and jazz musicians, American economic exploitation of people of colour, and white European artists and political leaders. 10 Judges 15. 15. The episode may have been familiar to Basquiat from his youth: he recalled that as a child he would watch his mother drawing scenes from the Bible (Fretz 2010: 3). He also painted Philistines in 1982. 11 Boxing with Schnabel: Schnabel interviews in Davis et al. (2010). Warhol photos: photographed by Michael Halsband as publicity for their 1985 joint exhibition. 12 Basquiat used the crown ‘to signal royalty or heroism, or to assign special status to both people and objects’, according to Laughlin Bloom (2015: 128). Here she is drawing from Basquiat’s claim that he painted about ‘royalty, heroism and the streets’ (Geldzahler 1983: 46). It is employed self-referentially in the early Samo esta en algo (1980), Untitled no.11 (Samo 1-2-3 with crown) (1980–81) and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict (1982). 13 Thompson (2009: 262). 14 Wagner based his libretto on Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1835 novel Rienzi, Last of the Roman Tribunes. 15 On the ambiguity of Egyptian power in African American thought, see Malamud (2016: 165–69). 16 Cambyses II is the better known of two rulers of that name. 17 Basquiat seems often to have altered or developed his paintings spontaneously, and as a result, the lists in the paintings are not necessarily meant to be read in a linear fashion. For example, next to ALCIBIADES, he had originally painted PLATO, struck it through, painted over it and at some point circled it. Perhaps he had meant to create a list of philosophers, or perhaps he had meant to make a connection between Plato and Alcibiades through Socrates, but then decided against it. 18 Basquiat’s bookshelves may have contained a translation of Homer’s Odyssey and Paul Roche’s Three Plays of Euripides (Norton; 1974). These volumes are visible in a scene in Tamra Davis’ 2010 documentary. While most of the footage in the documentary is original, this scene is dramatized, and the titles on the shelf may or may not have been owned by Basquiat. 19 On African Americans’ use of Hannibal and Carthage as symbols of resistance, see especially Malamud (2016: 63–70). Malamud also surveys the use by prominent African American thinkers of both Egyptians and Carthaginians as racial ancestors (pp. 163–65), as well as the creation of a history that credited European civilization to North African origins (pp. 185–88). There has been a rich tradition of African Americans appropriating resistance to Rome to speak for their own situation, on which see, for example, Ronnick (2006) and Malamud (2011), as well as Malamud (2016). 20 On this important painting, see especially Saggese (2014: 36–38). 21 Nygard and Tomasso (2016: 270–71) mention Basquiat’s inclusion of Alexander the Great in several of his paintings, with an implication that he was influenced at least somewhat by Andy Warhol’s 1982 Alexander the Great. 22 Malamud (2016: 59). 23 The notion of Rome as a precursor, template or model for the USA was common in American thought through the nineteenth century, but especially around the time of the Revolution. See especially Winterer (2002) and Shalev (2009). 24 Basquiat makes clear his identification of the USA as a new Rome in Monticello (1983). In this painting, which otherwise treats American history, he has painted CHRISTIANS EATING PORK IN THE NEW ROMAN EMPIRE. 25 Basquiat had either read or seen a reference to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, chapter 2: ‘The first persecution of the Church took place in the year 67, under Nero, the sixth emperor of Rome’. 26 Levin (2007: 390) interprets this panel as referring to Alexander the Great’s victory over Darius III at Gaugamela in 331 BCE, with 331 appearing to the right. Marshall (2005: unpaginated) concurs and sees the number 361 in the centre at the top as referring to Roman capture of Ferentinum. The identification of the central panel with Alexander’s victory cannot be ruled out, though the jump between Roman and Greek history is odd. 27 The word at the top of this panel is mostly obscured by red paint, but it is tempting to read it as Nero. In this case, the victory of Christianity is a new chapter — marked by a bold white line — after Nero’s (and others’) persecutions. 28 The phrasing is striking, and there are near equivalents in a few older books: Crapsey (1921: 277): ‘Constantine removed the seat of the empire from Rome to Byzantium’, and also Merriman (1863: 383): ‘Another very important change introduced by Constantine, was the removal of the seat of empire from Rome to Byzantium’. Basquiat’s reference to Constantine’s baptism alters only slightly the wording in Alzog, Pabisch and Byrne (1903: 472, n.1): ‘He received baptism on his death-bed at Nicomedia’. Constantine dies in AD 337, not 331. A misreading of 331 for 337 is the most likely explanation for the error. 29 Frohne (1999: 442). 30 The cross and heart had appeared a year or two earlier in one of the notebooks that Basquiat kept through much of his life, drawn on the same page as a teepee. With the inclusion of the teepee, Tricia Laughlin Bloom has identified this heart with cross and crown as an ‘ornate and abstractly rendered Native American figure’ (Laughlin Bloom 2015: 128). But in Speaks for Itself, the teepee is gone and the context is changed, which speaks to the plasticity of Basquiat’s imagery and to the importance therefore of context in understanding Basquiat’s work. On the heart, Basquiat has painted the letters O P C, but their meaning is not immediate or obvious to me. 31 Basquiat’s PERICLES has most likely been copied from the bust in the Vatican Museum (Museo Pio-Clementino, Muses Hall, inv. 269), whose prominent base contrasts with the minimal base of that in the British Museum (inv. 1805,0703.91) and the non-existent base of that in Berlin (Antikensammlung, inv. Sk 1530). 32 In 1977–80 as SAMO, Basquiat had painted rhetorical multiple-choice quizzes on walls around New York’s SoHo. 33 The Capitoline Wolf is Musei Capitolini, inv. MC 1181; the Capitoline Brutus, held in the same museum is inv. MC 1183. 34 On this painting, see also Nygard and Tomasso (2016). 35 Of course Picasso drew heavily on African art, though his embrace of a European ‘primitivism’ was not without controversy, as Basquiat would have known. See, especially, Lemke (1998). 36 Given the size of Basquiat’s oeuvre (over 1000 paintings and many drawings, according to his incomplete catalogue raisonné), this note and the six that follow refer only to representative works. On the twentieth century, see St. Joe Louis Surrounded by Snakes (1982); Jesse (1983), and Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart) (1983). On earlier US history, see Per Capita (1981), Black Tar and Feathers (1982), and Not Detected (1982). Racism throughout American history is a key concern: see Notary, Olympic, and Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta (all 1983) and Jim Crow (1986). 37 For example, Olive Oil (1982) takes in Louis XIV, the Appenzell Wars of fifteenth-century Switzerland and the building of the American West to explore popular resistance to oppressive authority figures. In Piscine Versus the Best Hotels (1982), Basquiat brings together such diverse references as Diego de Landa Calderón, the sixteenth-century bishop of the Yucatán who destroyed many Mayan books, Anton Cermak, the Chicago mayor killed in 1933 in an assassination attempt on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the deadly crash at the 1955 Le Mans road race. 38 Relevant paintings include All Colored Cast (Part III) (1982), Native Carrying Some Guns, Amorites on Safari (1982), and 50 Cent Piece (1983). 39 Egypt functions as a precursor in the slave trade, and in black history more broadly, to America in Jackson (1982), Liberty (1983), and History of Black People (1983). 40 Basquiat considers Charlemagne in Bishop (1983) and Alfonso XIII of Spain in King Alphonso (1983). 41 See In Italian (1983), La Colomba (1983), and Gravestone (1987). 42 See especially J’s Milagro (1985) and Exu (1988). Basquiat was known to carry out vodou rituals and had a vodou statue (Clement 2014: 38, 69–70). On religion in Basquiat, see Frohne (1999). 43 Caribbean and African references are found especially in Grillo (1984) and Exu (1988). Contemporary or near-contemporary culture and its intersection with the politics of race and power is treated in works on musicians, such as CPRKR (1982), Charles the First (1982), and King Pleasure (1987), and those on boxers, especially Untitled (Boxer) (1982). On Egypt and African American culture, see Mitchell Crew (1983) and Techu-Anpu (1983). 44 Da Vinci: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Greatest Hits (1982) and Riding with Death (1988), a reworking of a piece by Da Vinci. Manet: Maid from Olympia and Three Quarters of Olympia Minus the Servant (1982). 45 On Basquiat as historian, see especially Tate (1989: 232–33), who explores the artist’s appropriation of the figure of griot, a West African singer and historian. Gold Griot is the title of a 1984 painting. 46 For example, Saggese (2014: 73) notes that Basquiat incorporates the Venus de Milo in his Untitled (Venus 2000 B.C.), Venus, Top Tee, and Piscine Versus the Best Hotels (all from 1982) and Untitled (Venus/The Great Circle) (1983). 47 I intend to explore in a separate essay the responses of Basquiat (and others) to European artistic hegemony, as expressed through classicism and then primitivism, an apparent counter-movement to classicism that nevertheless consists of a European appropriation of African (and other) art. The article will consider the role of race in European artistic hegemony and the complexity of non-white responses through absorption, counter-appropriation, and rejection. On these themes in Basquiat, see Tate (1989), hooks (1993), Pinn (2013), and Emmerling (2015); more widely, see most recently Cook and Tatum (2010). 