Jean Michel Basquiat was perhaps the most provocative artist of the 1980s. His artistic expression in many respects was even bolder than Jackson Pollack’s work and was perceived by many as confusing, dark and disturbing. His utilization of bright colors expressing dark subject matter made for a rich complexity that captivated the viewer. He chose socio-political themes for his art and it exemplified the tug of wars between rich and poor, white and black.
His mind often in a dark place plagued with insecurities and paranoia expressed itself with a style rooted in his Haitian and African-Puerto Rican heritage.
Basquiat was encouraged by his mother in particular to express himself through art and he began to do so by age three and four. As a child he was fluent in Spanish, French and English and read literature voraciously.
Basquiat was hit by a car as a child in 1968 and was hospitalized for a while; during that time he read “Gray’s Anatomy” and he held onto it wherever he went while he was recuperating from multiple internal injures and a broken arm.
In 1976 Basquiat began hanging out with street artist Al Diaz and he began painting graffiti with Diaz. Basquiat came up with the pseudonym SAMO that the two of them used to sign their street art, translated it meant “Same Old Shit”. Basquiat was fifteen years old during this early time in his career.
Jean Michel was a gentle, yet very tortured soul. He was profoundly affected by the absence of his mother who was institutionalized for mental illness. His vulnerability appeared in a contorted manner through his artistic expression.
Fall of 1985 Basquiat was signed on for representation by Mary Boone and later by Gagosian Gallery.
In 1979 his well known friendship with Andy Warhol began which provided him with the validation, inspiration, connectedness and acceptance Basquiat so very much needed. It was a group exhibition with Warhol that placed Basquiat on the road to the high end art world. In 1980 Basquiat exploded on the New York Art Scene. As a young man of twenty his career took off and he joined Andy Warhol as a permanent icon in the art world.
Above is Basquiat’s Self Portrait.
Basquiat’s friends began to become alarmed by his drug use in 1984. He was routinely paranoid and suspicious of unlikely scenarios that might occur to his career and art.
Above: Fallen Angel
Above: The Boxer
Above: The Philistines
Above: Boy and Dog in a Johnny Pump
In loving tribute to an artist.
Until next time,