Jean-Michel Basquiat

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Jean-Michel Basquiat
Born December 22, 1960(1960-12-22)
Brooklyn, New York City, U.S.
Died August 12, 1988(1988-08-12) (aged 27)
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
Nationality American
Field Graffiti, painting
Movement Neo-expressionism
Influenced by Jean Dubuffet, Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol

Jean-Michel Basquiat (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988) was an American artist.[1] His career in art began as a graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970s, and in the 1980s produced Neo-expressionist painting. Basquiat died of a heroin overdose on August 12, 1988, at the age of 27.[2]


[edit] Early life

Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, New York, the first of three children to Matilde Andrades (July 28, 1934 – November 17, 2008)[3] and Gerard Basquiat (born 1930).[4] He had two younger sisters: Lisane, born in 1964, and Jeanine, born in 1967.[3]

Gerard Basquiat is a Creole man born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Matilde Basquiat was a Puerto Rican woman born in Brooklyn, New York.[4][5] Because of his hertiage, Basquiat was fluent in French, Spanish and English by the age of eleven.[4] He was able to read in all three languages, including Symbolist poetry, mythology, and history.[6] At an early age, Basquiat displayed an aptitude for art, and was encouraged by his mother to draw, paint, and to participate in other artistic activities.

In late 1968, when Basquiat was seven years old, his parents separated and he and his sisters were raised by their father.[4][7] The family resided in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn for five years, before they moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1974. The family resided in Puerto Rico for two years, before they returned to New York City in 1976.[8]

In 1976, when Basquiat was 15 years old, he ran away from home.[4][9] He slept on park benches in Washington Square Park, before he was arrested for running away and returned to the care of his father less than one week later.[4][10]

In June 1977, Basquiat dropped out of City As School in Brooklyn in the tenth grade. After he dropped out of high school, he stayed with his friends and supported himself by selling T-shirts and homemade post cards, and working in the Unique Clothing Warehouse in West Broadway, Manhattan.[4]

[edit] Career

As a high school student, Basquiat and friend Al Diaz began spray-painting graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan, working under the pseudonym SAMO. The designs inscribed messages such as "Plush safe he think.. SAMO" and "SAMO as an escape clause." On December 11, 1978, the Village Voice published an article about the graffiti.[11] The SAMO project ended with the epitaph "SAMO IS DEAD," inscribed on the walls of SoHo buildings in 1979.[12]

In 1979, Basquiat appeared on the live public-access cable show TV Party hosted by Glenn O'Brien. That same year, Basquiat formed the punk rock band Gray with Vincent Gallo, Shannon Dawson, Michael Holman, Nick Taylor and Wayne Clifford. Gray performed at nightclubs such as Max's Kansas City, CBGB, Hurrah, and the Mudd Club. Basquiat starred in an underground film Downtown 81, which featured some of Gray's recordings on its soundtrack.[13] He also appeared in the Blondie music video "Rapture" as a nightclub disc jockey.

In June 1980, Basquiat participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated (Colab) and Fashion Moda. In 1981, Rene Ricard published "The Radiant Child" in Artforum magazine,[14] which brought Basquiat to the attention of the art world.

In late 1981, he joined the Annina Nosei gallery in SoHo, Manhattan. Beginning in 1982, Basquiat was showing regularly, and alongside Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi, was involved with the Neo-expressionist movement. He was represented in Los Angeles, California by the Larry Gagosian gallery, and throughout Europe by Bruno Bischofberger. He briefly dated then-aspiring performer Madonna in late 1982. That same year, Basquiat met Andy Warhol, with whom he collaborated from 1984 to 1986. He was also briefly involved with artist David Bowie. Basquiat worked on his paintings in Armani suits, and often appeared in public in the same paint-splattered $1,000 suits.[15][page needed][16]

In 1986, Basquiat had left the Annina Nosei gallery, and was showing in the famous Mary Boone gallery in SoHo. On February 10, 1985, he appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled "New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist".[17] He was a successful artist in this period, however increasing heroin addiction began to interfere with his personal relationships.

