Job Analisis, executed in Basquiat’s trademark oil stick and acrylic paint in 1983, contains many of the artist’s characteristic tropes: the ironic/poetic use of found text, the allusion to popular culture, with a nod to those Los Angeles dream machines, the movie and television studios, and cartoon figures drawn in a deliberately childlike hand. Scrawled across the surface of the canvas are also words such as “Soup to Nuts,” (the title of The Three Stooges’ first film) and various Hollywood logos, including “MGM UPA in color, syndicated 1960” (the year of Basquiat’s birth), “A UPA production,” as well text referring to the early, silent black-and-white cartoons and to the information in typical cartoon credits.
Although Basquiat doesn’t cite Warner Brothers directly, the central image of Job Analisis derives from a Bugs Bunny episode, Rabbit Hood, 1949, a take-off on Robin Hood, in which the wily rabbit “knights” the Sheriff of Nottingham. It’s easy to see Basquiat’s attraction to the episode, since Bugs Bunny, in the guise of a king, recites a Basquiat-like litany of found poetry, as he proceeds to repeatedly hit the Sheriff over the head with his scepter. “Sheriff of Nottingham, in gratitude for your faithful service I here knight thee…‘In the name of my most royalty majesty, I knight thee, ‘Arise, Sir Loin of Beef. Arise, Earl of Cloves…..Arise Essence of Myrrh, Milk of Magnesia….’” In a post-modern twist, the episode ends with a black-and-white clip from Errol Flynn’s 1938 incarnation of Robin Hood. The king may be King Arthur, since in a later Bugs Bunny cartoon, Knighty Knight Bugs, 1958, in which Bugs plays the jester in King Arthur’s court, there is a knight naemd Sir Loin of Beef. The huge white sword that slashes through the middle of the canvas is possibly a direct reference to Excalibur, King Arthur’s mythical sword.
Basquiat had a childlike fascination with cartoons that in no way blunts his barbed use of them as cultural and historical references in his art. And, like the artist who became his mentor, Andy Warhol, Basquiat was interested in art-as-commodity, and he often referred to Wall Street commodities and financial currency in his work. Several paintings contain the words “pork” and “pork bellies,” as well as other typical commodities, and references to money appear often. One work is called “Untitled Per Capita,” and Basquiat later made a painting of Mary Boone’s face on a large dollar bill. (P. Hoban, Basquiat, p. 235). In this painting, he includes the words “e pluribus,” and “what price Porky;” a double entendre referring to both the cartoon character (and specifically a 1938 episode deriding Fascism in Europe) and the price of pork.
Television and Cruelty to Animals, another painting from the same year, features a bat, as in Batman, and a moose, as in Bulwinkle. But in Job Analisis, Basquiat’s allusion to a favorite cartoon character is somewhat more subtle. “Arise Sirloin of Beef,” as he has written it, along with a copyright sign, has an innately poetic feeling. At the same time, as is true of much of Basquiat’s text, it seems politically loaded. (As for the painting’s cryptic title, Basquiat here seems to be referring to the many iterations of the knight’s title, “Sir, etc.” with which Bugs Bunny anoints the Sheriff.)
The text in the canvas directly refers to cartoons and the studios that produced them. The major references to the specific Bugs Bunny episode—the words “Arise Sirloin of Beef” and the sword—would be recognizable to few people. But the drawings of Bugs’ head and a profile of Elmer Fudd, to the right of the sword, are the visual indicators that Basquiat has graphically embedded one of his primary sources of inspiration, television, and particularly cartoons, into the canvas, making it, as with many of Basquiat’s paintings, an inside joke.
In many ways, 1983 was a watershed year for Basquiat. His artistic output—at least in terms of quality—was at an all-time peak between 1982 and 1983 and his work shown at the Fun Gallery in New York in November 1982 is widely considered among his best. By early 1983, Basquiat was a bona fide art star, and became part of a group of artists/actors/musicians that included Madonna, whom he had met in late 1982 in New York. In fact, in the first few months of 1983, Madonna stayed with Basquiat while he was living at Larry Gagosian’s house in Los Angeles, on Market Street in Venice. Basquiat had moved there in late December, and was working towards a big show that opened in March.
The Gagosian opening was more like a Hollywood premiere than an art event. It attracted such old-time movie stars as Gene Kelly and Diandra Douglas, and was written up in the Hollywood Reporter. The show itself was a huge success. The paintings, which included some of Basquiat’s most powerful pieces to date, Hollywood African; Eyes and Eggs, Origin of Cotton, and self-portrait of a heel #3, were lauded by critics. “We see art that delivers a graphic punch and conveys a convincing air of urban anxiety…He reminds me of Rauschenberg, not in style but in the way he gathers information from dozens of sources and comes off as a contemporary reporter,” wrote Suzanne Muchnic in the Los Angeles Times. (P. Hoban, Basquiat, p. 179.)
1983 also marked the first time that Basquiat’s work appeared in a museum; the Whitney Biennial, which took opened late that same March, included his Dutch Settlers and Untitled (Skull). Among the other new generation of artists included were Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, David Salle and Cindy Sherman. Basquiat was singled out by one writer as one of the “baddest” artists in the show. (P. Hoban, Basquiat, p. 181.) Indeed it was at the Biennial after party that Basquiat first connected with Mary Boone, who would represent him in 1984. (ibid, p. 181, 234.)
1983 was also a turning point in the art world at large. Figurative painting was back, and along with it, something new, Neo-Expressionism—the genre most associated with the 1980s. As Hilton Kramer wrote at the time, “Not since the emergence of pop art in the early 1960s have we seen anything of comparable consequence in the realm of contemporary art…Art is once again a medium of dreams and memories, of symbols and scenarios….It has reacquired its capacity for drama….Neo-expressionism so abound in those precious “signs of passion,” its appeal is irresistible.” (Hilton Kramer, published in “Signs of Passion, The New Expressionism,” The Revenge of the Philistines, New York, The Free Press, 1985, pp. 374, 375; P. Hoban, Basquiat, p. 182). This powerful canvas exemplifies Basquiat’s pithy use of language, his remarkable sense of composition, and, most of all, his original spin on social and cultural criticism.