Jean Michel Basquiat (1960 - 1988)

01.04.15: Biog.

Jean Michel Basquiat was an artist who was born on December 22, 1960 to a Haitian father (Gerard Basquiat) and a Brooklyn born Puerto Rican mother (Matild).

Unlike the average graffiti artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat came to personify the art scene of the 80s, with its merging of youth culture, money, hype, excess, and self-destruction. And then there was the work, which the public image tended to overshadow: paintings and drawings that conjured up marginal urban black culture and black history, as well as the artist's own conflicted sense of identity.

In 1977, along with a friend Al Diaz, Basquiat started to spray painting cryptic sayings on subway trains and around lower Manhattan and signing them with the name SAMO© (Same Old Shit). Basquiat always said that "SAMO© as an end to mindwash religion, nowhere politics, and bogus philosophy," "SAMO© saves idiots," "Plush safe he think; SAMO©”. Basquiat's ploy was to write anti-materialism messages in plain view of some of the worst materialists around. This was not only a key to his rise to fame, but a stunning reflection of the tendency of the bourgeoisie to co-opt cultural opposition.

When some of Basquiat's early work, which was a combination of painting and graffiti, first appeared in an "alternative" Lower East Side gallery, he was discovered by Henry Geldzahler. Within a year or so, Basquiat had developed his highly marketable style. It combined Afrocentric themes mixed with graffiti based on his own hermetic universe of symbols. Painted on unconventional media, including objects retrieved from the junkyard, Basquiat seemed to be attacking bourgeois society.

As Basquiat became more and more marketable, there was more and more pressure for him to produce. He was seen as the ultimate party animal, a wannabe streetkid and grafittist hiding his black Brooklyn middle class roots. Since he had an enormous appetite for drugs, expensive clothing, fancy restaurants and first-class travel, this meant that he was tempted to work around the clock. Stoked by cocaine and marijuana, he'd often paint 18 hours in a row and then use heroin to get to sleep. When he awoke, he'd start off where he left off. As a modern-day equivalent of the Nibelungen, Basquiat labored away in the windowless basement of an upscale gallery run by an Italian woman named Annina Nosei who saw herself as an "ex-hippie". If he was a slave, he was certainly a well-dressed one. Basquiat worked on his paintings in Armani suits and often appeared in public in these same paint-splattered $1000 suits--a testament to his affinity for both mammon and bohemia.

By 1984, many of Basquiat's friends had become quite concerned about his excessive drug use, often finding him unkempt and in a state of paranoia. Basquiat's Basquiat as artist and icon was eagerly embraced by the "postal" academic establishment who saw his graffiti as a form of Derridean 'ecriture'. His work was often grouped with Barbara Kruger, whose trademarked neon works including slogans like "I shop therefore I am" often appeared on the walls of the same upscale residences as Basquiat's.

Near the end of his short life, Basquiat hooked up with Andy Warhol. Basquiat gave Warhol the cachet of being connected to the personification of youthful energy, while Warhol supplied the younger artist with introductions to wealthy clients as well as serving as a surrogate father figure.

Apparently Basquiat was the only African-American that Warhol ever befriended, let alone got within close proximity to. The first time Warhol saw him striding toward his studios from across the street, he told an assistant, "Don't let that coloured boy inside." Despite this, their relationship continued until Warhol’s death in 1987. Basquiat also affected Warhol's affectless style.

After Warhol died, Basquiat went off the deep end even though he had once claimed to be drug free upon his return from his ranch in Hawaii. On August 12, 1988 he died of a heroin overdose. He was 28 years old.

01.12.11: BIOG. II

Jean-Michel Basquiat was a U.S. painter of Haitian and Puerto Rican parentage who first started making graffiti with magic-markers on walls of buildings together with a friend, which they signed SAMO. Basquiat also made drawings on paper, painted on T shirts, sheet metal and other found surfaces and made assemblages out of junk. His work quickly became sought-after by influential critics, collectors and artists.

By the early 1980s Basquiat's crayon-and-paint drawings on unprimed canvas, with grimacing African mask-like faces and graffiti messages and texts, led to his enormous success. He collaborated with Warhol, who had befriended him, in paintings and exhibitions.

He died from a heroin overdose.


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