Summary of Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat moved from graffiti artist to downtown punk scenester to celebrity art star in only the few short years of his career. This vertiginous rise took him from sleeping on the streets of New York City to being befriended by Andy Warhol and entering into the elite American art world as one of the most celebrated painters of the Neo-Expressionism art movement. Whilst Basquiat died at only 27 of a heroin overdose, he has now become indelibly associated with the surge in interest in downtown artists in New York during the 1980s.
His work explored his mixed African, Latinx, and American heritage through a visual vocabulary of personally resonant signs, symbols, and figures, and his art developed rapidly in scale, scope, and ambition as he moved from the street to the gallery. Much of his work referenced the distinction between wealth and poverty, and reflected his unique position as a working-class person of color within the celebrity art world. In the years following his death, the attention to (and value of) his work has steadily increased, with one painting even setting a new record in 2017 for the highest price paid for an American artist's work at auction.
- Basquiat's work mixed together many different styles and techniques. His paintings often included words and text, his graffiti was expressive and often abstract, and his logos and iconography had a deep historical resonance. Despite his work's "unstudied" appearance, he very skillfully and purposefully brought together a host of disparate traditions, practices, and styles to create his signature visual collage.
- Many of his artworks reflect an opposition or tension between two poles - rich and poor, black and white, inner and outer experience. This tension and contrast reflected his mixed cultural heritage and experiences growing up and living within New York City and in America more generally.
- Basquiat's work is an example of how American artists of the 1980s began to reintroduce and privilege the human figure in their work after the domination of Minimalism and Conceptualism in the international art market. Basquiat and other Neo-Expressionist painters were seen as establishing a dialogue with the more distant tradition of 1950s Abstract Expressionism, and the earlier Expressionism from the beginning of the century.
- Basquiat's work is emblematic of the art world recognition of punk, graffiti, and counter-cultural practice that took place in the early 1980s. Understanding this context, and the interrelation of forms, movements, and scenes in the readjustment of the art world is essential to understanding the cultural environment in which Basquiat made work. Subcultural scenes, which were previously seen as oppositional to the conventional art market, were transformed by the critical embrace and popular celebration of their artists.
- For some critics, Basquiat's rapid rise to fame and equally swift and tragic death by drug overdose epitomizes and personifies the overtly commercial, and hyped-up international art scene of the mid-1980s. For many observers this period was a cultural phenomenon that corresponded negatively with the largely artificial bubble economy of the era, to the detriment of artists personally and the quality of artworks produced.
Biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat
"I wanted to be a star, not a gallery mascot", Basquiat said. His life echoes this rise and struggle, and reveals the important dialogue between authenticity, representation, identity and recognition that is at the heart of understanding his work.