48 Thompson (1985: unpaginated). 49 Brentjes (1970: 88–89). 50 In History of Black People, Blemmyan graffiti can be seen in the Greek-style lettering in the central panel. In addition, the boat in the central panel is Basquiat’s copy of the ‘Seagoing ship of the ‘Eastern Invaders’ from Brentjes (1970: 54), a vessel used by Mesopotamians, who came into Egyptian territory around 3000 BCE. The shape labeled SICKLE is Basquiat’s rendering of the image in Brentjes (1970: 61), ‘Sickle-shaped boat of the Nile valley dwellers’. In Notary, Blemmyan graffiti appear beneath the white-faced figure. Emmerling (2014: 80, 87) has found borrowings from Brentjes’ book in additional paintings. 51 On historical African American responses to antiquity, see especially Ronnick (2005) and most recently Malamud (2016). On more recent uses, especially in cultural production, see especially the survey in Greenwood (2009), and thereafter Greenwood (2010 and 2011), Cook and Tatum (2010), and McCoskey (2012, chapter 4). On, for example, American white supremacist receptions of classical antiquity, see Zuckerberg (2016). References Almiron J., ‘Now's the Time: A Study of the Social Statements in the Art of Basquiat’. PhD dissertation, University of Hawai'i at Manoa ( 2013). Alzog J., Pabisch F. J., Byrne T. S., Manual of Universal Church History  ( Cincinnati: R. Clarke, 1903). Brentjes B., African Rock Art  ( New York: C.N. Potter; distributed by Crown, 1970). Clement J., Widow Basquiat: A Love Story  ( New York: Broadway Books, 2014). Codell J., ‘ Nationalizing Abject American Artists: Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Jean-Michel Basquiat’, a/b: Auto/Biography Studies  1 ( 2011), pp. 118. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Cook W. W., Tatum J., African American Writers and Classical Tradition  ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Crapsey A. S., The Ways of the Gods  ( New York: International Press, 1921). Davis T. (dir.), Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child. New Video ( 2010). Emmerling L., Jean-Michel Basquiat 1960-1988: The Explosive Force of the Streets  ( Köln: Taschen, 2015). Fretz E., Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Biography  ( Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2010). Frohne A., ‘Re-presenting Jean-Michel Basquiat’, in Okpewho I., Davies C. B., Mazrui A. A. (eds.), The African Diaspora: African Origins and New World Identities  ( Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999), pp. 439– 51. Geldzahler H., ‘Art: From Subways to SoHo. Jean Michel Basquiat’, Interview 13 January 1983: 44– 46. Greenwood E., ‘Re-rooting the Classical Tradition: New Directions in Black Classicism’, Classical Receptions Journal  1, no. 1 ( 2009), pp. 87– 103. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Greenwood E., Afro-Greeks: Dialogues between Anglophone Caribbean Literature and Classics in the Twentieth Century  ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Greenwood E., ‘Dislocating Black Classicism: Classics and the Black Diaspora in the Poetry of Aimé Césaire and Kamau Brathwaite,’ in Orrells Daniel, Bhambra Gurminder K., Roynon T. (eds.), African Athena: New Agendas  ( Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 362– 80. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Hoban P., A Quick Killing in Art  ( London: Quartet Books, 1998). hooks b., ‘ Altars of Sacrifice: Re-membering Basquiat’, Art in America  81, no. 6 ( 1993), pp. 68– 75. Laughlin Bloom T., ‘Notebooks and Related Works: Plate Commentaries’, in Buchhart D., Bloom T. L. (eds.), Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks  ( New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2015), pp. 79– 234. Lemke S., Primitivist Modernism: Black Culture and the Origins of Transatlantic Modernism  ( Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). Levin G., ‘Modern and Postmodern Art and Architecture’, in Kallendorf Craig (ed.), A Companion to the Classical Tradition  ( Oxford: Blackwells Publishing, 2007), pp. 371– 92. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Malamud M., ‘The Auctoritas of Antiquity: Debating Slavery through Classical Exempla in the Antebellum USA’, in Hall E., Alston R., McConnell J. (eds.), Ancient Slavery and Abolition: From Hobbes to Hollywood  ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 279– 317. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Malamud M., African Americans and the Classics: Antiquity, Abolition and Activism  ( London: I.B. Tauris, 2016). Marshall R., ‘Catalog Essay,’ in Marshall Richard (ed.), Jean-Michel Basquiat: In Word Only  ( New York: Cheim & Read, 2005). McCoskey D., Race: Antiquity and its Legacy  ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). Merriman T. M., The Trail of History: Or, History of Religion and Empire in Parallel from the Creation to the Present Time, with a Historical Diagram  ( Johnson, VT: Merriman, 1863). Nygard T., Tomasso V., ‘ Andy Warhol’s Alexander the Great: An Ancient Portrait for Alexander Iolas in a Postmodern Frame’, Classical Receptions Journal  8, no. 2 ( 2016), pp. 253– 75. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Pinn A., ‘ Why can’t I be Both?: Jean-Michel Basquiat and Aesthetics of Black Bodies Reconstituted’, Journal of Africana Religions  1, no. 1 ( 2013), pp. 109– 32. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Reichling S., ‘Jean-Michel Basquiat: der afro-amerikanische Kontext seines Werkes’. PhD dissertation, Universität Hamburg, 1999. Ricard R., ‘Basquiat: A Memoir’, in Thompson R. F., Ricard R. (eds.), Jean-Michel Basquiat  ( New York: Gagosian Gallery; Rizzoli, 2014), pp. 171– 84. Ronnick M. V., The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough: An American Journey from Slavery to Scholarship  ( Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005). Ronnick M. V., ‘William Sanders Scarborough and the Politics of Classical Education for African Americans’, in Meckler Michael (ed.), Classical Antiquity and the Politics of America: From George Washington to George W. Bush  ( Waco: Baylor University Press. 2006), pp. 55– 68. Saggese J. M., Reading Basquiat: Exploring Ambivalence in American Art  ( Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2014). Schnabel J. (dir.), Basquiat (Miramax Films and Jon Kilik, 1996). Shalev E., Rome Reborn on Western Shores: Historical Imagination and the Creation of the American Republic  ( Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009). Tate G., ‘Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nobody Loves a Genius Child’, Village Voice, 14 November ( 1989). (Reprinted in Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America  ( New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), pp. 231– 43.) Thompson R. F., ‘Introductory Essay,’ in Basquiat J. M. et al.   (eds.), Jean Michel Basquiat  ( New York: Mary Boone Gallery, 1985). Thompson R. F., ‘Royalty, Heroism, and the Streets’, in Murray D., Lock G. (eds.), Hearing Eye: Jazz & Blues Influences in African American Visual Art  ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 253– 81. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Winterer C., The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780-1910  ( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). Zuckerberg D., ‘How to be a Good Classicist under a Bad Emperor’ Eidolon 21 November 2016 <https://eidolon.pub/how-to-be-a-good-classicist-under-a-bad-emperor-6b848df6e54a> accessed 2 October 2017. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. 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Jean-Michel Basquiat and Antiquity

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© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com
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Abstract

Abstract Classical antiquity was a significant but overlooked interlocutor in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s well-studied conversations with black history and his contemporary world. Basquiat drew on his knowledge of classical antiquity to explore issues of culture and heritage, imperialism, and social exclusion. The interaction of themes from ancient history, black history, and American history in his paintings provided him ways to think about military, political, and cultural imperialism in America’s past and present. His references to classical antiquity are part of a larger investigation into the dynamics of power that grows out of his own complex background, experiences, and self-education. The Greco-Roman world was a significant source of inspiration and an overlooked interlocutor in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s well-studied explorations of black history. I argue that Basquiat drew on his knowledge of the ancient world to explore issues of power and subjugation in both American history and his immediate context. But his responses to the ancient world are complicated: ancient states and their leaders can be forces for good, bad and sometimes both; Christianity is a resistance movement that, following its triumph, acquires the very powers it once resisted. The complexity of Basquiat's reception of classical antiquity is important for increasing our appreciation of non-European and, importantly, non-white reception of antiquity in the late twentieth century.1 Jean-Michel Basquiat, precocious, well read and sophisticated, became one of the best known artists of the twentieth century, and while his paintings are widely known, he is also remembered for his exciting, but brief life.2 His artistic career began on the fringes of the New York City graffiti scene, but moved quickly from there into the downtown art world. His addiction to drugs caused his untimely death in 1988 aged 27. Basquiat’s background was complex: his father was Haitian, a middle-class accountant, who despite living in diverse Brooklyn, did not socialize with the Haitian community there. Basquiat never visited Haiti and seems not to have been exposed to Haitian culture at home beyond the French language. His father’s primary cultural influence was to inspire Basquiat’s love of jazz. His mother was born in New York to Puerto Rican parents and spoke Spanish with Jean-Michel. He lived in Puerto Rico briefly, but he was taken by his father, not his mother. Basquiat’s place of birth was New York, and his community of friends as a teenager was diverse, as were the friends of his adult years, though the mix had by then changed to include white luminaries of the art world, most notably Andy Warhol. Basquiat does not fit neatly into any obvious socio-economic or ethnic categories: of Haitian and Puerto Rican extraction, but exposed only partially to their cultures, he was also a New Yorker and an American. He was also African American. While he suffered discrimination because of his colour, in his childhood he did not experience the economic insecurity or challenges faced by a significant number of African American New Yorkers. His education in the 1970s, in a mix of New York public and private Catholic schools, will have privileged white-generated culture and its achievements and white-centric modes of knowing and understanding. He enjoyed one visit to Africa and had planned a second, but his introduction to African art came from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection, and he greatly admired Robert Farris Thompson’s 1983 Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. Basquiat also asserted that the white Yale professor’s writing on his art was the best he had read. Basquiat’s paintings teem with words, arranged singly, in phrases, connected, unconnected. The viewer is left to find meaning in the sometimes clear, but oftentimes only apparent connections between them. Key words and phrases reappear from painting to painting; they are taken from Basquiat’s New York, television and movies, and, especially in the case of the paintings examined in this article, from books. Though a high-school drop-out, we know that Basquiat read widely: books on history, as well as mythology, art history, and travel guides.3 He once explained, ‘I get my background from studying books. I put what I like from them in my paintings’.4 Analysis of his paintings has focused on a core set of themes, most notably race, in particular the contemporary treatment and experience of African Americans and also black history, especially the histories of the African continent, the ancient history of Egypt, and American slavery.5 While the issue of race predominates in Basquiat’s art, there has been little sustained discussion of the intersection of race and classical antiquity in his paintings. Gail Levin’s two paragraph survey of Basquiat and antiquity, appearing in the Blackwell Companion to the Classical Tradition, is the most prominent treatment of the topic to date. She lists the classical elements in three paintings, including Speaks for Itself and False, though limitations of space seem to have precluded any analysis. Jordana Moore Saggese’s important recent work on Basquiat and race mentions classical antiquity in passing, while Susanne Reichling devotes about two pages of her dissertation to discussing Basquiat’s opposition of Africa (especially Egypt and Carthage) to Europe, as represented by Greece and Rome.6 For Basquiat the histories of the ancient world were significant because the interaction of themes from ancient European history, black history, and American history in his paintings provided him ways to think about military, political, and cultural imperialism in America’s past and present. His roots—Haitian through his father, Puerto Rican through his mother, and ultimately African too—made Basquiat keenly aware of the consequences of imperialism and conquest, as we can see in many of his paintings. Yet the tangle of influences and referents in Basquiat’s family background, the cultural–geographical context of his youth, and his education complicated his response to classical antiquity. I argue that the references to classical antiquity are part of a larger investigation into the dynamics of power in Basquiat’s contemporary context, one that is complex and challenging to disentangle.7 Much of Basquiat’s interest in power is focused on his contemporary USA, the recent past, and the discrimination he experienced.8 But a number of paintings speak to his concern with the longer history of black peoples and their interactions with and treatment at the hands of whites: for example, through economic exploitation in Per Capita (1981), long-standing military subjugation and cultural prejudice in All Colored Cast (Part III) (1982), and political and cultural imperialism in Native Carrying Some Guns, Bibles, Amorites On Safari (1982). Basquiat’s interest in the ancient world seems to have been strongest in 1982–83: nearly all of his paintings that touch upon classical antiquity date to those two years. Of these paintings, my discussion focuses on those that have the highest concentration of motifs or elements that relate to the ancient world. I show how those elements are incorporated, what connections Basquiat makes between them and other elements in a painting, and what those connections might tell us about the artist’s use of the ancient world and his reception of it.9 Basquiat painted Jawbone of an Ass (Fig. 1) in 1982. The title, written across the top centre of the piece, refers to the story of Samson’s killing of one thousand Philistines using the jawbone of an ass after they had captured him.10 This episode is part of the larger story of conflict between the Israelites and Philistines, which itself is one stage in a history of conflict between oppressors and the oppressed that Basquiat explores in this painting. I analyse Jawbone in detail because it showcases Basquiat’s use of history, including ancient history, in his exploration of the theme of power and its effects on those exploited or victimized by holders of power. That exploration, especially in this painting, takes in other periods, and their representation by Basquiat must also be examined so as to make sense of the role of ancient history in his work. Fig. 1 View largeDownload slide Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–88), Jawbone of an Ass, 1982. Larry Qualls Archive, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York 2017. Fig. 1 View largeDownload slide Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–88), Jawbone of an Ass, 1982. Larry Qualls Archive, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York 2017. In Jawbone, Basquiat has entered into artistic competition with Rodin to create a large-scale visual history. At top left we see RODIN’S THINKER, written twice and struck through, and below a sketch of a man wearing a beret, his right hand gesturing towards the right side of his face, perhaps in a contemplative or wondering pose, while his staring eyes look over to the central panel. The beret and the posing of the hand suggest that the figure is a composite of Rodin and his thinker, and he stares at what Basquiat has created: a history of power and conflict, a visual epic perhaps intended to rival Rodin’s Gates of Hell, a work that Rodin struggled with and left unfinished at his death. At the right are two groupings of fearsome sharp-toothed creatures who, though cartoon-like, may be meant to represent hellish beasts. In the bottom right corner, two figures, one black and the other white, box. Basquiat used the motif of boxing to suggest artistic competition: he often declared that he wanted to box the artist Julian Schnabel, and he was photographed pretending to box with Andy Warhol.11 His competition with Rodin is made clear again on the left: below Rodin he has painted a blue crown, a symbol he often used for himself.12 Divided into three vertical zones, this painting on canvas comprises paper collage with pencil drawing along with applications of paint — hence the apparent incompleteness of some of the scenes, and the obscuration of others. This is a favoured technique of Basquiat: he took a piecemeal approach in much of his work, adding elements only to paint over and around them or to cross them out. Basquiat was interested in the presence and deletion of words and their significance once deleted. He explained, ‘I cross out words so you will see them more: the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them’.13 Basquiat also included Roman numerals in a number of his paintings, including at the bottom of Jawbone. Though apparently dates, their meaning is unclear. He sometimes placed them next to depictions or names of historically significant events or people, perhaps suggesting that the presence of Roman numerals might endow them with age and authority. The central zone is filled with names of people and places that evoke political, territorial and ethnic conflict, often resulting in the oppression of less powerful groups. Though the painting’s title, positioned along the top, refers to an episode of the Hebrew Bible, what follows does not form a chronological narrative. Instead, Basquiat begins his history of power and conflict with Renaissance and Early Modern Europe, moves back in time to antiquity, and finally jumps to the modern New World. Within these rough temporal groupings, there is some chronological progression, but Basquiat also sets together names that have thematic connections. He also includes a couple of circled Arabic numerals, which render this a history with sub-headers, an authoritative history that reflects I argue, the power he gives to himself to fashion his own history. At the top, we begin with Early Modern France and the