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Jean- Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn New York, on December 22, 1960. With  a short spam of his artistic career jean Michel Basquiat achieved fame of a great artist. Basquiat went from being homeless and unemployed to selling a single painting for up to $25,000 in a matter of several years. On May 18, 2017, at a Sotheby’s auction, a 1982 painting by Basquiat depicting a skull set a new record high for any American artist at auction, selling for $110.5 million.

In 1976, Basquiat and his friend Al Diaz began spray painting graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan, working under the pseudonym SAMO. The designs featured inscribed messages such as “Plush safe he think.. “SAMO” and “SAMO as an escape clause”. In 1978, Basquiat worked for the Unique Clothing Warehouse in their art department at 718 Broadway in NoHo and at night he began “SAMO” painting his original graffiti  art on neighborhood buildings. Unique’s founder Harvey Russack discovered Basquiat painting a building one night, they became friends, and he offered him a day job. On December 11, 1978, The Village Voice published an article about the graffiti. When Basquiat and Diaz ended their friendship, The SAMO project ended with the epitaph “SAMO IS DEAD”, inscribed on the walls of SoHo buildings in 1979.

It’s said that, Basquiat was a big fan of Andy Warhol from an early age and he owned and avidly read his book.  Warhol had a big influence on the young artist throughout his career. While selling his postcards in Soho in 1979, Basquiat and Stein spotted Warhol at lunch with art critic Henry Geldzahler.Basquiat was very excited to see Warhol andhe went immediately into the restaurant to try to sell them some of the cards. While Geldzahler rejected Basquiat as being too young and sent him away, Warhol bought a postcard depicting one of Basquiat’s sunglass motifs. A few years later it would be Geldzahler interviewing Basquiat as one the biggest emerging artists in the New York art scene.

The early 1980s were Basquiat’s breakthrough as a solo artist. In June 1980, Basquiat participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated  and Fashion Moda where he was noticed by various critics and curators. In particular Emilio Mazzoli, an Italian gallerist saw the exhibition and invited Basquiat to Modena (Italy) to have his first solo show, that opened on May 23, 1981. In December 1981, René Ricard published “The Radiant Child” in Artforum magazine. In September 1982, Basquiat joined the Annina Nosei gallery and worked in a basement below the gallery toward his first American one-man show, which took place from March 6 to April 1, 1982.

In March 1982 he worked in Modena, Italy, again to work on his second Italian exhibition and from November, Basquiat worked from the ground-floor display and studio space Larry Gagosian had built below his Venice, California, home and commenced a series of paintings for a 1983 show, his second at Gagosian Gallery, then in West Hollywood.  During this time he took considerable interest in the work that Robert Rauschenberg was producing at Gemini G.E.L.in West Hollywood, visiting him on several occasions and finding inspiration in the accomplishments of the painter.  In 1982, Basquiat worked briefly with musician and artist David Bowie .

Basquiat’s art focused on “suggestive dichotomies”, such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. He appropriated poetry, drawing, and painting, and married text and image, abstraction, figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.

Basquiat used social commentary in his paintings as a “springboard to deeper truths about the individual”,  as well as attacks on power structures and systems of racism, while his poetics were acutely political and direct in their criticism of colonialism and support for class struggle. He died of a heroin overdose at his art studio at the age of 27.

According to   Marc Mayer, in ‘Basquiat in History’ he says  Basquiat speaks articulately while dodging the full impact of clarity like a matador. We can read his pictures without strenuous effort—the words, the images, the colors and the construction—but we cannot quite fathom the point they belabor. Keeping us in this state of half-knowing, of mystery-within-familiarity, had been the core technique of his brand of communication since his adolescent days as the graffiti poet SAMO. To enjoy them, we are not meant to analyze the pictures too carefully. Quantifying the encyclopedic breadth of his research certainly results in an interesting inventory, but the sum cannot adequately explain his pictures, which requires an effort outside the purview of iconography … he painted a calculated incoherence, calibrating the mystery of what such apparently meaning-laden pictures might ultimately mean.

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