You know how it is. You’ve been aware of an artist for years, but somehow haven’t really stopped up to look closely at his work–unfortunately! But now is the time. I’ve just come back from a terrific exhibition at The Art Gallery of Ontario of the work of the artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat.
A brief search on the web will give you all sorts of current tidbits about this artist which might previously have been unknown. I didn’t know that Madonna and Basquiat were a couple in the early 1980’s just before both of them were about to gain recognition. Was this fact relevant to the man’s art?Maybe so.
When they had a very bitter breakup, he demanded that she return all his paintings he had given her.
[And here’s the sad part…] He painted all those canvases over with black paint. See her name crossed out on the top left of the painting below?
He was a friend of the famous artist, Andy Warhol and in fact collaborated with him for a several years.
There were many paintings in the Collaborations project by Warhol and Basquiat.”Paramount” (1984-85) is shown above and was part of that project.
What do you think about artists collaborating? Can it work? What is gained and what is lost by each artist by working together?
This is of real interest to me because I’ve been thinking about writing another novel [the 4th] for The Trilogy of Remembrance [The Drawing Lesson, The Fate of Pryde and Night Crossing] in which two artists, Alexander Wainwright [landscape artist] and Rinaldo [conceptual artist] would collaborate.
Basquiat started out as a street, graffiti artist. He expressed the hurt and the rage of the black man in 1980’s New York. He had an unfortunately brief life of twenty seven years and died in 1988 of a drug overdose.
The show I saw at the Art Gallery of Ontario is entitled “Now is the Time”. Here’s a video about the exhibition.
It’s interesting that several people in this video speak of Basquiat as an artist who liberated them from what they regarded as conventional art and inspired them in their own creative efforts.
It also raises the question of why his work is so timely now thirty years on. Of course, Basquiat was, in part, protesting the brutally violent treatment of young black males especially at the hands of the police. He had plenty of experience.
In 1983, Michael Stewart, graffiti artist and good friend of Basquiat was beaten unconscious by police and died from his injuries. This attack was provoked because Stewart had been spray painting his art in the subway. The eleven all white officers were all acquitted. Of course, Basquiat took this very personally because, as a black graffiti artist, he could very well have been the victim.
We can’t pretend that New York City of the 1980’s is a place lost in some foggy past. We have daily reminders that the atmosphere of racism and cruelty thrive. The problem of police brutality directed at the black populace exists today and it’s a struggle to see much improvement. And so the statements– “Black lives matter.” and “I can’t breathe!” will become phrases recalled thirty years from now–hopefully recalled and not said in response to yet more racial violence at that future date.
Examples are legion: the Trayvon Martin case, Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri, Eric Garner [I can’t breath] and Tony Robinson in Wisconsin to name only a few.
And then there is the shameful video where fraternity members of Oklahoma University chant gleefully about lynching. This comes only a few weeks after the ceremony at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Anyone who has been paying attention will certainly agree that racially motivated violence is a continuing problem existing throughout society. The video below brings to light that the student club at Oklahoma University is by no means alone in its attitudes.
But back to Basquiat’s art. When he acknowledged his fame as an artist, he once said that might be true but he still could not get a cab in New York City.
Here are a few of his paintings.
It’s interesting how his paintings look casually done, but he was a highly skilled and took a great deal of time and care. So many ideas and influences [urban and Caribbean] are incorporated into his work.
Although he was expressing anger at police brutality and the systemic humiliation of black males [in particular] his paintings also express a certain child like innocence and joy in the simple beauty of vivid colours.
His paintings vibrate with intense, repressed emotion. Do you see it? Please leave a comment and tell me what you think either about his art or any of the problems of racism.
AND please don’t forget to leave a comment about any of this. Maybe we can start a very interesting conversation about art…creativity…racism…violence…
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing. Presently, The Drawing Lesson is a Wattpad Featured novel which you can read in it’s entirety right here Wattpad.com