(b ahs- K ee- AH)
Jean-Michel Basquiat was often described as primitive, primal, and a wild boy. However; the most offensive critique, which even haunts his self reflecting paintings, would be the labeling of him as a black artist and a black artist alone. Basquiat was once asked by a reporter did he like being called a “Black Picasso”. Basquiat said, “Not so much. It’s flattering but I think it’s also demeaning”. Basquiat, like many brilliant and extraordinary people of color, had to come to the realization that he wouldn’t have freedom, even in the artistic form, without being put in a box. Basquiat, at just 18 years of age, decided not stay in the box but to explode on the the New York art scene in the 1980’s. The art world had not seen the likes of him at any point in its history. He was of Haitian and Puerto Rican decent with untamed dread locks and a rugged bohemian style. His tumultuous and short lived artistic career wouldn’t completely be accredited until after his death in 1988. By the young age of 27, Basquiat had accomplished more than most in their lives becoming, one of the most important artist of his decade. He would even go to “battle”, as he called it, with such artistic giants like Andy Warhol and Julian Scholvo in the epicenter of it all. The New York art world would never be the same. His expressionalistic art would challenge the minimalist and artistic society that once alienated anyone and anything that made them uncomfortable and Basquiat did just that. There were dark figures in his paintings which were accentuated with racial images and afflicting words. He was able to paint what the Hip Hop culture was unable to speak at the time; the black experience. Paintings like “Jim Crow”, “Water Worshipper”, and “The irony of the Negro policeman 81”; touched on not only Basquiat’s struggle but, the struggle of all blacks. His art was improvised like a Jazz Bee-Bop band; young, fresh, non-conformed, direct. Basquiat would often use broken doors, window frames, and tires as a canvas initially, because he couldn’t afford the real thing. He would highlight, scratch out, and scribbled through words which were intricately placed in his paintings to add extra meaning and power. Basquiat once said, “I cross out words so you will see them more; the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them”. Basquiat was underestimated, underrated, and definitely unappreciated during his career. Today, his work sits in galleries all over the world. The art world now deems him as one of the most influential artist of the 20th century, and his paintings can sell in the millions of dollars. During his lifetime, Basquiat created over 1000 painting and 1000 drawings. Almost 24 years after his death, Basquiat’s art is still as relevant and powerful as when he scrawled his first tag or sketched his first postcard. Baquiat’s work is timeless, intelligent and beautiful. I describe Basquiat as a tortured but brilliant artist. His work is child-like but articulate in its conveyance to societal grievances. His work can seem simple but upon a closer view, the details of his pieces are too intricate to be demoted.
“I am not a black artist, I’m an artist.”
“I don’t think about art when I’m working. I try to think about life.”
“I don’t listen to what art critics say. I don’t know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is.”
“I don’t know how to describe my work. That’s like asking Miles Davis why he played that note or why he plays this at this point in his music. It’s just automatic”.