Jean-Michel Basquiat

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Jean-Michel Basquiat

Untitled (Skull), 1981
Born December 22, 1960(1960-12-22)
Brooklyn, New York City
Died August 12, 1988 (aged 27)
SoHo, New York City
Nationality American
Field Graffiti, Painting, Neo-expressionism
Boy and Dog In A Johnnypump, 1982 (Cropped)

Jean-Michel Basquiat (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988) was a Haitian American artist. He gained popularity first as a graffiti artist in New York City, and then as a successful 1980s-era Neo-expressionist artist. Basquiat's paintings continue to influence modern-day artists and command high prices.


[edit] Biography

Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York. His mother, Matilde, was Puerto Rican and his father, Gerard Basquiat is of Haitian origin and a former Haitian Minister of the Interior. Because of his parents' nationalities, Basquiat was fluent in French, Spanish, and English from an early age. He read in these languages, including Symbolist poetry, mythology, and history.[1] At an early age, Basquiat displayed an aptitude for art and was encouraged by his mother to draw, paint and to participate in other art-related activities. In 1977, when he was 17, Basquiat and his friend Al Diaz started spray-painting graffiti art on buildings in lower Manhattan, adding the infamous signature of "SAMO" (i.e., "same old shit") see: SAMO© Graffiti entry. The graphics were pithy messages such as "Plush safe he think.. SAMO" and "SAMO as an escape clause". In December 1978, the Village Voice published an article about the writings.[2] The SAMO project ended with the epitaph "SAMO IS DEAD" written on the walls of SoHo buildings.

Basquiat attended high school in New York at "City As School", the same place where he was friends with Al Diaz, and Shanon Dawson (later of the downtown funk band Konk). In 1978, Basquiat dropped out of high school and left home, a year before graduating. He moved into the city and lived with friends, surviving by selling T-shirts and postcards on the street, and working in the Unique Clothing Warehouse on Broadway. By 1979, however, Basquiat had gained a certain celebrity status amidst the thriving art scene of Manhattan's East Village through his regular appearances on Glenn O'Brien's live public-access cable show, TV Party. In the late 1970s, Basquiat formed a band called Gray, with Shannon Dawson, Michael Holman, Nick Taylor & Wayne Clifford. Gray played at clubs such as Max's Kansas City, CBGB, Hurrahs, and the Mudd Club. Basquiat worked in a film Downtown 81 (a.k.a New York Beat) which featured some of Gray's rare recordings on its soundtrack.[3] He also appeared in Blondie's video "Rapture" as a replacement for DJ Grandmaster Flash when he was a no-show.

Basquiat first started to gain recognition as an artist in June 1980, when he participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition, sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated (Colab). In 1981, poet, art critic and cultural provocateur Rene Ricard published "The Radiant Child" in Artforum magazine[4], helping to launch Basquiat's career to an international stage. During the next few years, he continued exhibiting his works around New York as well as internationally (alongside other street artists now in the galleries, such as Keith Haring), promoted by such gallery owners and dealers as Bruno Bischofberger and Annina Nosei. He later showed at the galleries of Larry Gagosian, Mary Boone and, finally, Vrej Baghoomian.

By 1982, Basquiat was showing regularly, and alongside Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi, became part of what was called the Neo-expressionist movement. He started dating an aspiring and then-unknown performer named Madonna in the fall of 1982. That same year, Basquiat met Andy Warhol, with whom he collaborated extensively, eventually forging a close, if strained, friendship. He was also briefly involved with artist David Bowes.[5][6]

By 1984, many of Basquiat's friends were concerned about his excessive drug use and increasingly erratic behavior, including signs of paranoia. Basquiat had developed a frequent heroin habit by this point, which started from his early years living among the junkies and street artists in New York's underground. On February 10, 1985, Basquiat appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled "New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist".[7] As Basquiat's international success heightened, his works were shown in solo exhibitions across Europe and the USA.

Basquiat died accidentally of mixed-drug toxicity (he had been combining cocaine and heroin, known as "speedballing") at his 57 Great Jones Street loft/studio in 1988, several days before what would have been Basquiat's second trip to the Côte d'Ivoire.

