5 interesting facts about Jean-Michel Basquiat
1. Brief biography of Basquiat
2. The beginnings
3. The success of Basquiat
4. Why Basquiat is important
5. Basquiat’s death
The life of Jean-Michel Basquiat can be considered a perfect parable that tells the New York of the eighties. His story intersects with that of a city in turmoil, which never slept, where money, drugs and fun flowed in rivers and no one had time to stop and think about where they were going.
Basquiat's success was lightning fast, fleeting and explosive, like everything that happened in those crazy years, when the prices of the works of art seemed to grow endlessly, "pumped up" by critics and gallery owners who sold them to strophic yuppies that considered art a fruitful investment.
All this meant that in just a few years Basquiat obtained a celebrity and an unimaginable wealth for a boy like him, but in return Jean-Michel succumbed to himself, for a hunger for life that eventually devoured him.
1. Brief biography of Jean-Mchel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960 -1988) was an American artist, one of the most important exponents of graffiti art. Born in New York from a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican mother. According to many, it is this melting pot that is the secret of the beauty of Jean-Michel, graceful in its features and endowed with a natural elegance.
At fifteen Jean-Michel runs away from home and goes to live on the street but after a few days he was arrested for wandering.
A year later, thanks to his talent for drawing, you can sign up for the City-as-School, a school in Manhattan, for gifted kids. There he befriends Al Diaz, a talented writer. Both begin to "operate" on the walls of New York, tracing mysterious aphorisms signed with the acronym SAMO (SAMe Old Shit).
Jean-Michel's life begins at night. He frequents the coolest clubs in New York, like the Area, where it was possible to meet all the most popular artists in those years. He is penniless, to earn something he sometimes prostitutes himself to the homosexuals he meets in the clubs.
Thanks to her innate charm she spends many of her nights in the beds of women she met the same night, otherwise she goes to sleep on a bench in the New York parks.
What is never lacking is the drug, which flows in rivers in the New York of the eighties.
Jean-Michel leaves school before graduating. They are the roaring eighties and in New York it seems that everything is possible.
Jean-Michel earns his living by selling his paintings on postcards. One day he meets his idol Andy Warhol in a restaurant in SoHo, stops him to talk to him and is so convincing and determined that he finally manages to sell him some of his work.
His first exhibition is in 1980. It is the Times Square Show, a retrospective organized by a group of artists including Keith Haring, his great friend who has written important pages of street art.
It is the first step towards a sparkling career. His talent is immediately recognized and in a few years his life changes radically. Shows all over the world (including one in Modena, Italy, in 1981), celebrities and wealth, with the Manhattan yuppies competing to buy his works. Between 1982 and 1984 the prices of his works skyrocketed. However, his priorities always appear the same: art, women, drugs.
3. The success of Basquiat
In 1983 Jean-Michel Basquiat reached what he could only consider a dream a few years ago: working with the great Andy Warhol. The two will begin to frequent assiduously so much that the king of pop art will also rent one of his lofts to the young talent.
However, their professional relationship is often stormy, mainly because of Basquiat's dependence on heroin. Warhol will also have to complain about Jean-Michel's non-payment of the rent. The two will definitely separate in 1985.
4. Why Basquiat is important
After this experience already abandoned around 1978 it follows a very personal exhibition of Pop Art that has its roots in the naive, in primitivism explored at the beginning of the twentieth century by Picasso and Modigliani, or in the African tribal art.
But Basquiat's is not a formal research: it focuses on the investigation of the soul, on the bowels of that archaism which is the tribal essence of Black Africa. Even in New York, this soul comes out, Basquiat claims it with pride, but cannot ignore the problems that black people encounter every day in the United States. Not an art of aesthetic experiments but an art of consciousness, matured directly on the road.
Basquiat's first "atelier" is the road, a place of encounter and confrontation, of growth and perdition, where he knows how to move with his eyes closed, already when, at fifteen, he alternated graffiti and marchettes in the East Village, and continuing at the age of 18, when he left his father's house, he interrupted his studies, earning a living by selling postcards made by him and not infrequently happens to sleep on the street.
The graffiti phase ended in 1980, when he participated in the group show Times Square Show, organized by a group of artists and sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated, while the following year he took part in the New York / New Wave retrospective, together with other artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Kenny Scharf.
Through his works, Basquiat gives voice to an entire continent, that Africa whose drama exploded in the eighties in all its gravity; AIDS at uncontrolled levels, civil wars, buying and selling slaves, prostitutes and child soldiers, all with the blatant Western complicity, which found in Africa a flourishing arms market.
For this reason, Basquiat feels the need to reaffirm black pride, and finds the best symbol in the muscles of Jesse Owens, the first son of the wind who won two gold medals in the hundred and two hundred meters at the 1936 Olympics, humiliating the Aryan athletes on which Hitler instead counted a lot.
It is with Dark milk (1986) - a large format conceptually close to Guernica - that Basquiat touches the peak in the art of socio-political denunciation, if not all art, certainly that of the eighties .
It is a work that sums up the concept of unity of opposites, an appeal to overcome differences, even racial, in a moment, 1986, which sees in the United States a certain resurgence of hatred on ethnic bases, as also shows the high number of black-jokes (the jokes about blacks), which circulate among the whites.
So, beyond the interesting aesthetic solutions sought, with that pasty brush that smears the canvas as if it were a wall of the Village, covering it with screams, screeches, gunshots, vomit and alcohol.
An emotionally striking painting, in which also, not surprisingly, a touch of jazz emerges; certainly not that purist of Armstrong or Brubeck, but, more naturally, the visceral one of Parker, which inspires the Beat Generation, and is in turn inspired by it, a melancholic and introspective jazz, which loves loneliness after being spotted in the crowd of a club.
It is as if Basquiat, following the ideal trail of Parker's bebop, used only the highest color ranges in the chromatic line, pushing to the limit what had been Matisse's audacity. Here they are again, those rainbows of petrol, in red, yellow and black violently juxtaposed. And he adds to these the sequences in freedom on the style of Coleman Hawkins. An art, his, which makes you nervous, just like Hawkins' solo on the sax.
Returning to Parker, this was also the cursed jazz player, addicted to alcohol and heroin, a frequent visitor to those slums of life that also attracted Basquiat. When he begins to smell the city, it is 1978, a year in its important way, which marks the end of the American foreign policy impasse (after the smack in Vietnam), and sees in '79 the beginning of the external involvement in Afghanistan.
5. Basquiat’s death
He died few months after Andy Warhol, at twenty-seven.
Thirty years have passed since his death by Jean-Michel Basquiat but his legendary figure has grown more and more. When such a great artist dies so young without reaching 30, one always wonders what he could have achieved in the following years.
Actually, Louis Vuitton Foundation is hosting a Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition from October 3, 2018, to January 14, 2019. The French organization will present 120 Basquiat's artworks from 1980 to 1988.