Jean-Michel Basquiat led a turbulent and tragically short life. However, in his 27 years on this earth, he managed to become a superstar in the art world via his prolific efforts and innovative pioneering of neo-expressionism. Basquiat has left an inspiring multifaceted legacy within the art world that should encourage any working artist who feels discouraged by the inevitable obstacles that pop up. C’mon he was virtually homeless, sold t-shirts on the street and went on to become a household name for crying out loud–I’ll think about that next time I feel unmotivated because I’m bummed out that “nobody understands my work,” boohoo. So, no excuses.
He began his career very unconventionally by dropping out of school, crashing at friends’ places, creating graffiti art, and participating in a number of other creative efforts which in a very winding manner led him to gain recognition within the local and ultimately international art community. Although no guidance counselor certainly would recommended this manner in which to pursue a dream, it worked for him.
His work was born on the streets of Manhattan and his early urban experiences shaped his subsequent work for the remainder of his career. His work directly confronts the viewer via a cacophony of text, raw imagery, and politically charged statements that force the average Basquiat viewer/collector to consider statements about society that would otherwise remain below the surface. Basquiat was quite aware of the fact that his average audience member would have very limited knowledge of the world he (Basquiat) travelled in and he worked to deliberately expose this ignorance. One cannot look at a Basquiat without looking into himself to a certain degree.
Although his work has a rawness to it, his draftsmanship and command of formal properties is very clear. His oeuvre’s consistency, his voracious drive to create, and his impactful imagery propelled Basquiat to stardom by the time he was only 21 years old.
No discussion of Basquiat cannot include at least a cursory consideration of Warhol. My position is that Basquiat’s work stands on its own and Warhol’s involvement in all likelihood was largely self-serving. The following video touches upon the relationship between Warhol and Basquiat:
Judge for yourself.
Basquiat’s work has generated a legacy within the art community that continues to this day. The issues considered within his work are as relevant today as they were twenty years ago. The brief spark that was Basquiat’s career continues to illuminate the darker corners of the art community and continue to compel the upper echelons of the art industry to consider just who the gallery spaces are for and who has access to them.
A recent exhibit in Switzerland assembled perhaps the largest collection of Basquiat’s work in one place to date. The link to the video below is a great catalog of this event and showcases a tremendous amount of Basquiat’s work: