13 September 2017

Basquiat, a visual history

From homeless youth to most famous artist of his generation.

[J]ean-Michel Basquiat (bas-kee-aht) shaved the back of his head and left home at 17 years old. In a few years he went from homeless youth to the most famous artist of his generation. With the rise of television, the level of fame was absolute, the kind that often leads very famous people to dying at 27 years old.

As a graffiti artist, he started tagging with his friend Al Diaz under their shared moniker SAMO, short for ‘Same Old Shit’ it was a reference to the weed they smoked at the time. Their poetic epigrams began appearing on the abandoned furniture and the walls of New York’s art districts.

"back in the late seventies, you couldn’t go anywhere interesting in Lower Manhattan without noticing that someone named SAMO had been there first." - Jeffrey Deitsch, NYC art critic

A polaroid taken by Paige Powell, his girlfriend at the time.

The crown is one his most recognisable trademark drawings, sometimes accompanied with "Most Young Kings Get Their Head Cut Off" written underneath.

Basquiat openly craved fame, he killed off the SAMO character, (his friend Keith Haring even threw a mock funeral) and his foray into the mainstream art circles rendered him as one of the most curious and tragic artists of the 80s. He befriended Andy Warhol and would turn up to art openings in $1,000 Armani suits spattered with paint. He dated Madonna before she was Madonna. Basquiat’s art put a black experience onto canvas and his paintings of police brutality still resonate, uncomfortably so, thirty years later.

Defacement, 1983

"Charles Saatchi has never liked my work at all."

Nervous System, 1985.

The new era of fame ushered in by television and the works of Andy Warhol meant that anyone, even just for a few seconds, could become famous.

As one of the first black artists to have been given recognition and stature from the art world his legacy continues to endure, influence and inform. There’s a rare track by Jay-Z, Oceans (ft Frank Ocean) with the line “I hope my black skin don’t dirt this white tuxedo before the Basquiat show”, J.Cole mentioned him in his song Rich Niggaz “it’s like Sony signed Basquiat/ He gave it all he got now a nigga don’t paint the same” A$AP Rocky referenced him in Phoenix “Painting vivid pictures/call me Basquiat.”

The Weeknd's entire image is based around Basquiat.

At 27 years old, Basquiat died of a heroin overdose in 1988, following an intense bout of depression after the death of Andy Warhol. This year his painting Untitled recently broke the record at Christie’s being auctioned off for $57.3 million, not bad for someone who spent most of his young life on the streets. Rest in Peace.

"I am not a black artist, I am an artist."


With Madonna

Walking for Comme Des Garcon

“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.”

"I had some money, I made the best paintings ever. I was completely reclusive, worked a lot, took a lot of drugs. I was awful to people."

Jay-Z repping Basquat x The Simpsons in the 90s.

Keith Haring's letter to Basquiat

"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."

Valentino A/W 2006

Basquiat x Supreme

Basquiat x Supreme