Persona November, 6th 2020 by

World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 288 - Jean-Michel Basquiat

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World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 288 – Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the members of the “Club of 27”, famous artists who lived no more than 27 years old. He shares this fate with Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.

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He was an American artist from Brooklyn, New York. His father was from Haiti and his mother from Puerto Rico. Jean-Michel was a precocious child who learned to read and write at the age of four. His teachers, including artist José Machado, noted his artistic abilities, and his mother encouraged her son’s artistic talent. In 1967 Basquiat entered Saint Ann’s School, an art-oriented exclusive private school. There he met his friend Marc Prozzo. Together they made a children’s book, with Jean-Michel providing the text and Marc the illustrations.

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Gray’s Anatomy
In September 1968, at the age of seven, Jean-Michel was hit by a car while playing in the street. His arm was broken and he sustained several internal injuries. While he was recovering from his injuries, his mother brought him a copy of Gray’s Anatomy, a standard work on human anatomy, to keep him busy. This book would prove to be a major influence on his future artistic outlook.
When he was 13, his mother was admitted to a mental institution and then spent her life in and out of institutions. Because of his mother’s instability and family turmoil, Basquiat ran away from home at the age of 15. He slept on park benches in Tompkins Square Park, was arrested and returned to his father within a week.

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Basquiat first rose to prominence as part of SAMO, an informal graffiti duo that sprayed puzzling poems on the walls of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late 1970s.
In October 1979, Basquiat showed his SAMO montages with Xerox color copies of his works in Arleen Schloss’s open space. Schloss also allowed Basquiat to use the space to create his ‘MAN MADE’ clothing, which he painted on. In November 1979, costume designer Patricia Field wore his clothing line in her luxury boutique on 8th Street in the East Village. Field also displayed his sculptures in the shop window.

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Basquiat broke through as a solo artist in the early eighties. In June 1980, Basquiat took part in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated (Colab) and Fashion Moda, where he was noticed by several critics and curators. In February 1981, Basquiat took part in the New York / New Wave exhibition curated by Diego Cortez at the MoMA PS1 in New York.
Basquiat sold his first painting, Cadillac Moon (1981), to singer Debbie Harry, front woman of the punk rock band Blondie, for $ 200. They had filmed ‘Downtown 81’ together. Basquiat also appeared in the 1981 Blondie music video ‘Rapture’. At the time, Basquiat was living with his girlfriend, Suzanne Mallouk, who supported him financially as a waitress.

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At the age of 21, Basquiat became the youngest artist to ever participate in Documenta in Kassel. At the age of 22, he was the youngest to exhibit at the Whitney Biennial in New York. The Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of his art in 1992.

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He not only made drawings and paintings, but also wrote poems, words or fragments of which returned in his paintings and drawings. The first version appeared in his notebooks. There were many references to racism, slavery, black historical figures, musicians and pop stars. Many works were untitled, but instead he wrote a word in a work, usually in parentheses after Untitled.
The focus was on contradictions such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation and inner versus outer experience. The words in his paintings were a social commentary on his experiences in the black community. He denounced power structures and racist systems.

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Heads and skulls
Heads and skulls are seen as key focal points for many of Basquiat’s most seminal works. They are reminiscent of African masks. The skulls also refer to Haitian Vodou, which is full of skull symbolism.
Basquiat has several works emerging from African American history, such as Slave Auction (1982), Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta (1983), and Untitled (History of the Black People) (1983). Another Basquiat artwork, Irony of Negro Policeman (1981), aims to illustrate how he believes African Americans are controlled by a predominantly white society. Basquiat attempted to portray African Americans becoming complicit in “institutionalized whiteness and corrupt white power regimes”. He repeated this concept in other works, including Created Equal (1984).

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Despite his artistic success, his emotional instability continued to haunt him and he often used drugs. Many of his colleagues speculated that his heroin use was a means of meeting the demands of his fame, the exploitative nature of the art industry, and the push to be a black man in the white-dominated art world.
Since his death at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose in 1988, his work has steadily increased in value. At a Sotheby’s auction in May 2017, a 1982 Untitled work, featuring a black skull with red and yellow stripes, sold for $ 110.5 million. This made it one of the most expensive paintings ever sold.

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Unknown masterpieces
In memory of the late artist, Keith Haring created the painting A Pile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat. In the obituary he wrote for Vogue, Haring stated, “He truly created a lifetime of works in ten years. Greedily, we wonder what else he might have created, what masterpieces we have been cheated out of by his death, but the fact is that he has created enough work to intrigue generations to come. Only now will people begin to understand the magnitude of his contribution.”
1) Untitled (Sotheby $ 110.5 million), 2) Grillo, 3) drawing Basquiat, 4) Slave Auction, 5) Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta, 6) Untitled (History of the Black People, 7) Irony of Negro Policeman, 8) Created Equal, 9) self-portrait as a heel, 10) A Pile of Crowns for Jean Michel Basquiat by Keith Haring

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