Basquiat Portrait by Kathleen Gilje Reinterprets a Classic

NEW YORK—It takes some imagination to envision Jean-Michel Basquiat, the 20th century graffiti artist, as a 17th century slave of Moorish descent. Portrait artist Kathleen Gilje focused on conserving paintings before she started creating her own works and, in a way, she has continued to care for what are considered masterpieces. While purists may quibble with the license Gilje takes, by reinterpreting the paintings she is introducing them to a new generation.

“Basquiat as Velázquez’s Portrait of Juan de Pareja” inserts Andy Warhol’s contemporary into a 1650 portrait by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez. De Parejo worked as an assistant in the Spanish artist’s workshop (and later became an artist himself) and was freed four years after the painting was completed.

New York-based Gilje, has reinvented other works, most prominently in two solo exhibitions at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art. Her “48 Portraits/Sargent’s Women, Resotored” is a series of nude portraits she painted of John Singer Sargent’s lavishly dressed society women. For “Curators, Critic and Connoisseurs of Modern and Contemporary Art” Gilje inserted fine art authorities such as Lowery Stokes Sims, curator of the Museum of Arts and Design, into renowned works.

Gilje’s choices of subject and depiction make provocative comments about station, feminism, art history and influence. Her Basquiat portrait is on view at Francis Naumann.

Photos by Arts Observer


“Basquiat as Velázquez’s Portrait of Juan de Pareja,” 2011 (oil on linen) by Kathleen Gilje at Francis Naumann Fine Art. In foreground, Sculpture by Beatrice Wood.

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