Monday, May 31, 2010

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT
















Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960 – 1988) was an American artist and the first African-American painter to become an international art star. He gained popularity first as a graffiti artist in New York City, and then as a successful 1980s-era Neo-expressionist artist. Basquiat’s paintings continue to influence modern-day artists and sell for premium prices.
Born in Brooklyn, New York … his mother of Puerto Rican descent / his father of Haitian origin, Basquiat was fluent in French, Spanish and English from an early age. He read in these languages, including Symbolist poetry, mythology, and history. At an early age, Basquiat displayed an aptitude for art and was encouraged by his mother to draw, paint and to participate in other art-related activities. In the late 70s Basquiat and friend Al Diaz started spray-painting graffiti art on buildings in lower Manhattan, adding the infamous signature of”SAMO” (i.e., “same old shit”). The graphics were pithy messages such as “Plush safe he think … SAMO” and “SAMO as an escape clause”. In December 1978, the Village Voice published an article about the writings. The SAMO project ended with the epitaph “SAMO IS DEAD” written on the walls of SoHo buildings.
By 1980s Basquiat was showing regularly, and alongside Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi, became part of what was called the Neo-expressionist movement. He started dating an aspiring and then-unknown performer named Madonna in the fall of 1982. That same year, Basquiat met Andy Warhol, with whom he collaborated extensively in 1984-6, forging a close, if strained, friendship. He was also briefly involved with artist David Bowes.
Basquiat’s career as an exhibiting artist is known for his three broad, though overlapping styles:
In the earliest period, from 1980 to late 1982, Basquiat used painterly gestures on canvas, often depicting skeletal figures and mask-like faces that expressed his obsession with mortality. Other frequently depicted imagery such as automobiles, buildings, police, children’s sidewalk games, and graffiti came from his experience painting on the city streets. Many critics say Basquiat created most of his best work around 1982.
The 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 seemingly unrelated imagery. These works reveal a strong interest in Basquiat’s black identity and his identification with historical and contemporary black figures and events. Some of these works achieve a great physicality, and his early interest in Rauschenberg again becomes apparent; “Grillo” (1984) is a good example. 1984-85 was also the main period of the flatter Basquiat–Warhol collaborations. The collaborative paintings received a poor critical reception but are iconographically complex and the process of painting together influenced each other’s later work.
The final period, from about 1986 to Basquiat’s death in 1988, displays a new type of figurative depiction, often on a plain painted background. It may be influenced both by Warhol and by Basquiat’s increasing drug use; “Riding with Death” (1988) is a good example of this style. Some symbols and content from new sources appear in this period, but he also re-used many phrases and motifs from his earlier work, in a starker setting.
During the 80s, many of Basquiat’s friends were concerned about his excessive drug use and increasingly erratic behavior, including signs of paranoia. Basquiat had developed very serious cocaine and heroin habit by this point, which started from his early years living among the junkies and street artists in New York’s underground. On February 10, 1985, Basquiat appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled “New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist”. As Basquiat’s international success heightened, his works were shown in solo exhibitions across Europe and the USA.
Andy Warhol’s death in 1987 was very distressing for Basquiat, and it is speculated by Phoebe Hoban, in her 1998 biography on the artist, that Warhol’s death was a turning point for Basquiat, and that afterwards his drug addiction and depression began to spiral.
The final period, from about 1986 to Basquiat’s death in 1988, displays a new type of figurative depiction, often on a plain painted background. It may be influenced both by Warhol and by Basquiat’s increasing drug use; “Riding with Death” (1988) is a good example of this style. Some symbols and content from new sources appear in this period, but he also re-used many phrases and motifs from his earlier work, in a starker setting.
The neo-expressionism was Basquiat base painting style, a modern painting and sculpture style that emerged in the late 1970s and dominated the art market until the mid ’80s. Related to American Lyrical Abstraction, New Image Painting and precedents in Pop painting, it developed as a reaction against the conceptual and minimalist art of the 1970s. Neo-expressionists returned to portraying recognizable objects, such as the human body (although sometimes in an abstract manner), in a rough and violently emotional way using vivid colors and banal color harmonies.
Several major museum retrospective exhibitions of Basquiat’s works have been held since his death, in the US and internationally. The first was the “Jean-Michel Basquiat” exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art from October 1992 to February 1993 (this subsequently traveled to museums in Houston, Iowa, and Alabama through 1993 – 1994). The catalog for this exhibition, 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 (and catalog) was the “Basquiat” exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum March-June 2005 (which subsequently traveled to Los Angeles and Houston in 2005-2006).
Until 2002, the highest amount paid for an original work of Basquiat’s was $3,302,500 USD set on 12 November 1998 at Christie’s. On 14 May 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 put up for auction, again at Christie’s. It sold for $5,509,500 USD . The proceedings of the auction are documented in the film Some Kind of Monster. On November 12, 2008 Ulrich sold a 1982 Basquiat piece, Untitled (Boxer), for $13,522,500 USD (estimate upon request in the region of US$12 million) to a telephone bidder at another Christie’s auction. Previously, on 15 May 2007, an untitled Basquiat work from 1981 had sold at Sotheby’s in New York for US$14.6 million.
Basquiat died accidentally of mixed-drug toxicity (he had been combining cocaine and heroin, often using cocaine to stay up all night painting and then using heroin in the morning to fall asleep) at his 57 Great Jones Street loft/studio in 1988.
In 1996, seven years after his death, a film biography titled Basquiat was released, directed by Julian Schnabel, with actor Jeffrey Wright playing Basquiat.

related links:
http://www.english.emory.edu/Bahri/Basquiat.html
http://www.artnet.com/artist/2068/jean-michel-basquiat.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXjR-y0WH-I
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foerFJqupYM
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8goey_jean-michel-basquiat-painting-live_shortfilms

images: (click on images to enlarge)
Jean Michel Basquiat (top)
Untitled Boxer, 1982 (2nd)
Untitled Skull, 1981 (3rd)
Cabeza, 1981 (4th)
Jean Michel Basquiat & Andy Warhol photograph by Michael Halsband, 1985 (bottom)

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