Friday, July 30, 2010

Did You Know? :: Jean-Michel Basquiat, "Flash in Naples," 1983

Jean-Michel Basquiat was an artist from Brooklyn, New York. He was born December 22, 1960; he died August 12, 1988, after a short but meteoric career during which his work was popularized and made famous in part by his associations with Andy Warhol, Al Diaz, Julian Schnabel and the musical performer Madonna.

As a child, Basquiat showed an affinity and skill for drawing, and was encouraged to create art by his mother, who was Puerto Rican by descent, and his father, who is of Haitian descent. As a result, Basquiat was fluent in Spanish, French and English from an early age.

In late 1977, while a student at City-As-School high school in Brooklyn, Basquiat and his friend Al Diaz started spray-painting graffiti art on buildings in lower Manhattan, adding the signature of "SAMO". The graphics were messages such as "Plush safe he think.. SAMO" and "SAMO as an escape clause". In December 1978, the Village Voice published an article about the writings. The SAMO project ended with the epitaph "SAMO IS DEAD" written on the walls of SoHo buildings.

Basquiat dropped out of high school in September 1978, at the beginning of his senior year. He decided to leave his home and began living with friends, earning money by selling T-shirts and postcards on Manhattan's streets, and working in the Unique Clothing Warehouse on Broadway. By 1979, Basquiat had appeared on Glenn O'Brien's live public-access cable show TV Party. In the late 1970s, Basquiat formed a band called Gray with Vincent Gallo, Shannon Dawson, Michael Holman, Nick Taylor, Wayne Clifford. Gray performed at nightclubs such as Max's Kansas City, CBGB, Hurrahs, and the Mudd Club. Basquiat starred in an underground film Downtown 81 which featured some of Gray's recordings on its soundtrack. He also appeared in Blondie's video "Rapture" as a club disc jockey.

In June 1980, Basquiat participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition, sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated (Colab) and Fashion Moda. In 1981, Rene Ricard published "The Radiant Child" in Artforum magazine, which brought Basquiat to the attention of the wider art world.

In late 1981 he joined the Annina Nosei gallery in SoHo. By 1982, Basquiat was showing regularly, and alongside Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi, became part of what was called the Neo-expressionist movement. He was represented in Los Angeles by the Larry Gagosian gallery, and in Europe by Bruno Bischofberger. He started dating then-aspiring performer Madonna in autumn 1982. That same year, Basquiat met Andy Warhol, with whom he collaborated in 1984-1986. He was also briefly involved with artist David Bowes. Basquiat worked on his paintings in Armani suits and often appeared in public in these same paint-splattered $1000 suits.

By the mid 1980s, he had left Annina Nosei gallery, and was showing in the famous Mary Boone gallery in SoHo. On February 10, 1985, Basquiat appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled "New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist". He was a phenomenally successful artist in this period, but increasing drug use began to interfere with his personal relationships. After Andy Warhol's death in 1987, Basquiat became increasingly isolated, and his drug use and depression increased. After attempting to quit heroin use during a trip to Hawaii, Basquiat died of a heroin overdose in his New York studio on August 12, 1988, at the age of 27.

Selected Bibliography
Deitch J, Cortez D, and O’Brien, Glen. Jean-Michel Basquiat: 1981: the Studio of the Street, Charta, 2007.

Fretz, Eric. Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Biography. Greenwood Press, 2010.

Hoban, Phoebe. Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art (2nd ed.), Penguin Books, 2004.

Marshall, Richard. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Abrams / Whit
ney Museum of American Art. (Catalog for 1992 Whitney retrospective, out of print).

Marshall, Richard. Jean-Michel Basquiat: In World Only. Cheim & Read, 2005.

Marenzi, Luca. Jean-Michel Basquiat. Charta, 1999.

Mayer, Marc, Hoffman Fred, et al. Basquiat, Merrell Publishers / Brooklyn Museum, 2005.

McCluskey, Danny. "Jean-Michel Basquiat: Art Capitalism Mascot or Radiant Child?” Cameron, 2009.

Tate, Greg. Flyboy in the Buttermilk. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Thompson, Margot. American Graffiti, Parkstone Press, 2009

Looking at Flash in Naples

  • Ask guests what they see in the mixed media piece Flash in Naples.
  • Ask guests if they know who the Flash character was. Ask guests what they think about comic book art.
  • Explain that the Flash is a name shared by several fictional comic book superheroes from the DC Comics universe. Created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert, the original Flash first appeared in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940). Nicknamed the Scarlet Speedster, all incarnations of the Flash possess "super-speed", including the ability to run and move extremely fast, use superhuman reflexes and seemingly violate certain laws of physics.
  • Explain that Basquiat was fascinated by symbols, Roman mythology, comics, and numerous other narrative references.
  • Writer, curator and gallerist Fred Hoffman called Basquiat’s work “a rich compendium of figurative imagery and references” with “an array of specific textual references to Greek mythology, Roman history, African tribal culture, systems of monetary exchange, and natural commodities, as well as states of health and wellbeing.”
  • Explain that the neo-expressionist movement in contemporary art was influenced by Pop Art of the 1960s, and formed in reaction to the late 1970s fascination with conceptual and minimalist art.