Jean-Michel Basquiat (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988)
Basquiat was a graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970’s and become known as a Neo-expressionist and Primitivist painter by the 1980’s. His paintings were a combination of drawings and paintings of abstraction and figuration. Basquiat art vision was always the opposite of issues such as: poverty vs. wealth, integration vs. segregation, and inner self vs. outer self-experiences. Along with, his paintings showing attack of power structures or systems of racism. Basquiat’s expressions of his paintings are views of society imbalances with drawing of lines, use of color, and imagery that is disfigured or abstract figuration. Basquiat paintings are a great example of expression through lines and color, leaving the viewer wondering of the message within the painting. Is there a mystery within these familiar images? What’s he really telling us through these paintings? These simple lines create images of almost stick figures appearance; almost hollow appearance with wordings combined with disturbing figures or images of familiar things we see around the world. My answer to his paintings being a mystery is yes.
When viewing his art work, the viewer is constantly traveling its eye all around the painting to find clues in what is he saying to us. Noticing that all his figures are colored solid black with white outline or his figures are outlined with black lines, this is expression of Black male importance. Just like calligraphy, Basquiat used words throughout his paintings, along with his signature image of a crown to symbolize the hero within the paintings. His paintings are also layered as a collage with other drawings, writings of his, and imagery. He works very fast when creating a painting, almost like he has already placed these images in his mind and then puts them out on a canvas or surface. No doubt that his fastness came from being a graffiti artist in lower Manhattan, where spray painting buildings, etc. had to be done quickly to avoid being caught in the act.
Basquiat young life was full of disappointments, accidents, and sadness, from the death of his younger brother to him living on the streets at age 15. Basquiat was a creative child and wanted to learn all he could, from reading books, knowing and speaking different languages along with his artistic ability to create art work due to his mother Matilde who introduced him to art and became an art influence on him by taking him to museums and enrolling him as a junior member of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Basquiat was an artist whose light shined so bright at a very young age and then burnt out that left a trail of his magnificent mind on paper or canvas. There is a lot of Basquiat on YouTube documentaries and about his art work and I must say, it’s very interesting to view and listen to them. Basquiat always wanted to be famous hence the graffiti art work that he created, taking this space and being noticed.
Basquiat was a friend of Andy Warhol and worked on several painting with Andy in the 1980’s, working together and becoming friends. What I found interesting is that Basquiat was known to dress in an Armani suit while he painted. Just like Basquiat to paint with a thousand dollar suit while he painted. What would people think?? I found it hilarious and a statement within society as viewing this artist as a poor artist, always a counter diction with Basquiat.
After the death of his friend Andy Warhol of February 22, 1987, Basquiat became very isolated and his heroin addiction and depression became more severe. Jean Michael Basquiat died on August 12, 1988 of a heroin overdose in his art studio in New York’s NoHo district; he was only 27 years old, a very sad ending to a artist that was a genius of graffiti and Neo-expressionist painter of our generation.