Biography Essay on Jean-Michel Basquiat

Published: 2021-06-23
1998 words
8 pages
17 min to read
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Jean-Michel Basquiat is known as the single artist who represented art at its best in the 1980s. He simply rose from a group of homeless street artists who spent their time spraying enigmatic messages on building walls along the alleys in the city of New York. In a short span of five years, he received a global recognition and he became the first African American graffiti artist to accumulate sales that grossed to million dollars. Jean Michels life became questionable with various myths and contradictions. The paintings he produced were extraordinary and wild. The paintings and drawings he had in a period of seven years, totaled to thousands. Jean was always arrested since he was a heroin addict. He always held parties and treated his crowds to enjoy their time in the expensive restaurants. Another person that he was of benefit to was Giorgio Armani, Jean always painted for him his designer suits.

When his work is assessed, Basquiat work is seen to be raw, diverse and wild. Many people admired him and most believed him as a genius, and an inexperienced person whose use of drug gave him several connections to come up with his creations. The other people had a different belief about him; they saw him as an African American who was talented and gifted artistically and this led him to have the pressure to have fame by establishing white art. It is found that in the end, his cynics, in 1980 asserted that his art representation brought out the wrong messages.

Brief History

It is in the 70s that there has been documentation that shows how the events of things were interesting. The happenings of the events were exceptionally influential and especially to the rise of the artists and their paintings in the whole world. However, there are shocking times that are seen in events such as the massacre in the Kent state; fire was freely opened on Vietnam's protesting students by the members of the Ohio guard. That not only being the devastating event, a Cambodian genocide that started in 1975 lasted for four years. The number of people that died during that time was about 1.7 million. These deaths resulted due to starvation, overworking, execution and disease.

America gained its independence in 1976. It was accompanied with celebrations. Also, new inventions cropped in like emails, LCD televisions and mobile phones. People were excited and there was the need to get connected internationally whereby people would share ideas. When we focus on the late 70s Jean-Michel Basquiat started to gain popularity because of his exemptous works. It is said that most of the art paintings began during this period and they are still important to date. They were influential in different art movements with some of them arising from different revolutions. Constructivism was the last contemporary art that was created at that time, actually, it had borrowed designs from futurism, cubism, and suprematism; these designs were partially crafted by Picasso. Constructivism brought in a new aspect whereby objects could be easily made technically.

Early Life

After the death of Jeans elder brother, Max, he came into this world. Jean-Michel Basquiat was born towards the end of 1960 in New York in a town known as Brooklyn. He was the second born in a family that consisted of two girls. His father was an immigrant from Haitian and the mother was from Puerto Rica (Fretz, 2010). The father had a significant influence on Jeans fluency and versatility in languages such as English, Spanish and French. The impact of French later made him develop poetry that he later used in his art career. The mother, who was known as Matilda, on the other hand, made her son love art in his younger age. Matilda used to take him to the art gallery and museums and she later enrolled him as a member of an art class in Brooklyn. Basquiat learned to read and write by the time he attained four years, not forgetting, he was also a gifted artist. This gift was encouraged by her mother and some of his art teacher who noticed that he had a wonderful talent. Being a quick learner, he became fluent in English, Spanish and French by 11 years. Jean-Michel attended art classes where he was helped by Marc Prozzo.When Basquiat was about 8 years old, a car hit him while he was playing on the streets. He broke his arm and due to this, he suffered from the internal injuries which made him undergo a spleen operation. While improving from the operations, his mother visited him. It was during this time that the mother handed him a book that is known as Grays Anatomy; this was an Anatomical textbook that would keep Jean occupied. The books context had several anatomical paintings from the famous artist Leonardo Da Vinci. This book, for sure would prove the influence of his artistic work in the future. Later in that year, the parents separated and he remained to be raised by his father together with his siblings.

By 13 years, his mother suffered mentally making her be admitted to a mental institution. After a short period, she was discharged but still committed to having frequent visits to the mental institution. Basquiat ran away from home when he was 15 years old but within a week, he was found by the police and returned back to be under the care of his father. At the tenth grade, Basquiat dropped out of school and attended a high school in Manhattan that helped drop out artistic students. This angered the father who banished him making him. this made him stay with his friends. He managed to get his daily bread only through the sale of T-shirts and postcards that he made from home.

