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Vice: An Art Examiner Discovered Secret Basquiat Drawings Using a Blacklight

Taylor Hosking

Jan 2, 2019

A New York conservator discovered a new Basquiat painting with coded blacklight images.

Leave it to legendary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat to make paintings so layered that some of those layers aren't even visible to the naked eye. New York art conservator, Emily MacDonald-Korth, is encouraging anyone who owns a Basquiat painting to get their hands on a UV flashlight after mysterious arrows were discovered in an untitled piece from 1981. She was doing a routine assessment of the painting’s age for a client using a UV flashlight when she saw new images emerge, painted using invisible ink.

There were downward arrows drawn in blacklight crayon similar to the other arrows in regular paint. And the invisible arrows were coming down in places that previously seemed like random open space between letters. In 2012 Sotheby's discovered Basquiat signed one of his 1982 paintings "Orange Sports Figure" in ultraviolet paint. But MacDonald-Korth is now convinced that he likely used the technique on multiple paintings. That would make sense considering he often worked on multiple paintings at the same time, according to the recent documentary, Basquiat: Rage to Riches. And it seems fitting for him to experiment with actual hidden ink given that his paintings are known for being visual puzzles. His work included scratched out words and images covered with a layer of paint. “He must have been playing with a UV flashlight and thought, ‘this is cool.’ It really relates to his use of erasure,” MacDonald-Korth told Artnet News.

Some of his frenzied images and techniques could appear random by only looking at a painting but are consistently repeated in other pieces. With this in mind, MacDonald-Korth suggested one of his most famous paintings, “Poison Oasis,” likely also has hidden ultraviolet ink imagery because it features similar stark arrows and was painted in the same year. For the rest of his work, finding blacklight ink may be more of a trial and error. But godspeed to those interested in cracking this code for us all.

Photo: Lee Jaffe/Getty Images

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