Joining the macabre list of rock stars, actors and other talented artists who have lost their lives way to early, Jean-Michel Basquiat died at age 27, when he was reaching the pinnacle of his artistic career. Earlier this year Gagosian Gallery presented a major exhibition of the artist’s work in its New York space (West 24th Street). The sample contained more than fifty works from public and private collections.
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) was a self-taught rebel. The African-American artist ran away form the family home in Brooklyn when he was a teen, and took to the streets of New York, becoming a fixture in the City’s underground scene. Gagosian presented him as “a musician who loved jazz and a street poet who scrawled his sophisticated aphorisms with a marker on the walls of downtown Manhattan”, until he revealed himself as a painter, in 1981.
JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, Untitled (Two Heads on Gold), 1982.
The following year his artwork already enjoyed great popularity and acclaim, and by 1985 he was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine. He was a charismatic artist with a talent for drawing and painting; his artwork had the ability to convey the existential duality of reality and poetry.
As the gallery declared to the media: “his best paintings maintain a powerful tension between opposing aesthetic forces—expression and knowledge, control and spontaneity, savagery and wit, urbanity and primitivism—while providing acerbic commentary on the harsher realities of race, culture, and society”. Basquiat combined the tools of graffiti (markers, spray paint) with those of the fine arts (oil, acrylic paint, collage, and others), and his paintings have been thought to have experimental jazz rhythms.
His work was influenced by classical humanist poetry, as well as by the contemporary imagery of sports, music, politics, philosophy, African art and the European avant-garde, with special inspiration in the legacy of Picasso, de Kooning, and Rauschenberg. Likewise, when analyzing his work we often use the words “hustle” and “obsession”, as references to the city and his inner turmoil.
JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT. 1. Eyes and Eggs, 1983. / 2. With Strings Two, 1982. / 3. Frogmen, 1983.
A panoramic view of the oeuvre of Jean-Michel Basquiat leaves an indelible impression. It is evident that art was his vehicle to cope with different realities. We can find traits of vulnerability and introspection in some of his most emblematic paintings: Discography (1982) Sausage Brothers (1983), Frogmen (1983), Self-portrait (1984), The Irony of a Black Policeman (1981), Eyes and Eggs (1983) and Riding with Death.
During the exhibit, the gallery owner remembered the first time he showed the work of Basquiat in Los Angeles. Thirty years later, he brought him back with the exhibition Jean-Michel Basquiat, on view at Gagosian Gallery in New York (West 24th Street) from February 7 to April 6, 2013. ■
PHOTOS: Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.