Nobody wanted to belong to a generation that misjudged another Van Gogh. How Jean-Michel Basquiat took the New York art scene by storm.

He did not win one competition as a child. His drawings were considered chaotic. He once lost against a boy, who submitted an exemplary Spiderman. It did not undermine his self-confidence, Jean-Michel Basquiat knew or believed he knew that he was destined to become an icon, a legend. And he was actually soon to make his breakthrough as the first Afro-American in the New York Art Scene.

Four years to get famous, six to get rich

The majority of Basquiat’s paintings are rich in colours. He has painted over everything that he does not like or that he does like. One layer follows the next and no, that is not chaos, it is richness, has depth. There is a concentrated brute force. The pictures are loud, scream at you. Four years to get famous, six to get rich, that’s how much time Basquiat set himself. At the time it sounded utopian for the boy without competitive acknowledgement and without enough money in his pocket for canvasses, but it wasn’t. Jean-Michel Basquiat was to soon find a visual language and it would take New York by storm.

At the age of six, Jean-Michel was knocked down by a car. When his mother visited him in hospital, she brought him a book about the human anatomy. The accident, his first memory, the book, his first source of inspiration. We still constantly discover scars, organs and skeletons in his works. Initially Basquiat wandered through the streets of New York under the pseudonym SAMO (same old shit) and sprayed everything that wasn’t moving. His aphoristic graffiti soon arouses the interest of gallery owners and one thing lead to another. One day he sold Andy Warhol self painted postcards for less than five dollars. Two years later his pictures cost up to 10,000 dollars. Money is thrust at him, there is not always a contract, sometimes the payment is made in drugs. An extravagant lifestyle that cannot last at this level, runs its course. Expensive parties, caviar and crystal meth. In some weeks Basquiat squanders up to 2000 dollars for drugs alone. A fruitful relationship developed from his encounter with Warhol; however their common work earns little applause, Warhol and his industrious protégée drift apart. When Warhol dies, Basquiat plunges into a crisis. Interviews, which he now gives, are difficult to bear, he stutters, swallows his answers, misunderstands the questions. He goes to detox and the 27-year old comes back with life and vigour again. In his diary Basquiat writes that he would like to buy a saxophone, a short time later he dies of a heroin overdose.

The more I paint, the more I like everything.

Basquiat, the Celebrated

In only eight years Basquiat managed to create an extensive oeuvre and to establish new figurative and expressive elements in the American art of the post-war period. His works rank today as the most sought-after art objects in the 20th century.
In 2017 Sothebys auctioned one of his pictures for 110.5 million dollars. Consequently Basquiat reached the highest price segment on the international art market. Taschen Publishing House has now published an XXL-Monograph, JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, which allows us to study the works of the idiosyncratic artist in its often wild and not always easy to decode overlap of text and picture. A wonderful book, an absolute must for art lovers, which shows that Basquiat’s works have lost none of their power even after over thirty years.

When I paint, I do not think about art, I try to think about life.

Photos Copyrights: Taschen Verlag, © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York