Brooklyn, New York
New York, New York, USA
Summary of Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat emerged from the "Punk" scene in New York as a gritty, street-smart graffiti artist who successfully crossed over from his "downtown" origins to the international art gallery circuit. In a few fast-paced years, Basquiat swiftly rose to become one of the most celebrated, and possibly most commercially exploited American "naif" painters of the widely celebrated Neo-Expressionism art movement.
- Basquiat's work is one of the few examples of how an early 1980s American Punk, or graffiti-based and counter-cultural practice could become a fully recognized, critically embraced and popularly celebrated artistic phenomenon, indeed not unlike the rise of American Hip Hop during the same era.
- Despite his work's "unstudied" appearance, Basquiat very skillfully and purposefully brought together in his art a host of disparate traditions, practices, and styles to create a unique kind of visual collage, one deriving, in part, from his urban origins, and in another a more distant, African-Caribbean heritage.
- For some critics, Basquiat's swift rise to fame and equally swift and tragic death by drug overdose epitomizes and personifies the overly commercial, hyped up international art scene of the mid 1980s, a cultural phenomenon that for many observers was symptomatic of the largely artificial bubble economy of the era.
- Basquiat's work is an example of how American artists of the 1980s could reintroduce the human figure in their work after the wide success of Minimalism and Conceptualism, thus establishing a dialogue with the more distant tradition of 1950s Abstract Expressionism.
Biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat
"I wanted to be a star, not a gallery mascot" he said, and ultimately his life echos this rise and struggle, and gives insight into the unique origins and direction in his art.
Important Art by Jean-Michel Basquiat
Citing artistic differences, Al Diaz and Basquiat chose to sever their artistic collaboration, SAMO, with this three-word announcement. Carried out episodically at various cites as a piece of ephemeral graffiti art, the phrase surfaced repeatedly on gritty buildings throughout Lower Manhattan. At one time a sign of trespassing and vandalism, graffiti in the hands of Diaz and Basquiat became a tool of artistic "branding"; repeated here and there throughout the billboard-dotted city, "SAMO is Dead" slowly took on the status of a corporate mantra, such as, for instance, Coca Cola's "It's the Real Thing".
An example of Basquiat's early canvas-based work, Untitled (Skull) features a patchwork skull that seems the pictorial equivalent of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - a sum of incongruent parts. Suspended before a New York City subway map-like background, the skull is at once a contemporary graffitist's riff on a long Western tradition of self portraiture and the "signature piece" of some anonymous, streetwise miscreant. Basquiat's recent past as a gritty curbside peddler, virtually homeless floater, and occasional nightclub interloper are all equally stamped into this troubled three-quarter profile, making for a world-weary icon of the displaced Puerto-Rican and Haitian immigrant Basquiat forever seemed to remain even while successfully navigating the newly gentrified streets that were 1980s SoHo.
Like a page pulled cleanly from a daily artist's journal, this untitled canvas features Basquiat's personal iconography, some reminiscent of that of Paul Klee. Boldy appropriating images commonly associated with African art - a skull, a bone, an arrow - Basquiat modernizes them with his Neo-Expressionist style of thickly applied paint, rapidly rendered subjects, and scrawled linear characters, all of which float loosely across the pictorial field, as though hallucinatory. A white skull juts from the center of the ebony composition, vividly recalling a revered painter's tradition of the memento mori - a reminder of the ephemeral nature of all life and the body's eventual, merciless degeneration. Basquiat demonstrates in one concise "study" how he is able to carry on an ancient practice of painting "still life", all the while suggesting, as does a great jazz musician, that the artist's work was relatively effortless, if not completely improvisatory.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Jean-Michel Basquiat
- Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Biography (Greenwood Biographies)By Eric Fretz
- Jean-Michel BasquiatOur PickBy Rudy Chiappini
- BasquiatBy Marc Mayer
- Jean-Michel Basquiat: 1981, The Studio of the StreetBy Diego Cortez, Glenn O'Brien, Gerard Basquiat