If alive today Jean-Michel Basquiat would be 57 years old. In 2017, breaking records, his 1982 painting ‘Untitled’ sold for 110.5 million US at a Sotheby auction in NY. Art connoisseurs will know the history of the artist who was born in 1960 dying of a heroin overdose in 1988 at age 27. So how did Basquiat join the 100million club alongside Bacon and Picasso?
A walk around the newly opened exhibition Basquiat: Boom For Real, images of the artist Basquiat become part of the statement, social commentary life or death imitating art.
Drawing from the artist’s narrative from his love for music, to art history, writing, performance, film and television, by presenting an incredible range of paintings, drawings, notebooks and objects presented alongside rare film, photography, music and archival material, the exhibition captures the range and dynamism of the artist’s practice over his short career, vibrant, raw imagery and sharp social commentary, offering insights into both his encyclopaedic interests and his experience.
The painting Hollywood Africans is one of a series of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s works that feature images and texts illustrating the stereotypes of African Americans in entertainment. Painted in 1983 while on a visit to California, Basquiat often crossed out words or phrases in his works, this technique he once said was actually meant to draw attention to them: “I cross out words so you will see them more; the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them.” Words like Tobacco, Sugar are used to refer to the limited roles offered to black actors in Hollywood. A painting that typified Basquiat’s style, with the use of vivid colours.
Racism, police brutality, the city with its lights and shadows along with scientific, historical and political references spread all over his works, made Jean-Michiel Basquiat a storyteller and hugely recognised influencer on pop culture. Surfing between inspiration, addiction, poverty and success with the thorough and visually striking unmistakeable style that ordained him as Andy Warhol’s protégé.
The artist who famously said “believe it or not I can actually draw” was not wrong. with no formal training, at barely twenty years of age, Basquiat began making the defining moments of his career with a meteoric rise from graffiti artist to an art collectors find in less than 10 years.
In 2016 Basquiat become the highest-grossing American artist at auction, making $171.5 million from 80 works, Referenced in hip-hop by artists like: Kanye, Jay-Z and noted as one of the most collected artist of actors, musicians and entrepreneurs. He is one of the few African-American artist to break the mould into the international gaze of consciousness. Debbie Harry was one of the first to buy his work and Madonna who dated the artist in the mid-80s.
The collection draws you into his world, sharing the incredible talent and the unforgettable hungry energy to give us his view of the world. A displaced artist, well ahead of his time, Basquiat: Boom for Real is worth seeing twice as the immense volume of work and attention detail leaves you thinking that maybe you missed something. When: 21th September 2017 – 28th January 2018 Where: Barbican Art Gallery (Level 3, Barbican Centre Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS)
For more info about the exhibition please visit Barbican website.
Image credit: Artist -Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) Title Hollywood Africans Date 1983.© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York