young French nobleman HENRI CINQ-MARS, who conspired unsuccessfully against Richelieu; below him comes CHARLES IX, whose reign, as Basquiat reminds us with BARTHOLOMEW, saw the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Huguenots; finally, LOUIS XVI, was the last king of France. Basquiat shifts to Renaissance Italy and BORGIA, which presumably stands for the Borgia family, powerful in Italy during the Renaissance; the diplomacy of MACHIAVELLI on behalf of the Florentine state put him in opposition to the Borgias, and SAVONAROLA was their enemy. The conflict between the GUELPHS and GHIBELLINES ran through Renaissance Italy. Slightly detached from this group, Basquiat has included RIENZI, best known as the title of a Wagner opera about the eponymous late medieval champion of the Italian people against the predations of nobles.14 In the opera, Rienzi repeatedly invokes the challenges to and victories of the Italians’ ancient forbears, a fact that must have been known to Basquiat, who places RIENZI between NERO, which is circled and twice struck through, and VIRGIL, writer of the epic pre-history of the Romans. The themes of Basquiat’s histories of France and Italy are conflict between those in power and their weaker enemies, also intrigue and ongoing and unyielding hatred. Basquiat’s history now jumps back in time to Biblical and Egyptian history with a cluster of names in the first of three roughly formed columns. The Israelites’ conflict with the Philistines, which gave the painting its title, is not referenced again, but Basquiat’s knowledge of it from the Bible would have rendered the Philistines the oppressors and the Israelites the oppressed. The trials of the Israelites are picked up again in the references to PHARAOH (once partially written and crossed out, then repeated in full) and EGYPT, with JOSEPH, as an example (albeit an anachronistic one) of a Jew whose family suffered at the hands of a foreign power, placed in between. PYRAMIDS may represent the power of the pharaohs who commissioned them and is followed by RAMESES, the repetition of whose name may be an allusion to Rameses II (an identification confirmed by the ‘2’ that follows both names), the most celebrated of all the pharaohs, who waged successful campaigns in Syria, the Levant and North Africa, and who commissioned magnificent building projects in THEBES. Egypt plays an ambiguous role in Basquiat’s history: on the one hand, as well as being itself an ancient power, Egypt may stand for the power, independence, and self-determination of ancient Africa; on the other, the power of the pharaohs over the people sets a precedent for the subjugation of ordinary Africans first by African leaders (their own or others’) and then by Europeans and Americans.15 CAMBYSES is most likely here Cambyses II, the Achaemenid ruler who conquered Egypt in the sixth century BCE.16 With this defeat, according to Basquiat’s history, Egypt is colonized and its power ends. But Cambyses is, in turn, succeeded by (and perhaps killed under the orders of) DARIUS, whose name is second in the next column. We are perhaps meant to conclude from the list that power is fleeting and even the mightiest rulers are vulnerable to changes of fortune. The appearance of ALEXANDRIA, appearing three times in a central position next to Darius, underscores the importance of Egypt to Basquiat. Before Darius, however, comes MITHRIDATES, though it is unclear which Mithridates is meant. The best-known, Mithridates VI of Pontus (also known as Mithridates the Great), seems most likely, who claimed to be a descendant of Darius (and apparently also had a son of the same name) and was a well-known foe of the growing Roman Empire. Basquiat begins his treatment of Greece (whose protector Mithridates claimed to be) with its earliest literature: HOMER, ILIAD, TROY, ACHILLES, respectively the supposed author, title, location and a hero of the epic recounting the Fall of Troy — another example of a once-great power overcome by another. Next to Troy, Basquiat has painted (HECTOR), the fallen Trojan hero. While parentheses should reduce the prominence of the word or words contained within them, in this painting they seem instead to render HECTOR more noticeable, just as Basquiat’s strikethroughs make you ‘see them more’. We focus on the once-powerful Hector more than on Achilles, his killer. Yet the now-powerful Achilles — he of the famously exposed heel — will in turn be killed. HYPATIA, the Alexandrian mathematician murdered by Christians, is named twice, with a line separating the names, perhaps to emphasize them. The proximity of her name to CLEOPATRA and also to ALEXANDRIA is meant, I think, to associate her with North African achievements and also as an example of female victims of power: Hypatia, Cleopatra, and Dido, all North Africans, are included in the painting. The placement of VIRGIL and AENEID around CLEOPATRA suggests that we are to think of Dido and anticipate the appearance of her name below: it has long been observed that Vergil fashions his Dido as a pre-figurement of Cleopatra, the other North African female ruler. Basquiat follows with a brief cluster of Greeks: ALCIBIADES, ANAXAGORAS, ARISTOPHANES, SAPPHO (who appears in the column to the left), SOCRATES, and SOPHOCLES.17 The first in the list, Alcibiades, was a statesman who served variously the Athenians, Spartans and Persians. Perhaps Basquiat is interested in his apparent lack of loyalty in the search for power and influence. The others are Greek thinkers and writers active in the sixth and fifth centuries, but they have no greater connection as a group. Their alphabetical arrangement, on the model of a dictionary, an encyclopaedia or even simply an index, suggests to me that Basquiat means them to stand for the richness of classical Greek culture.18 Next to the Greeks and inscribed within a square we read PUNIC WARS and, to the left, HAMILCAR, HANNIBAL, SCIPIO, all key figures in the wars. Beneath them, Basquiat has painted H. and another crown; next to it is CARTHAGE and beneath it another HANNIBAL, this time underlined. The wars between Carthage and Rome seem to have been highly significant for Basquiat: they stood as a key episode in his history of conflict and power, not least because they pitted an emerging European imperial power against a North African power keen to assert its influence over the Western Mediterranean and Iberian Peninsula. Hannibal has emerged as the most visible individual in the conflict: the general who crossed the Alps with his elephants led the only recorded invasion of Europe by Africans, the sole counter example to the myriad invasions and settlements of Africa undertaken by Europeans. The eventual defeat and destruction of Carthage brought with it also the enslavement of the city’s inhabitants: Rome had entered into an African slave trade. The placement of the crown — often standing for Basquiat — next to H. and above HANNIBAL may suggest that the artist identified with or emulated the Carthaginian leader. If this is correct, the identification is not so surprising: Hannibal had long been a hero to African American thinkers, orators and pamphleteers, who viewed him as a black antagonist to whites’ imperialist aggression.19 The fact that Basquiat painted a portrait of Hannibal (Hannibal, 1983) the following year underscores his importance to the artist. But he is just as interested in Greek and Roman leaders: to the right of the crown and CARTHAGE we see JULIUS CEASER (sic) and ALEXANDER THE GREAT. In 1983 Basquiat also painted a portrait of Caesar (Julius Caesar) — he and Hannibal are the only figures of antiquity (and among the very few of any period) Basquiat depicted in individual portraits. The placement of Alexander so close to Hannibal and Caesar suggests that Basquiat perceived similarities between them: perhaps that all three experienced and enjoyed power and aimed at increasing it; but their plans were thwarted (by an early death for Alexander, by Roman military superiority and Carthaginian opposition for Hannibal, and by assassination for Caesar) and their power reversed. Alexander was a figure that Basquiat made complex. In Jawbone, he seems to rank alongside Hannibal and Caesar as one of the foremost ancient leaders. In History of Black People (1983), Basquiat’s most sustained examination of power and exploitation, the European presence in Africa begins with Alexander’s conquest of Egypt.20 Similarly in All Colored Cast (Part III) (1982), ALEXANDER THE GREAT, top left, is accompanied by a Roman date, perhaps Basquiat’s way of suggesting that Alexander marked the beginning of the history of white exploitation of blacks; below that, Basquiat has painted DIPSOMANIA. In the 1871 Chamber’s Encyclopedia, the entry on Diogenes closes with an account of his meeting with Alexander; the entry that follows is, coincidentally, on dipsomania. But Basquiat’s inclusion of its headword is surely meant as a reproach. In False (1983), where Alexander is named three times, he is rendered as faceless and featureless, riding on a horse that is by comparison oversized; a Greek soldier to the right likewise dwarfs Alexander. Perhaps Basquiat aims to belittle him and to render him a(nother) ancient European military leader who annexes African territory.21 On the right of the central zone, in the middle, Basquiat has painted ROMOLA above NERO. One might have expected NERO here to refer to the Roman emperor, and it may do so. But in George Eliot’s Romola, a story set in Renaissance Florence, the title character’s godfather is Bernardo del Nero. I suggest that the placement of these two names, with ROMOLA at first sight misplaced, is an example of Basquiat playing a highly intellectual game, in which he challenges viewers of his paintings to identify the connections between seemingly unrelated elements. If we take NERO as referring also to the ancient