Would you pay £1.5 million for this drawing? U2’s Adam Clayton hopes someone will

Self-portrait by the New York artist, who died aged 27, to be sold at auction

Detail from “Untitled 1982” by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Adam Clayton bought the drawing from a Manhattan art gallery in 1990, and it will go on auction at Christie’s in London in March.

Detail from “Untitled 1982” by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Adam Clayton bought the drawing from a Manhattan art gallery in 1990, and it will go on auction at Christie’s in London in March.

 

Adam Clayton, the guitarist with rock band U2 and a well-known art collector, is selling a drawing by American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in a Christie’s auction in London next month. Untitled 1982 has a top estimate of £1.5 million and is described by the auction house as “a deeply poignant self-portrait” of Basquiat, a New York artist who first came to public attention for spray-painting graffiti on buildings in Manhattan and who died, aged 27, of a heroin overdose in 1988.

Christie’s said the drawing “offers a rare insight into Basquiat’s psyche at a pivotal moment in his career: a tear drops from his eye; his arms seem to pierce his body like an arrow. Basquiat depicts himself as a martyr: a St Sebastian-like figure for the contemporary age.”

‘Tragic image’

Mr Clayton told Christie’s that he had acquired the drawing (for an undisclosed sum) from a gallery in Manhattan in 1990 – two years after Basquiat’s death– and that when he first saw it, among a selection of work by the artist, he thought “this work stood out because it had a very tragic image – it’s clearly an unobscured self-portrait, with what looks like a teardrop coming from the eye. It seems to me it’s not just about Jean-Michel – it’s about being African-American.”

He added: “At the time people were talking about Jean-Michel as being the Jimi Hendrix of painting and I think that’s true – he was an African-American artist in a sea of white artists, but doing something very different and extremely his own.”

At the same time he acquired the drawing for his personal collection, Mr Clayton also bought a Basquiat painting on behalf of U2 which was shipped back to Dublin where it hung in the band’s studio for two decades. That also proved to be a shrewd investment when, in 2008, U2 sold the 6ft square acrylic, oil stick and collage canvas, Untitled (Pecho/Oreja) at a Sotheby’s auction in London for £5.1 million.

Modern art emperor

Is Basquiat one of the great American artists of the late 20th century? Or a preposterous modern art emperor sorely in need of some clothes? Money talks – for now, at least. Since his death, prices for Basquiat’s work have rocketed and more than 20 of his paintings have already sold for in excess of $20 million each. Last year at Christie’s in New York an untitled canvas, depicting an image of a horned devil’s head, sold for $57.3 million – a world record price for the artist – to a Japanese buyer.

Other well-known buyers of Basquiat’s works have reputedly included Madonna, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp and the late David Bowie.

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