[edit] Artistic activities

Basquiat's art career is known for his three broad, though overlapping styles. In the earliest period, from 1980 to late 1982, Basquiat used painterly gestures on canvas, often depicting skeletal figures and mask-like faces that expressed his obsession with mortality. Other frequently depicted imagery such as automobiles, buildings, police, children's sidewalk games, and graffiti came from his experience painting on the city streets. A middle period from late 1982 to 1985 featured multipanel paintings and individual canvases with exposed stretcher bars, the surface dense with writing, collage and seemingly unrelated imagery.

These works reveal a strong interest in Basquiat's black identity and his identification with historical and contemporary black figures and events. On one occasion Basquiat painted his girlfriend's dress, with his words, a "Little Shit Brown". The final period, from about 1986 to Basquiat's death in 1988, displays a new type of figurative depiction, in a new style with different symbols and content from new sources. This period seems to have also had a profound impact on the styles of artists who admired Basquiat's work.

In 1982, Basquiat became friends with pop artist Andy Warhol and in the mid 1980s the two produced a large series of collaborative works. They also painted together, influencing each others' work. Some speculated that Andy Warhol was merely using Basquiat for some of his techniques and insight. Their relationship continued until Warhol's death in 1987. Warhol's death was very distressing for Basquiat, and it is speculated by Phoebe Hoban, in Basquiat, her 1998 biography on the artist, that Warhol's death was a turning point for Basquiat, and that afterwards his drug addiction and depression began to spiral.[5]

[edit] Legacy

Several major museum retrospective exhibitions of Basquiat's works have been held since his death, in the US and internationally. The first was the "Jean-Michel Basquiat" exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art from October 1992 to February 1993 (this subsequently traveled to museums in Houston, Iowa, and Alabama through 1993 - 1994). The catalog for this exhibition[8], edited by Richard Marshall and including several essays of differing styles, was a groundbreaking piece of scholarship into his work, and still a major source. Another major and influential exhibition (and catalog[9]) was the "Basquiat" exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum March-June 2005 (which subsequently traveled to Los Angeles and Houston in 2005-2006).

In 1996, seven years after his death, a film biography titled Basquiat was released, directed by Julian Schnabel, with actor Jeffrey Wright playing Basquiat.

Until 2002, the highest amount paid for an original work of Basquiat's was US$3,302,500, set on 12 November 1998 at Christie's. On 14 May 2002, Basquiat's Profit I (a large piece measuring 86.5"/220 cm by 157.5"/400 cm), owned by drummer Lars Ulrich of the heavy metal band Metallica, was put up for auction, again at Christie's. It sold for US$5,509,500.[10] The proceedings of the auction are documented in the film Some Kind of Monster. On November 12, 2008 Ulrich sold a 1982 Basquiat piece, Untitled(Boxer), for US$13,522,500 (estimate upon request in the region of US$12 million) to a telephone bidder at another Christie's auction.[11] Previously, on 15 May 2007, an untitled Basquiat work from 1981 had sold at Sotheby's in New York for US$14.6 million.[12].

Basquiat's lasting creative influence is immediately recognizable in the work of subsequent and self-taught generational artists such as Mark Gonzales, Kelly D. Williams and Raymond Morris.

[edit] Quotes

  • "Every single line means something."[13]
  • "I get my facts from books, stuff on atomisers, the blues, ethyl alcohol, geese in the Egyptian style ... I put what I like from them in my paintings."[14]
  • “I just look at the words I like, and copy them over and over again, or use diagrams. I like to have information, rather than just have a brush stroke." [15]
  • "I cross out words so you will see them more — the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them"[16]
  • "I cross out the words to move them into the background a bit. I like the copyrights because they look good."[17]
  • "Believe it or not, I can actually draw."[18]
  • "...the Guernica, it was my favorite thing when I was a kid. And then I like Rauschenberg a lot...I used to live on the lower east side"[19]
  • "I like kids' work more than work by real artists any day."[13]
  • "I don't think about art when I'm working. I try to think about life."[17]
  • "Since I was seventeen I thought I might be a star. I'd think about all my heroes, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix... I had a romantic feeling about how these people became famous."
  • "I wanted to be a star, not a gallery mascot."[13]
  • "I don't listen to what art critics say. I don't know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is."[17]
  • "The black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings, I realized that I didn't see many paintings with black people in them."[13]
  • "I am an artist who has been influenced by New York environment. But I do have a cultural memory. I do not need to look for it, it exists. It is over there, in Africa. It does not mean that I have to live over there. Our cultural memory follows us everywhere, wherever we are."[20]

[edit] Gallery

[edit] Further reading

Deitch J, Cortez D, and O’Brien, Glen. Jean-Michel Basquiat: 1981: the Studio of the Street, Charta, 2007.

