Monday, February 20, 2017

Jean-Michel Basquiat by Brennan Lewis

Jean-Michel Basquiat with some of his work ( Tucson Weekly: Source)
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a prominent street artist in the 1970s who rose to international fame over the next two decades, marking a distinct change in the traditionally white male New York high art scene. He was born in 1960 in Brooklyn, New York, and died of a drug overdose at the age of twenty-seven in August of 1988. Beginning as a homeless young street graffiti artist in Lower Manhattan under the name SAMO, Basquiat eventually gained a widespread following and began creating pieces of art for SoHo galleries and museums. He exhibited works in his first large show as a solo artist in The Times Square Show in 1980, and had his first solo show in March of 1981. He created the majority of his most famous works between the ages of twenty and twenty-seven, marking a brief but vastly influential art career. 

Untitled (1982)
Felt tip pen & oilstick on paper
The Museum of Modern Art
Basquiat's work has been featured in galleries across the United States. His artistic style, an “assimilated Abstract Expressionism” incorporated mixed elements of graffiti, including both text and images, and classic techniques of gallery-style high art. Many of Basquiat’s paintings use bright primary colors and bold lines, often with words covering parts of the canvas. His work was often fairly experimental, and Basquiat was known to spray-paint on other people’s property and miscellaneous objects that he found in addition to his more traditional canvases. He spent several years working on different musical projects and appeared in a few independent films. Hip hop and punk music are cited as main influences on Basquiat’s work, and he also drew inspiration from the artist Robert Rauschenberg, who used found objects to create social commentary. Basquiat’s art is described as spontaneous and loud, and a large portion of his work draws on the history of colonialism and slavery in America to make statements on the treatment of black people by white society.

Untitled (1983), The Museum of Modern Art          
Though his work was generally successful and widely acclaimed, many critics wrote about Basquiat’s work in a way that framed him as both exotic and sensationalist, focusing on his appearance as an urban black artist in art galleries that primarily catered to the white upper-class. Several writers discredit his work as being of little artistic merit and lacking thoughtful technique. Notably, several museums have refused to exhibit the Whitney Museum’s Basquiat retrospective, continuing a trend of devaluing Basquiat’s work.

Flexible (1984), Brooklyn Museum
Basquiat has always been one of my favorite artists – I love his use of color, incorporation of social criticisms, and incorporation of cartoon-esque, almost childlike figures in his work. He tested the limits of what was considered valuable art and shifted the power dynamic of New York galleries. Different facets of identity, including gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexuality, and cultural background all play a defining role in the creation of Basquiat’s art. Art has been used to make controversial statements on identity politics for centuries, and street art as activism is particularly relevant to the current dialogue on race in the United States. For me, Basquiat’s work provides inspiration for expressive pieces and pushes me to think more deeply about the relationship between art and identity.

Works Cited
Basquiat, Jean Michel., and John Cheim. Jean Michel Basquiat: Drawings. Boston U.a.: Little, Brown, 1990. Print. "Jean-Michel Basquiat | MoMA." The Museum of Modern Art. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.Shafrazi, Tony. Jean-Michel Basquiat. New York: Tony Shafrazi Gallery, 1999. Print."Whitney Museum of American Art: Collection." Whitney Museum of American Art: Collection. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.

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