Who is Jean-Michel Basquiat? What his Art means to me
Jean-Michel Basquiat was the first thing they taught me about New York City in my first college class in New York (that and ‘Midnight Cowboy’ lol).
I’m sure years ago, when he was living on the edge and felt that the world did not need or want him, he would have never imagined that embodied in his black body would be the representation of an entire generation, an entire people and the world’s ‘greatest’ city.
Basquiat was born to a Haitian father and a Nuyorican* mother in Brooklyn on December 22 1960. He always had a knack for art and by the mid-70′s his graffiti signatures were the tags* to be seen spray painted all over the Lower East Side of Manhattan. If you saw a crown or the words ‘SAMO’ you knew that badass Basquiat had been there. Trouble at home saw him sleeping many different places, including in Washington Square Park with the other vagrants of the time. He made a little money selling postcards and tee-shirts designed by himself.
In 1981, the unforgettable magazine story titled ‘The Radiant Child’ (published in ArtForum Magazine by writer and art enthusiast Rene Richard) catapulted Jean-Michel into an immovable position on the international art scene.
His paintings (described as neo-expressionist) were often created in fresh off the rack thousand dollar Armani suits, barefoot, beside Al-Pacino-Scarface-invasion-scene sized mounds of coke, heroin and other drugs. By all accounts, he battled so much that he never quite accepted that he was now a world star.
To me, he is everything an artist dreams to be; carefree, hardcore, indulgent, creative, specifically selfish, inquisitive, uncaring, crazy and frikkin rich off art! I admire him for many reasons and often wonder if he had stayed around a little longer would he not accept that to many people he is as an Art God.
He was with Madonna before she was ‘like a virgin’… before girls just wanted to have fun… and many top models and socialites of the time craved being with the beautiful Basquiat; the best of the best actually got to be with him (female and male). I love him not only because he made it easier for black youths to have their work hung in prestigious art galleries, but because he never let fame get to him and still never trusted a soul. He was more than a painter; he is in many films of the time, he was in an art-noise band (wtf is that lol), he was a sex-worker and Andy Warhol doted on him- as in the pop art Andy Warhol who he had dreamt of always meeting, met and felt disrespected by, then ended up being his favorite person.
Basquiat was himself. Seems as if you could never get in to him no matter how radiant his spirit was. I did not put the word ‘God’ in this article to be facetious… Basquiat had the blood of any religious artifact before. A human does not die 20 years ago and still be spoken about every single living day since and not be some type of special blessed.
Basquiat overdosed on heroin at the age of 27 a few months before I was born in 1988.
But obviously, a legacy like that will never die as long as their is a method to our artistic mecca’s!
*Nuyorican- this term identifies people of Puerto Rican decent born, living and/or raised in New York
* Tag-Graffitti language for a quickly painted and easily identifiable signature