figure (as it does elsewhere), then he is a natural choice for this painting: he is the emperor par excellence, the emperor who misuses his power and famously fiddles while Rome burns, and the holder of ultimate power, who in his whims and caprices is the threat from within. The remaining names continue the theme of opposition to great or overwhelming power. To the left, below Basquiat’s crown and HANNIBAL, he has painted SPARTACUS (underlined) and GOTHS, both enemies of Rome. The first, who fought an unsuccessful, but temporarily destabilizing campaign, may have interested Basquiat both as a leader fighting for freedom and also as a namesake for the later leader of the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint L'Ouverture, or the ‘Black Spartacus’.22 Haiti, the birthplace of Basquiat’s father, was also the first western predominantly black sovereign nation and perhaps a locus of pride for him. GOTHS, named here and on the furthest right of the central panel, appear in several of Basquiat’s paintings presumably as foes of Rome. IL REPUBLICO, seemingly a blending of Spanish el repúblico and Italian la repubblica, is followed by RUBICON. Perhaps Basquiat is making the point that Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon marked the end of the Republic and the beginning of monarchical rule. Does Basquiat mourn this shift? His position on republics and monarchies is unclear — perhaps he had no position. The American Revolution had ended the strictures and impositions of a distant monarchy, but its replacement, which guaranteed liberty for all, had enslaved blacks. Underneath, SCIPIO, SECOND AND THIRD PUNIC WAR, and HANNIBAL pick up the earlier theme of Rome’s destruction of Carthage, as does DIDO, another North African who suffers at Roman hands. But new elements appear too: JESUS CHRIST, JERUSALEM, JEWS and JOSEPHUS. Jesus was crucified just outside Jerusalem following a trial before the Sanhedrin in Roman-controlled Judaea. Mocked at his crucifixion as ‘King of the Jews’, Jesus was viewed as a threat to Roman power, while, as Basquiat is perhaps suggesting, the Jews were complicit in his death, a complicity with Roman power exemplified by Josephus, a Jew who became a Roman citizen following his enslavement. By contrast, the fictional Jewish prince BEN-HUR, named at the right of the central column, upon his manumission becomes a Christian. For Basquiat Roman power is a malign force that threatens illustrious foes — Carthage, Egypt, and Judaea — and weaker enemies, such as Hypatia, Dido, and the Christians. Yet Rome is vulnerable: at the bottom of this section of the painting, Basquiat has included VESUVIUS and POMPEII. These may have been included simply as evocations of antiquity. But we can perhaps go further: to be sure, neither the eruption of Vesuvius nor the resulting destruction of Pompeii posed any threat to Roman power, though they may have symbolized to Basquiat the possibility that even the mightiest powers can be undone, by man or nature. The bottom of the central panel features names from American history: CREOLE refers to French and Spanish colonial residents of Louisiana, as well as — and especially — later Haitian émigrés. OSSOLI is presumably a reference to Margaret Fuller Ossoli, the abolitionist writer and journalist who broadly adhered to the transcendentalist movement. Basquiat has included TRANSCENDENTALISM below, though oddly he has connected it with an arrow to EMANCIPATION PROC. The meaning of the connection is unclear, but perhaps it is an attempt to give a double meaning to emancipation: the liberation of African Americans from slavery and the liberation of every individual from the bounds of state institutions. The word below OSSOLI, partly obscured by an overlay of black paint, is illegible. To the right, we see JOHN PAUL JONES, naval captain of the Revolutionary War and a controversial figure, perhaps here because his command was frequently undermined by politics. To the far right of him, TORY and WHIG refer to the political parties of the Revolutionary War. These flank XYZ PAPERS, a political intrigue that led to the Quasi War against the French, and LOUISIANA PURCHASE, the sale by the French of territory west of the Mississippi to the USA. Napoleon was forced to the sale by his failure to re-take Haiti and by impending war with the British, though some politicians, French and American, opposed the deal. In this first section of his American history, Basquiat emphasizes politics, political change, and internal political strife, a continuation from his French and Italian histories. With the line Basquiat paints underneath LOUISIANA PURCHASE, we move to the Civil War. There is LINCOLN, A. (partially obscured) to the left and SLAVES underneath that; EMANCIPATION PROC. is to the right. VAN BUREN is presumably a reference to Martin Van Buren, a President who held abolitionist views. REDSKINS, a derogatory term for Native Americans, may be an allusion to the effects of actions taken by powerful and racist European Americans, and HARRISON, Van Buren’s successor to the Presidency, had been a prominent figure in the Battle of Tippecanoe against Native American forces. TYLER, here hyphenated with Harrison, since he had served as Harrison’s running mate and succeeded him upon his brief tenure, held pro-abolition views, but was nevertheless a slave-holder; he spearheaded the annexation of Texas, a slave-holding territory, in opposition to Van Buren. The final words of the painting, PERRY, OH, bring us back in time: it was the site of a battle that marked the turning point in the War of 1812 against the British and their Native American allies. This second section of Basquiat’s American history seems to focus on the repercussions of politics for slave populations and Native Americans. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued following decades of political manoeuvring and wrangling; the plight of Native Americans finds only partial resolution in the establishment of reservations and extension of citizenship. Jawbone sets the resistance of Native Americans and African Americans in the context of earlier politics and historical resistance movements, and classical antiquity helps to provide the long view: its history lays the foundation for struggles to follow.23 Basquiat encourages us to see Rome — and elsewhere Egypt too — as an analogue to the USA, a monolith whose power, like that of Rome, may also be vulnerable to threats external and internal.24 Basquiat’s Speaks for Itself (Fig. 2), painted in 1982, explores further the exercise of power and threats to it. In the left-hand panel of this triptych Basquiat begins with names that appeared already in Jawbone as threats to Roman power: GOTHS, here named several times, CARTHAGE, and NERO. If this painting is a brief history of the relationship between Christianity and power, then the history begins with SIXTY SEVEN UNDER NERO, the year of the earliest persecutions of Christians.25 If we are to find some connection between the phrases on this panel, perhaps it is that Rome rendered CARTHAGE DESTROYED, yet was later SACKED BY GOTHS; likewise, Nero used his power to persecute Christians, yet Christianity later supplanted paganism on the imperial throne. Fig. 2 View largeDownload slide Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–88), Speaks for Itself, 1982. Larry Qualls Archive, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York 2017. Fig. 2 View largeDownload slide Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–88), Speaks for Itself, 1982. Larry Qualls Archive, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York 2017. The central panel may present the death of paganism with 361 HE IS KILLED IN THE BATTLE OF PERSIA. If so, JUL, a fragment of a word struck through several times, refers to the death of the last pagan emperor Julian.26 The victory of Christianity would then be the theme of the right-hand panel:27 HE REMOVES THE SEAT OF THE EMPIRE FROM ROME TO BYZANTIUM; ON HIS DEATH BED HE RECEIVES BAPTISM AT NICOMEDIA 331.28 To the right of the text, stylized thorns entwine a heart and cross, and an arrow (perhaps, here, two) pierces the heart. The flames that usually top the sacred heart are absent, replaced instead by a crown representing perhaps Basquiat or Christ the King. Elsewhere, Basquiat used the figure of Jesus to explore issues of exploitation, mistreatment by the powerful, and victimization.29 But the crown here may also represent Christianity’s new power: the victims are now the victors.30 In 1983, Basquiat devoted an entire painting to Greek and Roman history. False (Fig. 3) begins with Alexander, literally belittled (see above). It moves through a series of images, some of famous pieces, all helpfully labelled: a GREEK SOLDIER, THEATER SEATS, APHRODITE of Knidos, and PERICLES along the top of the painting.31 Below left, PLATO, HOMER, SOCRATES and a listing of dates round out Basquiat’s greatest hits of ancient Greece, all symbols of its political, military and cultural power. Basquiat has a quiz for us: TRUE or FALSE?32 We have to supply the introduction to the question ourselves: ‘What we see in this painting is a true history. True or false?’ The box marked FALSE is checked, then scratched out; TRUE is now checked. But Basquiat scratches things out to make you see them more, and the painting is titled FALSE. So the answer to Basquiat’s question may be TRUE or it may be FALSE, and our knowledge of Greek history, from textbooks and the history of art, cannot help us. We are disoriented. What about the Roman history that follows? Fig. 3 View largeDownload slide Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–88), False, 1983. Daros Collection, Switzerland. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York 2017. Fig. 3 View largeDownload slide Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–88), False, 1983. Daros Collection, Switzerland. