Something in Jean-Michel Basquiat´s trace catches the eye. In general, graffiti makes you tired and bored. It seems they only make the sensation of solitude and isolation of the big cities worse. Rarely do they convey something poetically revealing. I am stubborn, though. I am capable of standing in the street in front of a wall, trying to understand and to feel what that is. I am usually beaten by emptiness.
Graffiti has reached the status of art form in latest years thanks to the talent of some of these street artists, namely, the figurative graffiti, different from the one that is solely a simple inscription of letters and numbers. Public areas end up being appointed to these crafters. That is to say, less and less, the creative activity of the graffitist is seen as an affair for the police. The artists themselves are talking with the scribble gang, asking them not to damage these areas which have been toughly conquered.
When I saw Basquiat´s paintings for the first time, I tried, after the five initial minutes, to turn a blind eye to them and to keep on my path, but I could not. I started to follow the composition trail of each picture. And there was the view of the world aesthetically elaborated, with his Afro-American origin, impregnated by the rough urban spirit and an intense search for freedom and denouncement. They are figurative graffiti, now out of the streets, in the galleries, with powerful colors and senses.
Jean-Michel was born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 22nd, 1960, and passed away at 27, on August 12th, 1988, in the same city. Son of a Haitian father and of a mother who was a daughter of Puerto Ricans, he has become renowned, at first, as a graffitist and, afterwards, as a plastic artist. He was one of those responsible for the recognition of graffiti as an artistic manifestation.
When he was around 17 years old, he started to paint abandoned buildings of Manhattan. The signature with which he identified himself then was “Samo” or “Samo shit” (same old shit). At a certain time, after he left his parents´ home, he had to sell t-shirts and postcards in the streets so as to survive. The work of Basquiat drew attention and started being commented, rapidly gaining notoriety in the means of communication. He began painting portraits and to do exhibitions. He ended up becoming a rare case of an artist who early gains recognition. Moreover, he formed a band with acquaintances and participated in, at least, two films. In 1982, he dated a singer who was not very well known at the time, Madonna. He had partnerships with Andy Warhol.
An intense and professionally successful life, with massive media coverage, did not free him of the contact with drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
He died of an overdose, at the top of the heap, in his studio.
The work of Basquiat is recognized and valued internationally. It is not only a marketing case. There is much creation and poetic valor in these restless, vibrating, aggressive, questioning traces. The expression of the artist has reached an identity that characterizes itself as unique.
Let us look at Basquiat´s paintings. Isn’t there, by any chance, in the feverish and explosive wrist something that puts him side by side with oldest brothers like Tintoretto and Van Gogh? These colors and figures lead us to moments of emotion, beauty and reflection.
Basquiat was a fallen angel (title of the blue painting above), who left this world too soon.
The Museum of Modern Art in Paris held an exhibition with the work of Basquiat in October 2010, which lasted until the end of January 2011. Lines of almost 500 meters were formed for visitation.
People’s interest in the artist’s work is understood since it is a grateful discovery in the currently rarefied territory of virtue in the arts in general.
* Este post foi originalmente publicado no blog, em português, em 28/11/2010. Republico, em inglês, em atenção aos leitores de outros países que têm procurado esta matéria.
Imagens: fotos de Basquiat e suas pinturas. Fonte: site oficial:
Reprodução com autorização dos proprietários dos direitos da obra de Basquiat:
© The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / AUTVIS, 2010
Translation by Letícia Lanius (Public Translator) – firstname.lastname@example.org