BASQUIAT

26 June 2011

[Pic of Andy Warhol with Basquiat both weating boxing gloves]Jean-Michel Basquiat just amazed me to be frank.  He was almost the same age as me, but his life couldn’t have been more different; his life was complicated and truly deserves the description, “amazing”.

He died of an heroin overdose in 1988, and I heard the news when I was in London.  As a tribute, a bunch of us trekked around the rougher parts of town to look at the graffiti. It was one of the most bizarre nights of my life — but I won’t go into that here and now.

They said that Basquiat never got over the death of Andy Warhol the previous year. And although we didn’t know it at the time, but Keith Haring was to die of AIDS in the next few years.

[Picture of Samo graffiti by BVasquiat -- on cancer testing on animals]For me, rightly or wrongly, Basquiat and Haring represented street art elevated to “high art”.  What was happening with dance seemed to be echoed in art.  Break dancing and body popping on the street gained international recognition along with BMX bikes, skateboarding and — finally — proper graffiti.

It was the next big thing in the art world. And it represented a break from the tradition of education and established art world. This remains the case today; many professional and acclaimed artists have no formal training.

Basquiat (as SAMO) was a black impoverished going-nowhere fast kid in New York who started spraying graffiti — and it got noticed by the TV stations.

[Colour painting by Basquiat for gallery]Basquiat went from a homeless, abandoned street urchin who had been run-over and left for dead, to a feted neo-expressionist artist and mate of David Bowie and Andy Warhol. Jeeezo — he even dated Madonna!

The branded suit was discovered in the early 1980s , and Basquiat used to paint in a very expensive Armani suit, getting it covered in paint, and still wear it out to clubs! Brilliant.

Basquiat was rich, successful, famous, and of his time.  We were all getting on with our brick-sized mobile phones, shoulder pads and talk of “loadsamoney”.  It was excessive, and Basquiat died from overdosing, some say from his lifestyle.

I was not really a fan of his work (I much preferred Haring’s), but I recognised the importance of the man in raising graffiti to an artform.  Without Basquiat, we would not / could not have Banksy.

[ Samo graffiti -- confusing life]

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