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York 2017. A (fake) Roman date brings us to a history of Rome, told out of temporal sequence. It is heralded by her destruction of CARTHAGE in 146 BC, but ROME IS SACKED BY GOTHS. The Roman monarchy is founded by ROMULUS + REMUS, but the former, not content with sharing power, kills the latter — only one baby feeds from the Capitoline wolf — and the phrase is scratched out; power resides in ROMULUS alone. BRUTUS AS 1ST CONSUL, written along with Basquiat’s rendering of the Capitoline Brutus, heralds the Republic, which places power and justice (‘JUS’) in the hands of the people: SPQR.33 The Republic ends, and power now resides in Augustus alone. But his DEMISE comes in 14 AD (painted twice). Roman power also resides in the FORUM AT ROME, but it is in Rome that ST. PAUL will preach, and when a BARBARIAN INVADER SEES ROME FOR THE FIRST TIME, he is shocked by what he sees, though he will come to seek possession of it.34 Struggles for power dominate Basquiat’s history of Rome, as we have seen before, rather than her achievements. False reflects the conflicting power classical antiquity had over Basquiat. He knew its artistic achievements well and depicts some of them here, and he was keenly interested in its major figures and key events — he includes them in this painting and in Jawbone, for example. Yet he repeatedly sets ancient Europe in opposition to the achievements and subsequent subjugation of his Africa. Perhaps the artist, whose favourite painting was Picasso’s Guernica, could not wholly reject Europeans’ (and whites’) artistic achievement, even while excoriating their treatment of Africans and African Americans.35 Basquiat’s history paintings take in a wide array of referents across time and space. American history dominates, especially that of the twentieth century, as Basquiat explores, in particular, issues of power in historical and contemporary racism and the economic exploitation of non-whites.36 But he is also fond of pulling together references to different periods across Europe, Africa, and the New World.37 For example, he brings together Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and the USA to explore economic and political power as expressed through the slave trade, European colonialism, and the ongoing mistreatment of blacks by whites.38 Egypt, which looms large in Basquiat’s work, appears as a key early site in black history and also as an analogue to the USA, albeit a complex one: ancient Egypt had enslaved Nubians, and its pharaohs had been oppressive rulers, yet ancient Egypt was a source of black pride.39 The Greco-Roman world is significant as the site from which white aggression towards blacks first appears. As a power that threatens non-whites, it too may function for Basquiat as an American analogue, but it is simpler than Egypt: it was a white slave-owning culture that had ambitions to control black territories. Alongside racism, Basquiat is interested in the strengths and weaknesses of leaders, a theme he explores especially in European contexts.40 The inclusion in his paintings of Alexander the Great, as well as Julius Caesar and Augustus — and indeed Hannibal, Dido and Cleopatra — should be considered as part of this broader exploration of power. Early Christianity is also an important element in Basquiat’s investigations into issues of power in classical antiquity. Yet despite Basquiat’s attendance at Catholic school, references to Christianity otherwise appear infrequently in his work.41 By contrast, he is keenly interested in West African Vodun and Haitian Vodou both spiritually and culturally, and references them more often in his work.42 Cultural tradition is another key theme and takes us outside of Basquiat’s history paintings. He celebrates Caribbean and African culture (and religion), as well as contemporary or near-contemporary American and African American culture, for which ancient Egypt appears sometimes as a source.43 His engagement with white European culture is, by contrast, complex: for example, while he embraces Da Vinci, he is highly critical of the interplay of race and power in Manet’s Olympia.44 References to classical antique culture are scattered through Basquiat’s work, though in False he seems to question whether its influence, bound as it is with whites’ historical power, is wholly positive. The paintings discussed in this article are the work of an artist interested in historical issues of power that mapped onto his contemporary lived experience. But since Basquiat’s experience was so richly complex in influence, his investigations into power were necessarily complex too. His experiences led him to create a new history, one in which Carthage, Alexandria, Dido, Cleopatra, Hannibal, and Hypatia are conflated, condensed and shuffled across time to become part of a longer history of white versus black, in which the white man centuries later still uses his political and economic power to subjugate Africans.45 Yet the power wielded by the white man through his artistic contributions is less easy for Basquiat to disdain, and he even finds himself incorporating them into his own art.46 Basquiat had a historical precedent for the conflict within him.47 Robert Farris Thompson recognized an adaptation of Blemmyan graffiti in one of Basquiat’s paintings, Frogmen (1983).48 The ancient Blemmyes were a nomadic people living south-east of Egypt who, as their power and territory grew, came increasingly into contact and often conflict with the Romans. As Thompson observes, Basquiat found his graffiti on a page of Burchard Brentjes’ African Rock Art; on the facing page, in a paragraph Basquiat surely read, Brentjes describes Blemmyan artistic production: ‘Among these tribes of Upper Egypt, waging constant frontier war against the Romans, old African traditions and Egyptian religious forms, Christian concepts and classical stylistic motives were mixed together’.49 Brentjes provides examples of the multiplicity of their influences and images: Egyptian gods, oxen in the Libyan style, Bedouin camel drivers, Christian crosses, and Greek graffiti. Basquiat includes Blemmyan graffiti in at least four of his paintings: besides Frogmen, they appear also in Chinese, History of Black People and Notary (all 1983).50 He surely identified with the African Blemmyes, who, in a history filled with conflict, resisted Roman imperialism. But interestingly — and as Basquiat must have seen, as he copied their Greek-lettered graffiti and read of their ‘classical stylistic motives’ — they also appropriated the culture of those whose power they encountered and even resisted. Blemmyan art, with its combination of word and image, records their history, but also their complex reception of others’ power and culture. Basquiat’s paintings likewise record his version of history, but also a highly complex reception of white and black power and culture from classical antiquity. The precise nature of that complexity is, of course, unique to Basquiat. But his reception of classical antiquity can serve as a useful analogue to earlier African American responses and as a spur to investigate more fully the reception of antiquity in the modern and postmodern visual arts. Finally, it offers a productive and constructive complication of and counter to some current reductive and politicized receptions of antiquity from outside the field of Classics.51 Serena Connolly is Associate Professor of Classics at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Her research interests are in Roman social history and she has published on ancient Romans' legal problems, prisoners of war, and Roman self-help texts, among other topics. Footnotes 1 White discourse on African American history and artistic expression has long been rooted in white privilege and whites’ presumption to comment on them. I fully acknowledge the limitations and subjectivity that my own ethnicity and nationality — I am white and British — will necessarily place on this article, as well as the possible irony of my commentary, as a white academic, on Basquiat’s exploration of whites’ historical exercise of power over black peoples. As a classicist interested in issues of reception and, admittedly, as an admirer of Basquiat’s work, I have learned much from the scholarship; I hope this article will be a constructive addition to it. I am indebted to the Journal’s anonymous referees and associate editor and to the editor Constanze Güthenke for their incisive comments and many constructive suggestions. 2 Julian Schnabel’s film Basquiat(1996) and Hoban’s biography (1998), which have both focused on Basquiat’s life and lifestyle, have contributed to the popular emphasis on the man, rather than his work. On the film, see especially Codell (2011). 3 Basquiat’s friend Glenn O’Brien recalls seeing him paint with a television on and music playing, accompanied by a large stack of books (interview in Davis 2010). According to Rene Ricard (2014: 179–80), Basquiat owned an unidentified textbook on classical Greece and Rome. He also knew Janson’s monumental History of Art (Saggese 2014: 63, n. 13) and had a guide to Italy and a book on Roman sculpture (Geldzahler 1983: 46). Jennifer Stein, who worked as Basquiat’s cook in about 1982, recalls being asked by Basquiat to buy books; her purchases included books on ancient history (Hoban 1998: 170). Lorraine O’Grady, a Haitian American artist, gave Basquiat her copy of Burchard Brentjes’ African Rock Art around 1982 or 1983 (Fretz 2010: 112). The timing of Stein’s purchases and O’Grady’s significant gift corresponds with a period of especially intense interest in the ancient world for Basquiat. 4 The reference is from Saggese (2014: 63). 5 On this topic, see most recently, Saggese (2014), chap. 1, as well as Tate (1989), hooks (1993), Reichling (1999), Pinn (2013), Almiron (2013) and Emmerling (2015, especially 87–89). 