Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Black History Month: Jean-Michel Basquiat

Today I share the story of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

I confess, the very first time I ever heard of Jean-Michel, was on This is Biography, several years ago and found his story both inspiring and sad.
Jean- Michel Basquiat an American Artist, was born in in Brooklyn, NY, December 22, 1960 and died of an drug overdose August, 12 1988. With a Haitian-American father and a Puerto Rican mother, Basquiat's diverse cultural heritage was one of his many sources of inspiration.
He was one of the first African-American artists to reach international stature and wealth in the art world, rising to fame for his fusion of multicultural symbols, for his biting social commentary, distinctive graphic style and like many artist, for his temperamental personality.
A child of the city, Jean-Michel, from an early age, drew and visited museums regularly, many of his childhood interest ranged from cartoons and Alfred Hitchcock films to anatomy, to French and Spanish books, all that would have a influence on his work.
At seven-teen, he dropped out of high school and began creating art, gaining fame for his invented character SAMO ("Same Old Sh*t"), who made a living peddling "fake' religion.
 Jean-Michel Basquiat depicted SAMO’s signature in Graffiti Art with cryptic messages in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and began painting on found materials, buildings, t-shirts, and commercial items. He delved into the urban 1980s avant-garde culture of New York City, creating wildly expressive paintings, which earned him considerable acclaim by 1982, following his first solo exhibition. In 1983 he befriended his idol Andy Warhol (American Artist, 1928-1987), and the two collaborated on several projects. Basquiat combined African, Aztec, Hispanic, and ancient Roman and Greek imagery with his own invented iconography and graphic mark, in works that emphasized the physical and the gestural aspects of the artistic process.
Ever conscious of his identity as an African-American in the art world, Jean-Michel's work was rife with imagery commenting on race relations in America and drawing from culture of the African Diaspora.

However, like many artist of his time, Jean-Michel entered the drug culture and got hooked. His prevalent drug use became a greater concern to his friends and colleagues in the mid-1980s, and the artist’s fiery temper and capriciousness increased, particularly when working with dealers or developing his oeuvre. Andy Warhol’s death in 1987 deeply affected Basquiat, and he painted several final works in a frenzy, full of apocalyptic imagery but with a confident, mature style.
Desperate to kick a heroin addiction, he left New York for Hawaii in 1988, returning a few months later and claiming to be sober. But sadly that demon heroin, won and he died of a heroin overdose in the summer of 1988, ending a brief but brilliant and unique career.
As an Artist, I wish Jean-Michel had lived, not only to create more amazing art work, but so that I can thank him for how his not only bringing the African-American and Latino experience in the elite art world, but how he encouraged artist like myself to pursuit our own place in the Art World.
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