Thursday, April 12, 2012
Artist: Jean-Michel Basquiat
Despite the many challenges of his young life, Jean-Michel Basquiat was recognized as the artistic genius that he was during his own lifetime which was cut short due to a heroin overdose at the age of 27. Basquiat was the second of four children born to Matilda Andrades and Gerard Basquiat. His mother was of Puerto Rican descent from Brooklyn and his father was Haitian from Port Au Prince, Haiti. By the age of four Basquiat could read and was already being singled out by his teachers as having artistic ability. His mother encouraged his studies and his artistic talents. By the age of eleven, he could speak French, Spanish, and English.
At the age of eight, Basquiat was hit by a car. He suffered internal injuries and a broken arm. That year his parents separated and his father raised him and his two younger sisters. When Basquiat was eleven his mother suffered a mental breakdown and was institutionalized. She was in and out of institutions until her death in 2008. The family moved from Brooklyn to San Juan, Puerto Rico when Basquiat was thirteen. They lived in Puerto Rico for 2 years and then returned to New York. When Basquiat was 15 he ran away from home and slept on park benches in Washington Square Park. He dropped out of school while in the tenth grade. He supported himself by working in a clothing store and selling his own homemade punk inspired postcards and t-shirts.
When he was 16, Basquiat and Al Diaz started spray-painting graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan. They worked together under the pseudonym SAMO. The created such messages such as "Plush safe he think.. SAMO" and "SAMO as an escape clause." The graffiti drew attention and on December 11, 1978, none other than the Village Voice published an article about SAMO. When Basquiat and Diaz ended their friendship, The SAMO project ended. "SAMO IS DEAD" was inscribed on the walls of SoHo buildings in 1979 to announce the dissolution of their partnership.
Basquiat appeared on the public access television show titled "TV Party" with Glenn O'Brien. Basquiat formed the noise band called Test Pattern that later became Gray. The band played in nightclubs all over New York in 1979 and 1980. Basquiat began showing his SAMO@ color xerox work. In 1980 he was introduced to Andy Warhol. Basquiat exhibited his work in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated (Colab) and Fashion Moda. After this Basquiat was brought to the attention of the art world when Rene Ricard published "The Radiant Child" in Artforum magazine. From 1982 on Basquiat regularly showed his work in a variety of galleries alongside other well-known Neo-expressionists.
By 1986 Basquiat was viewed as being a successful artist, but as his success grew and was validated by such things as an article in the New York Times Magazine titled "New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist" so too did his heroin addiction. After Andy Warhol died in 1987, Basquiat isolated himself more and more and sank into his addiction. He died of a heroin overdose in 1988.
Basquiat's art has verve and draws from his African-American past. His work makes commentary on contemporary culture without restraint. His work came straight from the streets and always contained elements of his graffitied past. His paintings are typically covered with text and codes of all kinds: words, letters, numerals, pictograms, logos, map symbols, diagrams and more. His mother gave him a copy of Gray's Anatomy while he was in the hospital at the age of seven. This book with its mixture of text and illustration among other books such Leonardo DaVinci's notebooks influenced his art. While his work once adorned the brick walls of alleyways, his subsequent paintings have brought millions of dollars at auction. One of his paintings sold for over $13 million. His work has been displayed at the Whitney American Museum of Art and several documentaries have been about his work and his life.