Jean-Michel Basquiat

Posted 2010.12.17 06:53

Untitled (Fallen Angel)
1981, Acrylic and oilstick on canvas, 168 x 197,5 cm

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960 – 1988) was an American artist. His career in art began as a graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970s, and in the 1980s produced Neo-expressionist painting. Basquiat died of a heroin overdose on August 12, 1988, at the age of 27.

Artistic activities
Basquiat incorporated words into his paintings.
Before his career as a painter began he produced punk-inspired postcards for sale on the street, and become known for the political–poetical graffiti under the name of SAMO. On one occasion Basquiat painted his girlfriend's dress, with the words "Little Shit Brown". The untitled head ,"untitled (skull)," 1984, is an example of his early 1980s work. A middle period from late 1982 to 1985 featured multi-panel paintings and individual canvases with exposed stretcher bars, the surface dense with writing, collage and imagery. 1984-85 was also the main period of the Basquiat–Warhol collaborations.
A major reference source used by Basquiat throughout his career was the book Gray's Anatomy which he was given in the hospital as a child. It remained influential in his depictions of internal human anatomy, and in its mixture of image and text. Other major sources were Dreyfuss' Symbol Sourcebook, Leonardo Da Vinci's notebooks, and Brentjes African Rock Art.

Untitled (Skull)
1981, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 207 x 175.9 cm

Representing his heritage in his art
Basquiat’s 1983 painting "Untitled (History of the Black People)", according to Andrea Frohne, "reclaims Egyptians as African and subverts the concept of ancient Egypt as the cradle of Western Civilization". At the center of the painting, he depicts an Egyptian boat being guided down the Nile River by Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead. On the right panel of the painting appear the words “Esclave, Slave, Esclave”. Two letters of the word "Nile" are crossed out and Frohne suggests that, "The letters that are wiped out and scribbled over perhaps reflect the acts of historians who have conveniently forgotten that Egyptians were black and blacks were enslaved." On the left panel of the painting Basquiat, has illustrated two Nubian style masks. The Nubians historically were darker in skin color, and were considered to be slaves by the Egyptian people. Throughout the rest of the painting, images of the Atlantic slave trade are juxtaposed with images of the Egyptian slave trade centuries before. The sickle in the center panel is a direct reference to the slave trade in the United States, and slave labor under the plantation system. The word “salt” that appears on the right panel of the work refers to the Atlantic Slave Trade, as salt was another important commodity to be traded at that time.

1985, Acrylic, oil and oil pastel on canvas, 100 x 114 cm

Another of Basquiat’s pieces, "Irony of Negro Policeman" (1981), is intended to illustrate how African-Americans have been controlled by a predominantly Caucasian society. Basquiat sought to portray how complicit African-Americans have become with the “institutionalized forms of whiteness and corrupt white regimes of power” years after the Jim Crow era had ended. Basquiat found the concept of a “Negro policeman” utterly ironic. It would seem that this policeman should sympathize with his black friends, family and ancestors, yet instead he was there to enforce the rules designed by "white society." The Negro policeman had “black skin but wore a white mask”. In the painting, Basquiat depicted the policeman as large in order to suggest an “excessive and totalizing power”, but made the policeman's body fragmented and broken. The hat that frames the head of the Negro policeman resembles a cage, and represents how constrained the independent perceptions of African-American’s were at the time, and how constrained the policeman’s own perceptions were within white society. Basquiat drew upon his Haitian heritage by painting a hat that resembles the top hat associated with the Haitian trickster lwa, leader of the Gede family of lwas and guardian of death and the dead in vodou.

From Wikipedia

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