Whitehot Magazine

Whitehot Recommends: Lee Jaffe's Jean-Michel Basquiat at Galerie Eva Presenhuber

Lee Jaffe, “Portrait of Cinque,” 1983. Oil on canvas 140’’ x 40”

Lee Jaffe: Jean-Michel Basquiat

Galerie Eva Presenhuber, New York

39 Great Jones Street, New York, NY 10012

June 28 — July 28, 2019

By WM, June 2019

From Lee Jaffe: 

In 1983 I was preparing my first one-person New York exhibition. A major concern was a retelling of American history. Martyr/traitors were iconized with a byzantine flatness and the use of Florentine gold leaf—larger than life portraits whose images were derived from textbooks and newspaper archives.  Benedict Arnold, Sacco and Vanzetti, Nat Turner and John Brown, Charles and Harmony Ives, Sandino and the Rosenberg’s were subjects.  I was looking for a likeness of Cinque, the West African leader of an 1832 revolt on the Spanish slave ship, La Amistad.  The only one I could find was from a painting that showed him in ¾ pose and lacking the directness and power of how I imagined him. I discussed with Jean-Michel my idea of having Cinque’s image superimposed on a diagram of an actual slave ship—one made with the purpose of packing the maximum human cargo. Suddenly he offered to pose as Cinque.   

My eyes widened. I didn’t flinch… We could infuse the work with current relevancy—lifting it out of the nineteenth century. We took a Polaroid—Jean-Michel channeling the soul of a defiant slave-- which became the source material for the painting… WM


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