This week’s open thread will focus on famous African-American Painters.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist. He began as a graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970s and evolved into a Neo-expressionist painter during the 1980s.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was born after the death of his brother Max in Brooklyn, New York, the second of four children to Matilda Andrades (July 28, 1934 – November 17, 2008) and Gerard Basquiat (born 1930). He had two younger sisters: Lisane, born in 1964, and Jeanine, born in 1967.
His father, Gerard Basquiat, was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and his mother, Matilde Basquiat, was of Puerto Rican descent, born in Brooklyn, New York.
Basquiat learned how to read and write by age four and was a gifted artist. His teachers noticed his artistic abilities, and his mother encouraged her son’s artistic talent. By the age of eleven, Basquiat could fluently speak, read, and write French, Spanish, and English. When he was eleven years old, his mother was committed to a mental institution and thereafter spent time in and out of institutions.
In 1976, Basquiat and friend Al Diaz began spray-painting graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan, working under the pseudonym SAMO. The designs featured inscribed messages such as “Plush safe he think.. SAMO” and “SAMO as an escape clause.” When Basquiat & Diaz ended their friendship, The SAMO project ended with the epitaph “SAMO IS DEAD,” inscribed on the walls of SoHo buildings in 1979.
In 1979, Basquiat appeared on the live public-access television cable TV show TV Party hosted by Glenn O’Brien, and the two started a friendship. Basquiat made regular appearances on the show over the next few years. That same year, Basquiat formed the noise rockband Test Pattern, later “Gray” which played at Arleen Schloss´s open space, “Wednesdays at A`s” , where in October 1979 Basquiat showed, among others, his SAMO© color Xerox work. Gray performed at nightclubs such as Max’s Kansas City, CBGB, Hurrah, and the Mudd Club. In 1980, Basquiat discovered Andy Warhol, while eating at a restaurant. Basquiat presented to Warhol samples of his work, and Warhol was stunned by Basquait’s genius and allure. The men later collaborated. Downtown 81 featured some of Gray’s recordings on its soundtrack. Basquiat also appeared in the Blondie music video “Rapture” as a nightclub disc jockey.
In 1981, Rene Ricard published “The Radiant Child” in Artforum magazine, which brought Basquiat to the attention of the art world. In late 1981, he joined the Annina Nosei gallery in SoHo. By 1982, Basquiat was showing regularly alongside other Neo-expressionist artists including Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Francesco Clemente, and Enzo Cucchi. He was represented in Los Angeles by the Larry Gagosian gallery and throughout Europe by Bruno Bischofberger. He briefly dated then-aspiring performer, Madonna, in late 1982. That same year, Basquiat also worked briefly with musician and artist David Bowie.
In 1983, Basquiat produced a 12″ rap single featuring hip-hop artists, Rammellzee and K-Rob. Billed as Rammellzee vs. K-Rob, the single contained two versions of the same track: “Beat Bop” on side one with vocals and “Beat Bop” on side two as an instrumental. The single was pressed in limited quantities on the one-off Tartown Record Company label. The single’s cover featured Basquiat’s artwork, making the pressing highly desirable among both record and art collectors.
Basquiat often painted in expensive Armani suits and would even appear in public in the same paint-splattered suits. The conjunction of various media is an integral element of Basquiat’s art. His paintings are typically covered with text and codes of all kinds: words, letters, numerals, pictograms, logos, map symbols, diagrams and more.
A major reference source used by Basquiat throughout his career was the book Gray’s Anatomy, which his mother gave to him while in the hospital at age seven. It remained influential in his depictions of internal human anatomy, and in its mixture of image and text. Other major sources were Henry Dreyfuss Symbol Sourcebook, Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks, and Brentjes African Rock Art.
Basquiat doodled often and some of his later pieces exhibited this; they were often colored pencil on paper with a loose, spontaneous, and dirty style much like his paintings. His work across all mediums display a child-like fascination with the process of creating.
By 1986, Basquiat had left the Annina Nosei gallery, and was showing in the famous Mary Boone gallery in SoHo. On February 10, 1986, he appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled “New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist”. He was a successful artist in this period, but his growing heroin addiction began to interfere with his personal relationships.
When Andy Warhol died on February 22, 1987, Basquiat became increasingly isolated, and his heroin addiction and depression grew more severe. Despite an attempt at sobriety during a trip to Maui, Hawaii, Basquiat died on August 12, 1988, of a heroin overdose at his art studio in Great Jones Street in New York City’s NoHo neighborhood. He was 27.
Since Basquiat’s death in 1988, his market has developed steadily — in line with overall art market trends — with a dramatic peak in 2007 when, at the height of the art market boom, the global auction volume for his work was over $115m. In 2002, Basquiat’s Profit I (1982), a large piece measuring 86.5″/220 cm by 157.5″/400 cm, was set for auction again at Christie’s by drummerLars Ulrich of the heavy metal band Metallica. It sold for US$5,509,500. The proceedings of the auction are documented in the film Some Kind of Monster.
In 2008, at another auction at Christie’s, Ulrich sold a 1982 Basquiat piece, Untitled (Boxer), for US$13,522,500 to an anonymous telephone bidder. Another record price for a Basquiat painting was made on in 2007, when an untitled Basquiat work from 1981 sold at Sotheby’s in New York for US$14.6 million.