Posted on December 23, 2016
“I like to try and remain a little reclusive.” – Jean-Michel Basquiat
It was disheartening to learn that towards the end of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s life he had been quite bitter. His addiction to heroin had obviously changed him profoundly and some of that must account for his distrust of those around him, but he was also upset at his close friends for selling his paintings, upset that his gifts to them had been pawned off as if they didn’t mean as much. I honestly think he knew his time was up and wanted to reach out to the people he cared for. Giving away a pieces of himself through his art was perhaps his way of accomplishing that without having to explicitly express love and gratitude.
Jean-Michael, who started as a graffiti artist, was a private person who mostly shunned celebrity, instead doing the bulk of his communication through his work. His work spoke of the relationship between the ego and the self, and spoke against racism, class divisions, the ongoing crimes of the police state. Basquiat used social commentary in his art as “springboards to deeper truths about an individual.” The bulk of his work was in ‘suggestive dichotomies’ that challenged and inspired people into looking within to better relate to what was outside.
He looked up very much to jazz greats like John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. Parker, as many might know, also died young and battled heroin addiction for much of his professional life, a time during which he wrote and recorded some of his most famous works.
Jean-Michel Basquiat taught me many things, all of which directly inform my way of living today. One, that art need not be aesthetically pleasing to everybody but is just as moving and powerful so long as it is an honest reflection of the heart and mind of the artist and an accurate portrayal of the world he lives in. And secondly, through his death at the age of 27, the value of life.
Happy Birthday Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
Header image: ‘She Installs Confidence and Picks His Brain Like a Salad’, 1987