Fretz, Eric. Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Biography. Greenwood Press, 2010. (forthcoming)

Hoban Phoebe. Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art (2nd ed.), Penguin Books, 2004.

hooks, bell. "Altars of sacrifice: re-membering Basquiat" Art in America June 1, 1993.

Marshall, Richard. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Abrams / Whitney Museum of American Art. Hardcover 1992, paperback 1995. (Catalog for 1992 Whitney retrospective, out of print).

Mayer, Marc, Hoffman Fred, et al. Basquiat, Merrell Publishers / Brooklyn Museum, 2005.

Ricard, Rene. “The Radiant Child,” Artforum, Volume XX No. 4, December 1981. p.35-43.

Tate, Greg. Flyboy in the Buttermilk. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. ISBN 978-0671729653

Thompson, Margot. American Graffiti, Parkstone Press, 2009 (forthcoming)

[edit] References

  1. ^ Basquiat at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts, ARTINFO, November 20, 2006,, retrieved on 2008-04-21 
  2. ^ Smith, Roberta (1982-03-23). "Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Contemporary Art Scene". The Village Voice.,50thsmith2,69264,31.html. Retrieved on 2008-02-05. 
  3. ^ Kellman, Andy. Downtown 81 Original Soundtrack. Retrieved January 16, 2008, from
  4. ^ Ricard, Rene. “The Radiant Child,” Artforum, Volume XX No. 4, December 1981. p.35-43. text online at
  5. ^ a b Hoban, Phoebe (2004). Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art. Penguin USA. ISBN 0143035126. 
  6. ^ Randy P. Conner, David Hatfield Sparks, Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions, Haworth Press, 2004, p299. ISBN 1560233516
  7. ^ Cathleen McGuigan, “New Art, New Money” New York Times Magazine, February, 2005.
  8. ^ Marshall, Richard. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Abrams / Whitney Museum of American Art, 1992 (out of print).
  9. ^ Mayer, Marc, Hoffman Fred, et al. Basquiat, Merrell Publishers / Brooklyn Museum, 2005.
  10. ^ Horsley, Carter. "Art/Auctions: Post-War & Contemporary Art evening auction, May 14, 2002 at Christie's". Retrieved on 2008-01-17. 
  11. ^ Judd Tully (November 12, 2008), No Bailout at Christie’s, ARTINFO,, retrieved on 2008-12-17 
  12. ^ "Huge bids smash modern art record". BBC. 2007-05-16. Retrieved on 2007-05-16. 
  13. ^ a b c d Basquiat interview with Cathleen McGuigan, "New Art: New Money" New York Times Magazine, February 2005.
  14. ^ Basquiat interview with Henry Geldzahler, Interview 13, January 1983.
  15. ^ Basquiat, in State of the Art, Episode 6, Television production by ILLUMINATIONS, London, 1986.
  16. ^ Basquiat to Robert Ferris Thompson, quoted in catalogue for the 1992 Whitney exhibition (Marshall, 1992).
  17. ^ a b c Interview with Isabelle Graw. Wolkenkratzer Art Journal, Frankfurt, no. 1, January–February 1987. Interview reprinted in Marenzi, Luca. Basquiat. Milan: Charta, 1999.
  18. ^ Basquiat 1982 interview with Marc Miller, Jean-Michel Basquiat: an Interview, Art/New York video 30A, c.1989, Paul Tschinkel producer.
  19. ^ Basquiat 1987 interview with Becky Johnson, in A Conversation with Basquiat (Tamara Davis Director, video, 2006, 21 mins, unreleased)
  20. ^ Basquiat interview with Démosthènes Davvetas for Libération. Reprinted in Marenzi, Luca. Basquiat. Milan: Chiarta, 1999 p. LXII — LXIII

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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