6 Saggese (2014: 53, 73). Reichling, in her wide-ranging dissertation (1999), discusses Jawbone of An Ass, pointing out the importance of antiquity as a way of presenting the longevity and therefore fundamental importance of white-versus-black conflict (pp. 95–98). But she limits her discussion to this one painting and does not explore Basquiat’s comparison of the USA to Rome. Almiron (2013) explores themes of race in Basquiat’s work, but she does not discuss his use of antiquity. 7 I owe this formulation to one of the Journal’s anonymous reviewers. 8 So, for example, Irony of the Negro Policeman (1981); Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart) (1983); and Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta (1983). In Hollywood Africans (1983), the figure on the left, the artist Toxic, wears an American baseball cap; the central figure is labeled RMLZ, standing for the rapper and artist Rammellzee; the right-hand figure, who wears long dreadlocks, is Basquiat, who was wearing his hair in this style at the time. In 1982 Toxic and Rammellzee had gone to Los Angeles to meet up with their friend Basquiat, a trip that this painting commemorates. Basquiat presents himself and his friends as ‘Africans’, yet it is unclear whether he ascribes this label to Hollywood and the entertainment industry (which Basquiat here skewers for its prejudice and stereotyping) or instead takes it for himself. On this painting, see Saggese (2014: 23–25). 9 Other paintings from 1982–83 also reference antiquity, including Dos Cabezas 2, Notary, Ascent and Monticello (all from 1983), but the relative paucity of their references limits the possibility for substantial analysis. To be sure, Basquiat’s investigations into power through the history of antiquity are not his only interest during these two years: according to his catalogue raisonée, fifty-nine paintings can be dated to 1982–83 and these concern such varied subjects as the status of African American athletes and jazz musicians, American economic exploitation of people of colour, and white European artists and political leaders. 10 Judges 15. 15. The episode may have been familiar to Basquiat from his youth: he recalled that as a child he would watch his mother drawing scenes from the Bible (Fretz 2010: 3). He also painted Philistines in 1982. 11 Boxing with Schnabel: Schnabel interviews in Davis et al. (2010). Warhol photos: photographed by Michael Halsband as publicity for their 1985 joint exhibition. 12 Basquiat used the crown ‘to signal royalty or heroism, or to assign special status to both people and objects’, according to Laughlin Bloom (2015: 128). Here she is drawing from Basquiat’s claim that he painted about ‘royalty, heroism and the streets’ (Geldzahler 1983: 46). It is employed self-referentially in the early Samo esta en algo (1980), Untitled no.11 (Samo 1-2-3 with crown) (1980–81) and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict (1982). 13 Thompson (2009: 262). 14 Wagner based his libretto on Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1835 novel Rienzi, Last of the Roman Tribunes. 15 On the ambiguity of Egyptian power in African American thought, see Malamud (2016: 165–69). 16 Cambyses II is the better known of two rulers of that name. 17 Basquiat seems often to have altered or developed his paintings spontaneously, and as a result, the lists in the paintings are not necessarily meant to be read in a linear fashion. For example, next to ALCIBIADES, he had originally painted PLATO, struck it through, painted over it and at some point circled it. Perhaps he had meant to create a list of philosophers, or perhaps he had meant to make a connection between Plato and Alcibiades through Socrates, but then decided against it. 18 Basquiat’s bookshelves may have contained a translation of Homer’s Odyssey and Paul Roche’s Three Plays of Euripides (Norton; 1974). These volumes are visible in a scene in Tamra Davis’ 2010 documentary. While most of the footage in the documentary is original, this scene is dramatized, and the titles on the shelf may or may not have been owned by Basquiat. 19 On African Americans’ use of Hannibal and Carthage as symbols of resistance, see especially Malamud (2016: 63–70). Malamud also surveys the use by prominent African American thinkers of both Egyptians and Carthaginians as racial ancestors (pp. 163–65), as well as the creation of a history that credited European civilization to North African origins (pp. 185–88). There has been a rich tradition of African Americans appropriating resistance to Rome to speak for their own situation, on which see, for example, Ronnick (2006) and Malamud (2011), as well as Malamud (2016). 20 On this important painting, see especially Saggese (2014: 36–38). 21 Nygard and Tomasso (2016: 270–71) mention Basquiat’s inclusion of Alexander the Great in several of his paintings, with an implication that he was influenced at least somewhat by Andy Warhol’s 1982 Alexander the Great. 22 Malamud (2016: 59). 23 The notion of Rome as a precursor, template or model for the USA was common in American thought through the nineteenth century, but especially around the time of the Revolution. See especially Winterer (2002) and Shalev (2009). 24 Basquiat makes clear his identification of the USA as a new Rome in Monticello (1983). In this painting, which otherwise treats American history, he has painted CHRISTIANS EATING PORK IN THE NEW ROMAN EMPIRE. 25 Basquiat had either read or seen a reference to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, chapter 2: ‘The first persecution of the Church took place in the year 67, under Nero, the sixth emperor of Rome’. 26 Levin (2007: 390) interprets this panel as referring to Alexander the Great’s victory over Darius III at Gaugamela in 331 BCE, with 331 appearing to the right. Marshall (2005: unpaginated) concurs and sees the number 361 in the centre at the top as referring to Roman capture of Ferentinum. The identification of the central panel with Alexander’s victory cannot be ruled out, though the jump between Roman and Greek history is odd. 27 The word at the top of this panel is mostly obscured by red paint, but it is tempting to read it as Nero. In this case, the victory of Christianity is a new chapter — marked by a bold white line — after Nero’s (and others’) persecutions. 28 The phrasing is striking, and there are near equivalents in a few older books: Crapsey (1921: 277): ‘Constantine removed the seat of the empire from Rome to Byzantium’, and also Merriman (1863: 383): ‘Another very important change introduced by Constantine, was the removal of the seat of empire from Rome to Byzantium’. Basquiat’s reference to Constantine’s baptism alters only slightly the wording in Alzog, Pabisch and Byrne (1903: 472, n.1): ‘He received baptism on his death-bed at Nicomedia’. Constantine dies in AD 337, not 331. A misreading of 331 for 337 is the most likely explanation for the error. 29 Frohne (1999: 442). 30 The cross and heart had appeared a year or two earlier in one of the notebooks that Basquiat kept through much of his life, drawn on the same page as a teepee. With the inclusion of the teepee, Tricia Laughlin Bloom has identified this heart with cross and crown as an ‘ornate and abstractly rendered Native American figure’ (Laughlin Bloom 2015: 128). But in Speaks for Itself, the teepee is gone and the context is changed, which speaks to the plasticity of Basquiat’s imagery and to the importance therefore of context in understanding Basquiat’s work. On the heart, Basquiat has painted the letters O P C, but their meaning is not immediate or obvious to me. 31 Basquiat’s PERICLES has most likely been copied from the bust in the Vatican Museum (Museo Pio-Clementino, Muses Hall, inv. 269), whose prominent base contrasts with the minimal base of that in the British Museum (inv. 1805,0703.91) and the non-existent base of that in Berlin (Antikensammlung, inv. Sk 1530). 32 In 1977–80 as SAMO, Basquiat had painted rhetorical multiple-choice quizzes on walls around New York’s SoHo. 33 The Capitoline Wolf is Musei Capitolini, inv. MC 1181; the Capitoline Brutus, held in the same museum is inv. MC 1183. 34 On this painting, see also Nygard and Tomasso (2016). 35 Of course Picasso drew heavily on African art, though his embrace of a European ‘primitivism’ was not without controversy, as Basquiat would have known. See, especially, Lemke (1998). 36 Given the size of Basquiat’s oeuvre (over 1000 paintings and many drawings, according to his incomplete catalogue raisonné), this note and the six that follow refer only to representative works. On the twentieth century, see St. Joe Louis Surrounded by Snakes (1982); Jesse (1983), and Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart) (1983). On earlier US history, see Per Capita (1981), Black Tar and Feathers (1982), and Not Detected (1982). Racism throughout American history is a key concern: see Notary, Olympic, and Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta (all 1983) and Jim Crow (1986). 37 For example, Olive Oil (1982) takes in Louis XIV, the Appenzell Wars of fifteenth-century Switzerland and the building of the American West to explore popular resistance to oppressive authority figures. In Piscine Versus the Best Hotels (1982), Basquiat brings together such diverse references as Diego de Landa Calderón, the sixteenth-century bishop of the Yucatán who destroyed many Mayan books, Anton Cermak, the Chicago mayor killed in 1933 in an assassination attempt on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the deadly crash at the 1955 Le Mans road race. 38 Relevant paintings include All Colored Cast (Part III) (1982), Native Carrying Some Guns, Amorites on Safari (1982), and 50 Cent Piece (1983). 39 Egypt functions as a precursor in the slave trade, and in black history more broadly, to America in Jackson (1982), Liberty (1983), and History of Black People (1983). 