Up until recently, Basquiat’s infamous portrait of Andy Warhol was only known through a reproduction leaked online. An article surfaced in May of 2017 alleging this painting was being auctioned on the dark web for $150,000,000 following the sale of Basquiat’s skull painting for $100,000,000. Both paintings appeared to be from the same period, and the Warhol painting had the added appeal of being a portrait of Basquiat’s friend and sometime mentor.
This Time it’s Physical
Many had assumed that the original painting had been destroyed. After all, Warhol hated it. Here’s what was said in the 2017 article on the matter:
The story behind the painting, and why it had been sealed away from public view for decades, is the icing on the cake. I’ll get straight to the point. Warhol hated it. Andy was notoriously self-conscious and insecure about his physical image, and felt this portrait immortalized his worst features, making him look like “a pockmarked Phantom of the Opera”. This was because of the upturned, angular, oversized nose, which was too ghastly and too close for comfort. Andy was most embarrassed of his nose, which could flare red and a little bulbous, too bulbous to be handsome. If you look at the painting you can see it depicts the vulnerable nose, and captures Andy’s self-consciousness about it. Andy pleaded with Jean-Michel to destroy the painting, even though Jean-Michel painted it specifically as a gift to him. Even richer, Jean-Michel only painted it because Warhol asked him repeatedly, “will you paint me?”. He loved the idea, but in the end got what he wished for, so to speak. Basquiat painted Warhol behind the mask, and not just the mask.
Finally, a physical painting has emerged. I received an email out of the blue about this a few days ago, and was not just skeptical, but assumed someone was trying to scam me. The guy wrote to me because I covered the story in an article a few years ago, and he wanted to know about authentication and what the painting might be worth. Well, I had inside information that the painting didn’t exist, so it was implausible that someone was in possession of it. My curiosity was somewhat piqued, so I thought of a challenge. I wrote back and asked whoever was behind the email to upload pics to their social media and direct me to it so I could see the painting. I didn’t trust an image in email from such a source to not contain viruses.
I got a couple more emails, and the second asked if I’d looked at the images yet. The first directed me to his Instagram, where he’d uploaded them.
I assumed he had a print that was made from the image, which was widely circulated online.
Turns out I was wrong. The images showed a physical painting with real drips and impasto brush strokes.
How is this possible?
The original image that was circulated online was subtly different. It looked like a physical painting, but was actually a digital painting by yours truly. Perhaps I was a touch less impressed with the $100,000,000 skull painting than your average contemporary art aficionado, and I started to wonder if Basquiat’s wild painting style was, well, just a technique that anyone could learn. I mean, you can find videos of little girls playing electric guitar solos by heavy rock gods on YouTube.
Apparently you don’t need to be an adult male, or need all the sex and drugs to play like that. You can be a ten-year-old Chinese schoolgirl nick-named YOYO and do it. [I’m a firm believer that artists don’t need to suffer, or be depressed, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or be a bit mad. What they really need is to put in the work. YOYO is proof. I don’t need to say that I’m no YOYO, but I try to put in the hours.]
OK, it’s one thing to play a cover, and another to knock something out original but in the style of someone else. In my case, I was partially just interested in conducting an experiment: could I fake a Basquiat, and make it a portrait of Warhol, and do it digitally?
If you follow my blog you probably know that I’m about as fond of the contemporary art world as I am of politics, which is just below stepping in a pile of dog crap. As a consequence, I have no compunctions about pranking the art world — and I’ve done a lot of them — and so shared my resultant creation in a hoax about a never-before-seen Basquiat being sold on the dark web [that original article quoted above is my handiwork]. Keep in mind that the paradigm of the contemporary art world I would prank holds Duchamp’s prank urinal as among the greatest artistic creations of the 20th century. Even so, the art world doesn’t like to be pranked, unless it’s by insider superstars like Banksy, in which case everyone gets to chuckle their way to the bank.
I wrote to the guy — whose name shall remain anonymous for his privacy — that the painting couldn’t be authentic because I created the original in Photoshop, and the details of the full-sized file, which only I possess, are different than the painting in his possession.
Below, I used various stamps and texture brushes to create the painterly effect. My drips are flat, where as theirs cast shadows. Note that theirs aren’t real incidental drips, but deliberately applying paint to approximate a drip. Up close, my digital original and the painted copy look nothing alike. In fact, mine looks more like a real Basquiat than does the painted version.
I wrote that my guess was that someone printed out an image from the internet and painted over it.
I was fairly impressed with the fakery at first when I was still momentarily stunned by the fact that there was a physical painting at all of one of my digital creations. I was surprised that the marks were all in the same place, and the artist who made the copy attempted to mimic every little detail. Then I realized the way to do it would be to simply paint over a print, and that’s exactly what it looks like.
In the end, we have a fake of a fake. I consider mine one of my minor pieces [on one level it’s an original portrait of Warhol, though I’m not a fan] and I also consider the painting made of it art. My girlfriend said it’s ugly, but I kinda’ like it. It’s added to the prank, and I’m flattered somebody took the time to try to recreate something by me, even if it was only because they thought it was by Basquiat. On the other hand, I can’t even be sure somebody didn’t make the painting just to prank me, except that why would anyone bother?