[edit] Death

After Warhol died on February 22, 1987, Basquiat became increasingly isolated, and his heroin addiction and depression became more severe.[12]

After an attempt at sobriety during a trip to Maui, Hawaii, Basquiat died of a heroin overdose in his art studio on Great Jones Street in SoHo on August 12, 1988, at the age of 27.[12][18]

[edit] Legacy

Untitled acrylic, oilstick and spray paint on canvas painting by Basquiat, 1981

Several major museum retrospective exhibitions of Basquiat's works have been held since his death.

The first was the "Jean-Michel Basquiat" exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art from October 1992 to February 1993. It subsequently traveled to museums in Texas, Iowa, and Alabama from 1993 to 1994. The catalog for this exhibition,[19] 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 was the "Basquiat" exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum March–June 2005 (which subsequently traveled to Los Angeles and Houston froom 2005 to 2006).[20]

Until 2002, the highest money paid for an original work of Basquiat's was US$3,302,500, set on November 12, 1998 at Christie's. On May 14, 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 set for auction again at Christie's. It sold for US$5,509,500.[21] The proceedings of the auction are documented in the film Some Kind of Monster.

On November 12, 2008, at another auction at Christie's, Ulrich sold a 1982 Basquiat piece, Untitled (Boxer), for US$13,522,500 to an anonymous telephone bidder.[22] The record price for a Basquiat painting was made on May 15, 2007, when an untitled Basquiat work from 1981 sold at Sotheby's in New York for US$14.6 million.[23]

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

In 1991, poet Kevin Young produced a book, To Repel Ghosts, of 117 poems relating to Basquiat’s life, individual paintings, and social themes found in Basquiat’s work. He published a “remix” of the book in 2005.[24]

In 2005, poet M.K. Asante, Jr. published the poem "SAMO," dedicated to Basquiat, in his book Beautiful. And Ugly Too.

A 2009 documentary film, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, directed by Tamra Davis, was first screened as part of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

[edit] Artistic activities

"untitled (skull)," 1984

Basquiat incorporated words into his paintings.

Before his career as a painter began he produced punk-inspired postcards for sale on the street, and become known for the political–poetical graffiti under the name of SAMO. On one occasion Basquiat painted his girlfriend's dress, with the words "Little Shit Brown".

The untitled head ,"untitled (skull)," 1984, is an example of his early 1980s work.

A middle period from late 1982 to 1985 featured multi-panel paintings and individual canvases with exposed stretcher bars, the surface dense with writing, collage and imagery. 1984-85 was also the main period of the Basquiat–Warhol collaborations.

A major reference source used by Basquiat throughout his career was the book Gray's Anatomy which he was given in the hospital as a child. It remained influential in his depictions of internal human anatomy, and in its mixture of image and text. Other major sources were Dreyfuss' Symbol Sourcebook, Leonardo Da Vinci's notebooks, and Brentjes African Rock Art.

[edit] Representing his heritage in his art

Basquiat’s 1983 painting "Untitled (History of the Black People)", according to Andrea Frohne, "reclaims Egyptians as African and subverts the concept of ancient Egypt as the cradle of Western Civilization".[25] At the center of the painting, he depicts an Egyptian boat being guided down the Nile River by Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead.[26] On the right panel of the painting appear the words “Esclave, Slave, Esclave”. Two letters of the word "Nile" are crossed out and Frohne suggests that, "The letters that are wiped out and scribbled over perhaps reflect the acts of historians who have conveniently forgotten that Egyptians were black and blacks were enslaved."[26] On the left panel of the painting Basquiat, has illustrated two Nubian style masks. The Nubians historically were darker in skin color, and were considered to be slaves by the Egyptian people.[27] Throughout the rest of the painting, images of the Atlantic slave trade are juxtaposed with images of the Egyptian slave trade centuries before.[27] The sickle in the center panel is a direct reference to the slave trade in the United States, and slave labor under the plantation system. The word “salt” that appears on the right panel of the work refers to the Atlantic Slave Trade, as salt was another important commodity to be traded at that time.[27]