40 Basquiat considers Charlemagne in Bishop (1983) and Alfonso XIII of Spain in King Alphonso (1983). 41 See In Italian (1983), La Colomba (1983), and Gravestone (1987). 42 See especially J’s Milagro (1985) and Exu (1988). Basquiat was known to carry out vodou rituals and had a vodou statue (Clement 2014: 38, 69–70). On religion in Basquiat, see Frohne (1999). 43 Caribbean and African references are found especially in Grillo (1984) and Exu (1988). Contemporary or near-contemporary culture and its intersection with the politics of race and power is treated in works on musicians, such as CPRKR (1982), Charles the First (1982), and King Pleasure (1987), and those on boxers, especially Untitled (Boxer) (1982). On Egypt and African American culture, see Mitchell Crew (1983) and Techu-Anpu (1983). 44 Da Vinci: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Greatest Hits (1982) and Riding with Death (1988), a reworking of a piece by Da Vinci. Manet: Maid from Olympia and Three Quarters of Olympia Minus the Servant (1982). 45 On Basquiat as historian, see especially Tate (1989: 232–33), who explores the artist’s appropriation of the figure of griot, a West African singer and historian. Gold Griot is the title of a 1984 painting. 46 For example, Saggese (2014: 73) notes that Basquiat incorporates the Venus de Milo in his Untitled (Venus 2000 B.C.), Venus, Top Tee, and Piscine Versus the Best Hotels (all from 1982) and Untitled (Venus/The Great Circle) (1983). 47 I intend to explore in a separate essay the responses of Basquiat (and others) to European artistic hegemony, as expressed through classicism and then primitivism, an apparent counter-movement to classicism that nevertheless consists of a European appropriation of African (and other) art. The article will consider the role of race in European artistic hegemony and the complexity of non-white responses through absorption, counter-appropriation, and rejection. On these themes in Basquiat, see Tate (1989), hooks (1993), Pinn (2013), and Emmerling (2015); more widely, see most recently Cook and Tatum (2010). 48 Thompson (1985: unpaginated). 49 Brentjes (1970: 88–89). 50 In History of Black People, Blemmyan graffiti can be seen in the Greek-style lettering in the central panel. In addition, the boat in the central panel is Basquiat’s copy of the ‘Seagoing ship of the ‘Eastern Invaders’ from Brentjes (1970: 54), a vessel used by Mesopotamians, who came into Egyptian territory around 3000 BCE. The shape labeled SICKLE is Basquiat’s rendering of the image in Brentjes (1970: 61), ‘Sickle-shaped boat of the Nile valley dwellers’. In Notary, Blemmyan graffiti appear beneath the white-faced figure. Emmerling (2014: 80, 87) has found borrowings from Brentjes’ book in additional paintings. 51 On historical African American responses to antiquity, see especially Ronnick (2005) and most recently Malamud (2016). On more recent uses, especially in cultural production, see especially the survey in Greenwood (2009), and thereafter Greenwood (2010 and 2011), Cook and Tatum (2010), and McCoskey (2012, chapter 4). On, for example, American white supremacist receptions of classical antiquity, see Zuckerberg (2016). References Almiron J., ‘Now's the Time: A Study of the Social Statements in the Art of Basquiat’. PhD dissertation, University of Hawai'i at Manoa ( 2013). Alzog J., Pabisch F. J., Byrne T. S., Manual of Universal Church History  ( Cincinnati: R. Clarke, 1903). Brentjes B., African Rock Art  ( New York: C.N. Potter; distributed by Crown, 1970). Clement J., Widow Basquiat: A Love Story  ( New York: Broadway Books, 2014). Codell J., ‘ Nationalizing Abject American Artists: Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Jean-Michel Basquiat’, a/b: Auto/Biography Studies  1 ( 2011), pp. 118. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Cook W. W., Tatum J., African American Writers and Classical Tradition  ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Crapsey A. S., The Ways of the Gods  ( New York: International Press, 1921). Davis T. (dir.), Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child. New Video ( 2010). Emmerling L., Jean-Michel Basquiat 1960-1988: The Explosive Force of the Streets  ( Köln: Taschen, 2015). Fretz E., Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Biography  ( Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2010). Frohne A., ‘Re-presenting Jean-Michel Basquiat’, in Okpewho I., Davies C. B., Mazrui A. A. (eds.), The African Diaspora: African Origins and New World Identities  ( Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999), pp. 439– 51. Geldzahler H., ‘Art: From Subways to SoHo. Jean Michel Basquiat’, Interview 13 January 1983: 44– 46. Greenwood E., ‘Re-rooting the Classical Tradition: New Directions in Black Classicism’, Classical Receptions Journal  1, no. 1 ( 2009), pp. 87– 103. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Greenwood E., Afro-Greeks: Dialogues between Anglophone Caribbean Literature and Classics in the Twentieth Century  ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Greenwood E., ‘Dislocating Black Classicism: Classics and the Black Diaspora in the Poetry of Aimé Césaire and Kamau Brathwaite,’ in Orrells Daniel, Bhambra Gurminder K., Roynon T. (eds.), African Athena: New Agendas  ( Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 362– 80. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Hoban P., A Quick Killing in Art  ( London: Quartet Books, 1998). hooks b., ‘ Altars of Sacrifice: Re-membering Basquiat’, Art in America  81, no. 6 ( 1993), pp. 68– 75. Laughlin Bloom T., ‘Notebooks and Related Works: Plate Commentaries’, in Buchhart D., Bloom T. L. (eds.), Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks  ( New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2015), pp. 79– 234. Lemke S., Primitivist Modernism: Black Culture and the Origins of Transatlantic Modernism  ( Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). Levin G., ‘Modern and Postmodern Art and Architecture’, in Kallendorf Craig (ed.), A Companion to the Classical Tradition  ( Oxford: Blackwells Publishing, 2007), pp. 371– 92. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Malamud M., ‘The Auctoritas of Antiquity: Debating Slavery through Classical Exempla in the Antebellum USA’, in Hall E., Alston R., McConnell J. (eds.), Ancient Slavery and Abolition: From Hobbes to Hollywood  ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 279– 317. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Malamud M., African Americans and the Classics: Antiquity, Abolition and Activism  ( London: I.B. Tauris, 2016). Marshall R., ‘Catalog Essay,’ in Marshall Richard (ed.), Jean-Michel Basquiat: In Word Only  ( New York: Cheim & Read, 2005). McCoskey D., Race: Antiquity and its Legacy  ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). Merriman T. M., The Trail of History: Or, History of Religion and Empire in Parallel from the Creation to the Present Time, with a Historical Diagram  ( Johnson, VT: Merriman, 1863). Nygard T., Tomasso V., ‘ Andy Warhol’s Alexander the Great: An Ancient Portrait for Alexander Iolas in a Postmodern Frame’, Classical Receptions Journal  8, no. 2 ( 2016), pp. 253– 75. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Pinn A., ‘ Why can’t I be Both?: Jean-Michel Basquiat and Aesthetics of Black Bodies Reconstituted’, Journal of Africana Religions  1, no. 1 ( 2013), pp. 109– 32. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Reichling S., ‘Jean-Michel Basquiat: der afro-amerikanische Kontext seines Werkes’. PhD dissertation, Universität Hamburg, 1999. Ricard R., ‘Basquiat: A Memoir’, in Thompson R. F., Ricard R. (eds.), Jean-Michel Basquiat  ( New York: Gagosian Gallery; Rizzoli, 2014), pp. 171– 84. Ronnick M. V., The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough: An American Journey from Slavery to Scholarship  ( Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005). Ronnick M. V., ‘William Sanders Scarborough and the Politics of Classical Education for African Americans’, in Meckler Michael (ed.), Classical Antiquity and the Politics of America: From George Washington to George W. Bush  ( Waco: Baylor University Press. 2006), pp. 55– 68. Saggese J. M., Reading Basquiat: Exploring Ambivalence in American Art  ( Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2014). Schnabel J. (dir.), Basquiat (Miramax Films and Jon Kilik, 1996). Shalev E., Rome Reborn on Western Shores: Historical Imagination and the Creation of the American Republic  ( Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009). Tate G., ‘Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nobody Loves a Genius Child’, Village Voice, 14 November ( 1989). (Reprinted in Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America  ( New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), pp. 231– 43.) Thompson R. F., ‘Introductory Essay,’ in Basquiat J. M. et al.   (eds.), Jean Michel Basquiat  ( New York: Mary Boone Gallery, 1985). Thompson R. F., ‘Royalty, Heroism, and the Streets’, in Murray D., Lock G. (eds.), Hearing Eye: Jazz & Blues Influences in African American Visual Art  ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 253– 81. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Winterer C., The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780-1910  ( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). Zuckerberg D., ‘How to be a Good Classicist under a Bad Emperor’ Eidolon 21 November 2016 <https://eidolon.pub/how-to-be-a-good-classicist-under-a-bad-emperor-6b848df6e54a> accessed 2 October 2017. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com

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Classical Receptions JournalOxford University Press

Published: Jan 1, 2018

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