I never went to art school … I just looked … that’s where I think I learned about art, by looking at it
In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “No art is possible without a dance with death.” Same could be said about the tragic story of free-spirited artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
I’ll be turning 27 soon and I can’t help but make connection to the fact that Basquiat was only 27 when he died…
As I do with everything, I looked further into the life of Basquiat, as something about him intrigued me. Was it the fact that he had gone too soon or was I searching for answers to his creativity? Through my research, I found that he was once connected to Madonna, who was just an aspiring singer at the time. I learned he started off as a graffiti artist, working under the pseudonym SAMO.
Who would’ve thought, including Basquiat himself that he’d go from being homeless to posthumously selling a painting for over $100m, making it the most expensive American painting ever!
His work was childlike but far more complex, with hidden messages and purposes. He once said himself that he likes “…kids’ work more than work by real life artists.”
I went to see his first UK exhibition Boom for Real, which tells a story of his brief career, recounting how he became a successful artist, a friend of Andy Warhol and how his legacy has inspired literature, film and music.
What makes this exhibition even more special is that, Basquiat’s work has never been shown in a public collection anywhere in the UK before. For the first time, we are able to see over 100 pieces of his work, including interview footage from 1985 and a look at Downtown 81, starring Basquiat as the lead role.
For me, Downtown 81 was my favourite section of the exhibition. The audience follow a then 19 years old Basquiat, as he gets evicted from his New York apartment walking the rundown streets of Manhattan with a single painting in tow. The film is brought to life with a live musical soundtrack and a dubbed dialogue by actor Saul Williams, because the original audio was lost. Basquiat’s performance is natural and captivating and you feel like its depicting his real life.
See Basquiat: Boom for Real at the Barbican Art Gallery until 28 January. Tickets are £16 for adults.
Words by Toni Amporful