Another of Basquiat’s pieces, "Irony of Negro Policeman" (1981), is intended to illustrate how African-Americans have been controlled by a predominantly Caucasian society. Basquiat sought to portray how complicit African-Americans have become with the “institutionalized forms of whiteness and corrupt white regimes of power” years after the Jim Crow era had ended.[27] Basquiat found the concept of a “Negro policeman” utterly ironic. It would seem that this policeman should sympathize with his black friends, family and ancestors, yet instead he was there to enforce the rules designed by "white society." The Negro policeman had “black skin but wore a white mask”. In the painting, Basquiat depicted the policeman as large in order to suggest an “excessive and totalizing power”, but made the policeman's body fragmented and broken.[28] The hat that frames the head of the Negro policeman resembles a cage, and represents how constrained the independent perceptions of African-American’s were at the time, and how constrained the policeman’s own perceptions were within white society. Basquiat drew upon his Haitian heritage by painting a hat that resembles the top hat associated with the Haitian trickster lwa, leader of the Gede family of lwas and guardian of death and the dead in vodou.[28]

[edit] Further reading

[edit] References

  1. ^ Graham Thompson, American Culture in the 1980s, Edinburgh University Press, 2007, p67. ISBN 0-7486-1910-0
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of the African diaspora: origins, experiences, and ..., Volume 1 By Carole Boyce Davies. ABC-CLIO. p. 150.
  3. ^ a b Matilde Basquiat
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Hyped to Death by The New York Times (August 9, 1998)
  5. ^ Kwame, Anthony Appiah; Gates, Henry Louis (2005). Africana: Arts and Letters : An A-to-Z Reference of Writers, Musicians, and Artists of the African American Experience. Running Press. p. 69. ISBN 0-762-42042-1. 
  6. ^ Basquiat at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts. ARTINFO. November 20, 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-21 
  7. ^ Basquiat's Estate Sells at Sotheby's by Lindsay Pollock (March 31, 2010)
  8. ^ What Price Glory? by Marilyn Bethany, p. 39
  9. ^ Bethany, p. 37
  10. ^ Bethany, p. 39
  11. ^ Faflick, Philip. “The SAMO Graffiti… Boosh-Wah or CIA?” Village Voice, December 11, 1978: p. 41.
  12. ^ a b c Fretz, Eric. Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Biography. Greenwood Press, 2010. pages 46-47.
  13. ^ Andy Kellman. Downtown 81 Original Soundtrack. Retrieved January 16, 2008
  14. ^ Rene Ricard. "The Radiant Child", Artforum, Volume XX No. 4, December 1981. p. 35-43
  15. ^ Phoebe Hoban (2004). Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art. Penguin USA. ISBN 0143035126. 
  16. ^ Randy P. Conner, David Hatfield Sparks, Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions, Haworth Press, 2004, p. 299. ISBN 1-56023-351-6
  17. ^ Cathleen McGuigan, “New Art, New Money” New York Times Magazine, February, 2005.
  18. ^ Brothers, Thomas (2001). Artists, Writers, and Musicians: an Encyclopedia of People Who Changed the World. 4. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 16. ISBN 1-573-56154-1. 
  19. ^ Marshall, Richard. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Abrams / Whitney Museum of American Art, 1992 (out of print).
  20. ^ Mayer, Marc, Hoffman Fred, et al. Basquiat, Merrell Publishers / Brooklyn Museum, 2005.
  21. ^ Horsley, Carter. "Art/Auctions: Post-War & Contemporary Art evening auction, May 14, 2002 at Christie's". Retrieved 2008-01-17. 
  22. ^ Judd Tully (November 12, 2008). No Bailout at Christie’s. ARTINFO. Retrieved 2008-12-17 
  23. ^ "Huge bids smash modern art record". BBC. 2007-05-16. Retrieved 2007-05-16. 
  24. ^ Kevin Young, To Repel Ghosts (1st edition), Zoland Books, 2001.
  25. ^ Frohne, Andrea. The African Diaspora: African Origins and New World Identities. 1st. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999. 448-449. Print.
  26. ^ a b Frohne, Andrea. The African Diaspora: African Origins and New World Identities. 1st. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999. p448. Print.
  27. ^ a b c d Frohne, Andrea. The African Diaspora: African Origins and New World Identities. 1st. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999. 439-449. Print.
  28. ^ a b Braziel, Jana Evans. Artists, Performers, and Black Masculinity in the Haitian Diaspora. 1st. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2008. 176-199. Print.

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