In just a matter of several years, Basquiat raised from being unemployed to someone who can sell a single painting for $25000. He became firmly rooted in his work in the 1970s whereby he joined a New York Graffiti movement. Later in 1972, he started to experiment with spray painting. Basquiat and his friend AL Diaz began painting graffiti on the walls of buildings in Manhattan. Their graffiti paintings were based under a penname known as SAMO, SAMO meant Same old sh*t. this establishment that started as a joke was an anti- religion and anti-political. SAMO later started to receive attention in both the media and the press.In 1976, Jean was employed in the art department of a clothing warehouse during the day and at night he did SAMO (Fretz, 2010).

When Basquiat and Diaz fell out, Basquiat decided to end this contemporary movement with a mysterious yet alluring message saying that SAMO IS DEAD, this writing appeared in several art galleries and on the streets of Manhattan. This made Basquiat to be misplaced and start to deal with narcotics. Basquiat started to frequent Club 57 and Mudd Club. These two clubs were known because of artistic elite in the New York. Being a punk rocker, It was during this period that he appeared to be a night DJ in blondes video, Rapture.

Celebrity Culture & Other Influences

In the film industry, Jean-Michel Basquiats biography is an important subject. Jean became famous by 20 years old, although, it was shortlived after he died 7 years later due to the heroin overdose. His drawings did not look much serious since they appeared childish but when evaluated, they dictated social ideas and issues of how society was back then.

Having the book Grays Anatomy, the human body became the central figure in his line of work. The most important part in Basquiat was the head in the human body (Kaushik, 2010). He had produced 18 paintings in the year 1982 that he named Anatomy, the paintings were a total reflection and captivation of the bodys physical makeup. In addition to his fascination with the human body, he was also interested in the emotions and thoughts found on the body, these are evidently seen on the marks, comments, and writtings that he scribbled inside the head. This was to primarily focus on the struggles that they had internally and it later made him be linked to a Neo-Expressionist named Julian Schnabel. In addition, his creativity was also due to the experiences he had earlier in his childhood.

Anatomy not being his only style in art paintings and drawings, he also focused on the detailed relationships human beings had with one another and how their communication was fascinating. Famous figures are also illustrated in Jeans works, this includes his representation in boxers, musicians, and the sports stars. Other figures that were also figured are black Holywood actors. Comments and phrases that were political and ethical were mostly incorporated into Basquiats art. These themes were used in a movement that was known as SAMO. However, when we come to the end of the year 1981, Basquiat decided to shift his attention from his developed graffiti since his reputation in the world was gradual as an upcoming artist.

Jean Michels work was associated with symbols and texts that made his work to have weight (Irvine, 2012). The texts and symbols had greater deals in the meanings they had to punk rock movements and the Neo-Expressionists during that era. At many times, the statements that he used to make were bold and had important messages about the injustices that were experienced at that time. In some instances, he had comments that imitated the world that is modern and the sort of denied if it will ever exist. On the social comments that he made, he always focused on subjective matters that deals with history, the topics are major and for sure, they are being debated up to date. His major topics were on colonialism era and the slavery.

When he was illustrating the historical events that related to the Native Americans, Jean used one of his paintings which he named Tobacco Versus Red Chief. The paints details include a Native American Chief who is enclosed in a fence with barbed wire, he is glancing at his fist which is having tobacco. The barbed wire fence is thought to show the infringement of new people in their land.

In one of his titles, Irony of The Negro Policeman Basquiat gives a harsh critique to the members of his own race. It is ironical that the black policemen used to be strict on the rules which were put in place by the white men. The painting details a black policeman with a mask that is white and he is speaking. When keenly viewed, the paintings are saturated and they appear scrappy and broken. This resembles social politics and how it affects race (Irvine, 2012).

The productiveness of Basquiat in his creative works made him build a portfolio that consisted of 1000 paintings and over 2000 drawings that were childish and primitive. His work consisted mostly of culture references and it was during this time, a prominent figure in pop known as Elvis Presley was in office and Nixon was the president. Apart from using culture as his references, he used television, hip hop and the early stages of the video games. It is evidently clear that these things had an impact on his work.Basquiat fame grew over the years, apparently, something that he had not hoped for in his line of work, however, he managed to reach the higher heights. He, later on, collaborated with famous figures such as Warhol, Warhol was famous in the visual art that is known as pop art. The featuring of his work is on culture and artistic expression. In his collaborative movement, Basquiat artwork was born, these artwork pieces received a mixture of both negative and positive reviews (Pollock, Krasner & Basquiat, 2016). The negative remarks made Basquiat and Warhol have tension.

Both international success and his achievements with the Neo-expressionists had important impact to Basquiat. Although, his personal struggles with his addiction to drugs subdued his growth. The friends were of much concern to his drug addiction and his health. However, he was battling his drug addiction and wante...

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