On 14 May 2002 Jean Michel Basquiat’s “Profit I” (a large piece of art measuring 86.5″ by 157.5″), possessed by heavy metal band Metallica co-founder Lars Ulrich, was put up for auction at Christie’s and sold for $5,509,500. Afterwards, on 15 May 2007, an untitled Basquiat work from 1981 cracked the previous record, selling at Sotheby’s in New York for $14.6 million…
Basquiat had died 20 years before of mixed-drug toxicity (a combination of cocaine and heroin, known as “speedballing”). He had died alone in his Great Jones Street loft-studio in New York. He had died sad, almost desperate, unable to understand this world.
Son of immigrants, he had been always looking for his African roots, maybe the happiest moment of his life was his trip to Cost of Ivory, maybe the most disappointing was the time he tried to sell very cheap some of his works to poor black people and some New York galleries took advantage of the occasion… His life was always full of contradictions.
Being still a teenager, Basquiat had moment of glory: the graffiti SAMO or “SAMO shit” (i.e. “same ol’ shit”), he had been painting with his friend Al Diaz on slum buildings in lower Manhattan, deserved an article in The Village Voice. However, one year later, he survived by selling T-shirts and postcards in the streets.
His relationship with Warhol was also confused. In 1982, Basquiat and the pop artist Andy Warholbecame friends and collaborated together influencing each other’s work. However, some art critics have speculated that the oldest Andy Warhol was merely using Basquiat for some of his techniques and insight. Anyway, Warhol’s death five years later was
very distressing for Basquiat, and it is written by Phoebe Hoban, in Basquiat, her 1998 biography of the artist, that Warhol’s death was a turning point for Basquiat, and that afterwards his drug addiction and depression began to spiral.
Drugs? Yes, he had a problem with drugs from his time living in the streets with junkies, a great problem because his health had been always delicate. At 8, he suffered a car accident and his spleen was ruined forever. Furthermore, moral and religious problems were really important for him and a constant topic of his paintings: goodness, god, sins, evil…
Jean Michel Basquiat… in spite of his short and tragic life, he is a genial artist and has influenced a next generation: Mark Gonzales, Kelly D. Williams, and Raymond Morris.
Basquiat was a neo-expressionist artist with great influence of graffiti and black culture. His works are usually divided in three periods: In the earliest, from 1980 to late 1982, Basquiat used painterly gestures on canvas, often depicting skeletal figures, mask-like faces, automobiles, buildings, police, and graffiti. A middle period from late 1982 to 1985, he introduced multipanel paintings and individual canvases with exposed stretcher bars and a surface dense with writing, collage and seemingly unrelated imagery. After Warhol’s death, his topics changed and he reflected the world as a dangerous jungle, full of black animals and fears.
“I don’t think about art when I’m working. I try to think about life.”